With help from Daniel Lippman
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The so-called “Havana Syndrome” mystery has taken quite the turn. After a CIA interim report last month assessed that an American adversary or specific weapon wasn’t behind a global campaign to injure U.S. officials, now a new U.S. intelligence community panel has found that directed-energy could be responsible for the symptoms suffered by a small number of victims in unsolved cases.
“A panel convened by the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the core symptoms of some unsolved ‘Havana Syndrome’ cases cannot be explained by mass hysteria or psychosomatic effects alone, and could be caused by pulsed electromagnetic or ultrasonic energy,” Alex and ANDREW DESIDERIO reported today, citing a newly released executive summary by American intelligence officials.
An IC panel of experts, which consists of medical experts and scientists both inside and outside the government, did not attempt to attribute the incidents to a specific device or operator. It instead examined “causal mechanisms” and found that the effects of the mysterious illness are “genuine and compelling.”
In many cases, the U.S. has found that officials who reported anomalous health incidents, or AHIs, could have their symptoms explained by medical or environmental factors. But a subset of cases remain unexplained, and the intelligence community for the first time is saying that the cause may not be natural at all.
Emphasizing that “information gaps” still exist, the executive summary states that the effects of AHIs “could be due to external stimuli.” They added that the victims whose cases remain unsolved, many of whom have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, experienced symptoms that are “unlikely to be caused by a functional neurological disorder,” and that directed-energy exposure could be a cause.
“Pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radiofrequency range, plausibly explains the core characteristics,” according to the executive summary of the panel’s findings. “For all the pathways” that electromagnetic energy could harm an individual, “sources exist that could generate the required stimulus, are concealable, and have moderate power requirements.”
Ultrasonic waves are another plausible explanation, the summary added, “but only in close-access scenarios and with information gaps.” Such energy can be generated through a “portable” device with a “tight beam” focused on an individual, it continued. The experts panel did independent testing in which “researchers were exposed to high power ultrasound beams and subsequently experienced some of the core characteristics.”
“It’s more than theory,” said an intelligence official familiar with the panel’s work. The group tested a device that combined “biological effects and clinical effects,” and gathered first-hand accounts of “what it was like to be in the beam” of an ultrasound device. Their accounts were “consistent” with those outlined by some victims, the official added.
“This is the first time a panel has had such wide-ranging access to intelligence reporting and patient data, and has engaged directly with affected individuals,” ERIC LANDER, the president’s science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a statement.
The intelligence community’s latest assessment comes as lawmakers and victims alike have pressed the Biden administration for a more comprehensive response to the incidents, which have afflicted hundreds of American diplomats and intelligence officials on every continent except Antarctica. U.S. officials spanning three presidential administrations have struggled to understand the incidents.
“Moving forward, the work of the IC Experts Panel will help sharpen the work of the IC and broader U.S. government as we focus on possible causes,” Director of National Intelligence AVRIL HAINES and CIA Director WILLIAM BURNS said in a joint statement. “We will stay at it, with continued rigor, for however long it takes.”
Read Alex and Andrew’s full story.
3K U.S. TROOPS HEADED TO EASTERN EUROPE: President JOE BIDEN today ordered the deployment of around 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland, Germany and Romania in a new show of support to allies as Russia continues its military buildup near Ukraine’s borders, per our own PAUL McLEARY and Quint.
About 2,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., will head to Poland and Germany, while another 1,000 belonging to a Stryker squadron — already based in Germany — will deploy to Romania.
The majority of soldiers, around 1,700, will be sent to Poland in a deployment that Polish Minister of National Defense MARIUSZ BŁASZCZAK said Wednesday is “a strong message of solidarity in response to the situation in Ukraine.”
“These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters on Wednesday. “We are making it clear that we’re going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that.”
Another 8,500 U.S. troops remain on standby to bolster the 40,000-strong NATO response if called upon.
Republicans are split on whether or not to support Biden’s decision, Desideiro reported. While Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) “completely” backs the president, Sen. MIKE BRAUN (R-Ind.) is firmly in the no column.
“I am strongly opposed to President Biden’s decision to send American troops to Eastern Europe to defend countries that should defend themselves, potentially involving us in another conflict after just ending a 20-year war,” he said.
BIDEN WON’T USE ‘IMMINENT’ ANYMORE: The White House will no longer use the word “imminent” to describe the timeline of a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, with press secretary JEN PSAKI saying that word sent an unintended message to Kyiv.
