Another Havana Syndrome attack on a CIA officer, this time in India

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

On September 7, CIA Director Bill Burns flew to India for a meeting with his counterparts there about the security situation in Afghanistan.

CIA chief Bill Burns flew into India on Tuesday for consultations on key security issues with national security adviser Ajit Doval and India’s security establishment even as the Taliban announced their interim government in Kabul.

Burns’ visit coincided with the arrival of former Russian FSB head Nikolai Patrushev who was also in India to discuss Afghanistan. Patrushev’s arrival may or may not be connected to what happened next.

When CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to India earlier this month a member of his team reported symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome and had to receive medical attention, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The incident set off alarm bells within the US government and left Burns “fuming” with anger, one source explained. Some officials at the CIA viewed the chilling episode as a direct message to Burns that no one is safe, including those working directly for the nation’s top spy, two sources said…

The situation in India could have dramatic implications: the CIA director’s schedule is tightly held and there are deep concerns among US officials about how the perpetrator would have known about the visit and been able to plan for such an aggression.

In short, it’s very unlikely that anyone other than a state-backed actor could have done this. This is just the latest incident impacting a high level US delegation abroad. About two weeks earlier VP Kamala Harris was in Singapore and preparing to fly to Vietnam when her plane was delayed. The three hour delay was because “multiple US personnel reported symptoms consistent with the syndrome just ahead of her visit, and at least two of them had to be medevaced.”

McClatchy published a report yesterday saying, behind the scenes, officials are very worried about how brazen the attacks are becoming:

The possible targeting of U.S. diplomats in Hanoi just before Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam in August and an intelligence officer traveling with CIA Director Bill Burns in India this month have stoked a sense of alarm across national security agencies that the suspected attacks are becoming increasingly brazen…

One official said the two recent incidents have “underscored the need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”

“The message appears to be that ‘we can reach you anywhere,’” another government source said…

“It shows I would think increasing boldness on the part of whoever’s doing it — Russia, if that’s the case — and a complete lack of concern about retaliation,” John Bolton, former national security adviser under President Donald Trump, said in an interview.

“When you go after the VP’s party, you’re getting pretty close to the top.”

Creating the sense that anyone could be next is obviously the goal here (I said so last month). The Biden administration is pursuing a 100 day investigation but I think we already have a pretty good idea who is behind this. The question now is whether we can catch them in the act and get hold of one of the devices they are using. Until we do that, the attacks will continue and Russia will keep denying any involvement.