It's been a few weeks since we last received an update about the mysterious "Havana Syndrome" - the strange affliction that keeps cropping up in members of the American diplomatic service (many of whom just happen to be spies, often working on issues related to Russia or China). At that time, the public had just learned that at least one diplomat in Vienna had been stricken with the syndrome. Now, WSJ is reporting that the issue has affected at least two diplomats in Vienna.
Across Austria, the number of US diplomats affected by the syndrome has risen to 20, the largest number in a single country aside from Cuba - and in a Nato country at that. Given Austria's non-aligned status, Vienna has always been a city crawling with spies working for both sides dating back to the Cold War. That these issues are arising in Vienna of all places is likely not a coincidence.
Furthermore, as the number of diplomats affected by the syndrome - described by suffers as a serious injury with long-term consequences - has increased, they have apparently formed a mutual-support group, almost like AA, for diplomats who are struggling to get their lives back in order after an attack that causes intense brain trauma without any physical contact.
The cause of the syndrome, which first surfaced in 2016, remains unknown. But the symptoms, which include nausea, severe headaches, ear pain, fatigue, insomnia and sluggishness, typically leave sufferers unable to work. The attacks in Vienna are the first confirmed in a Nato country. Most of the victims were stationed in Cuba, China and Russia.
The CIA has asked a veteran of its hunt for Osama bin Laden to lead a task force aimed at finding the cause of the symptoms.
One diplomat who recently transferred from a posting in a European capital to be treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland said doctors there had diagnosed him with a brain injury of the type seen in people exposed to shock waves from explosions.
The symptoms were preceded by piercing ear pain, high-pitched electronic noise and pressure in the ears, which occurred while the person was at home at their apartment back in March.
"There is no evidence about what happened to us, but it is striking that some of us had worked on Russia-related issues," said the worker, who declined to be named.
This patient and others employed by the State Department have set up an informal self-help group, according to three diplomats, one of whom is a member, because those believed to be affected say that the government, while providing care and other support, hasn’t recognized their condition nor taken adequate measures to protect government officials posted abroad.
Whatever the attacks are - some have theorized that they're using concentrated micro waves - they're tantamount to "terrorism", one WSJ source said.
"Whatever it is, it is a form of terrorism—it has caused serious injuries that have been life-altering for some of us," the person said.
A source within the Germany domestic intelligence service told WSJ that methods employed by Russian and Chinese counter-intelligence are getting "more brutal every year".
Russian intelligence has denied any involvement in the attacks.
But as the number of victims' grows, one thing's for certain: whenever the US does find the source of the attacks, it's going to be a major news story.