That follows a NatSec Daily report from Friday in which we pointed out that there is no direct translation for the word “imminent” in Ukrainian. The closest word is Неминуче, which most closely corresponds to “no matter what” or “inevitable,” which are close synonyms.
While Ukrainian President VOLODOMYR ZELENSKYY and much of his team speak English, repeating “imminent” was never appreciated by Ukrainian officials. They also didn’t like the U.S. saying that because it might instill fear throughout the Ukrainian populace and cause a financial panic.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– STEFANIK TO INTRO BILL BANNING DJI FROM U.S. COMMS: Rep. ELISE STEFANIK (R-N.Y.), a top Republican and member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, will today introduce a bill to put a leading Chinese drone company on the Federal Communications Commission’s Covered Entities List. Per the FCC, companies placed on the list are “deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons.”
If DJI is put on the list, it would bar the world’s largest drone maker from legally operating on U.S. communications infrastructure.
The legislation, titled the “Countering CCP Drones Act,” would if passed and signed into law officially amend the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. That act, now law, “prohibits the use of certain federal funds to obtain communications equipment or services from a company that poses a national security risk to U.S. communications networks” and requires the FCC to publish and maintain a list of such equipment or services.
“DJI drones pose the national security threat of Huawei, but with wings. The possibility that DJI drones could be equipped to send live imagery of military installations, critical infrastructure, and the personal lives of American citizens to China poses too great a threat. Allowing this practice to continue in the U.S. is playing with fire. This Chinese-controlled company cannot be allowed to continue to operate in the U.S.,” Stefanik told NatSec Daily.
Reps. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.) and CLAUDIA TENNEY (R-N.Y.) are original cosponsors of the bill. Sen. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) will introduce a companion measure in the upper chamber and will be joined by Sens. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.) and TOM COTTON (R-Ark.).
KLON KITCHEN, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said he thought the bill was a good idea but wasn’t sure if the measure would apply to industrial drones or just those purchased by the federal government, or what it means for the average drone enthusiast. “The ideal outcome is that DJI goes on the Entities List” of the Commerce Department, he said, but that can only be done by executive action.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post’s CATE CADELL reported that DJI, which has long supplied drones to U.S. law enforcement, has received funding from the Chinese government despite years of denials.
“Claims that DJI drones somehow leak data to a foreign nation are false. Period. Full stop,” said ADAM LISBERG, corporate communications director for the company told NatSec Daily. “This is another in a long string of attempts to make hay out of DJI’s country of origin without recognizing DJI products are saving lives, supporting public safety, and providing entertainment all over the world without any risk to data security, and we can prove it.”
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: MURRAY TO INTRO BILL BLOCKING WEAPONS TO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS: Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.) plans to imminently reintroduce a bill to make it more difficult to sell U.S.-made weapons to countries with abusive human rights records.
Tilted the “Values in Arms Export Act,” the measure would designate both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a “country of concern.” That would subject them to enhanced scrutiny during arms-sales negotiations and could potentially lead to overall bans and sanctions.
Specifically, Murray’s bill — which would amend the “Arms Control Act” — would provide Congress, the executive branch, or a new “Human Rights and Law of War Oversight Board” the authority to stamp that label on another nation after conducting its own investigations. The designation would last for three years and require that country to submit to a program of enhanced monitoring.
“If a country: commits further violations during the three-year period; is designated a second time within a ten-year period; or fails to make sufficient progress in reforms, the country would be banned from arms sales for ten years. The Treasury Department would be required to impose sanctions on officials responsible for the offenses. The bill would provide a mechanism for early termination of the ban, but only after an arduous process of remediation and accountability, that would be subject to Congressional approval,” per a copy of a press release obtained by NatSec Daily.
“Simply put, U.S. weapons should not be being used to commit war crimes, and it’s time Congress re-asserted its authority over international arms sales to prevent that,” Murray told us. “The American people don’t want to see U.S. weapons used to commit war crimes against kids or innocent civilians. It’s time we strengthen the role of Congress in future arms deals and keep our weapons out of the wrong hands.”
U.S. AND NATO RESPONSES TO RUSSIA LEAKED: In their leaked written responses to Russia, the U.S. and NATO rebuffed the Kremlin’s security concerns and instead accused Moscow of “provocative activities” in Ukraine and broader Europe, HIBAI ARBIDE AZA and MIGUEL GONZÁLEZ of El País reported.
In his summary of the documents contained in the Spanish report, our own DAVID HERSZENHORN wrote “the Biden administration and NATO proposed an extensive diplomatic dialogue, including a series of ‘thematic meetings’ within the NATO-Russia Council. But the Western powers also demanded that Russia withdraw the military forces and weaponry stoking fears of an imminent attack on the Ukrainian borders with Russia and Belarus. The two documents accuse Russia of a long pattern of aggressive activity that has undermined the security architecture in Europe — essentially blaming Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN for causing the very destabilization and uncertainty that he has tried to blame on the West.”
Neither the U.S. nor the alliance said they would close NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine –– one of Putin’s core demands.
“We continue to aspire to a constructive relationship with Russia when its actions make that possible,” the alliance wrote, adding: “NATO does not seek confrontation.”
Yesterday, Putin expressed his frustration that the responses he received didn’t address his concerns. “Russian concerns were basically ignored,” he said in his first comments on the crisis since December.
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WRAY WARNS OF CHINESE SPYING: FBI Director CHRISTOPHER WRAY says he was flabbergasted by the extent of Chinese spying and efforts to steal U.S. technology when he assumed leadership of the bureau in 2017, per NBC News’ PETE WILLIAMS.
“This one blew me away. And I’m not the kind of guy that uses words like ‘blown away’ easily,” Wray said, revealing that the FBI is launching an average of two counterintelligence investigations a day to counter the threat. More than 2,000 such cases are already underway.
“There is no country that presents a broader, more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas and our economic security than China does,” Wray said. He added: “The scale of their hacking program, and the amount of personal and corporate data that their hackers have stolen, is greater than every other country combined.”
NEUBERGER DETAILS HOW TO COUNTER RUSSIA IN CYBERSPACE: ANNE NEUBERGER, a top NSC cybersecurity official, today detailed the steps the U.S and allies are taking ahead of a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“NATO is preparing to call out any destructive or destabilizing cyberattacks, reinforcing the U.N. norms regarding responsible state behavior in cyberspace that our allies and partners have signed up for,” she told reporters, including our own MAGGIE MILLER (for Pros!). Neuberger also warned of the “significant threat” that the Kremlin uses disinformation through its campaign, such as promoting the idea that NATO forces were stationed in Ukraine and posed a threat to Russia.
Neuberger spoke from Brussels where she’s meeting with NATO and European Union officials before heading to Warsaw to chat with her Polish and Baltic counterparts.
“Across all of these engagements, our focus is on ensuring that the U.S. and our partners are prepared for any cyber-related contingency in the current environment, and also discuss how we coordinate and support Ukraine and each other in the event that such incidents occur,” she said.
ARMY SEPARATING VACCINE REFUSERS: The U.S. Army today announced that it will immediately begin separating soldiers who choose not to take the Covid-19 vaccine and don’t have an exemption.
“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” said Army Secretary CHRISTINE WORMUTH said in a statement. “Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”
Army Directive 2022-02 details how commanders should handle the separation proceedings. “Service members separated due to refusal of the COVID-19 vaccination order will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay and may be subject to recoupment of any unearned special or incentive pays,” reads the Army’s news release.
This new order applies to all soldiers, reserve-component soldiers serving on Title 10 active duty as well as cadets.
NDIA GIVES DEFENSE INDUSTRY FAILING GRADE: The National Defense Industrial Association in a new report gave America’s defense-industrial base a 69 out of a 100 for health and readiness.
This is the third time NDIA has published its annual “Vital Signs” report and the first time America’s defense manufacturing sector received an “Unsatisfactory, Failing” grade from the interest group.
“Specific signs provide cause for real concern,” reads the report, written in conjunction with Govini, a national security data company. While demand for weaponry is up, per the report’s scale, “Productive capacity & surge Readiness” is way down, from a score of 67 last year to 52 this year.
The report fingers Covid-19 as the reason for the precipitous drop, which has continued since the pandemic began in 2020: “[F]ive of the eight signs received a failing grade. This reflects the tumultuous state of the industry as it grappled with the extraordinary ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically disrupted the lives of individual Americans as well as global commerce.”
MERKLEY CALLS UN CHIEF ATTENDANCE AT OLYMPICS ‘SHAMEFUL’: Sen. JEFF MERKLEY (D-Ore.) on Wednesday slammed United Nations Secretary-General ANTÓNIO GUTERRES’ decision to attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing despite diplomatic boycotts by multiple nations, including the U.S., over accusations of human rights violations by the Chinese government.
“The U.N. has basically failed human rights,” Merkley said during an interview with our own PHELIM KINE on Twitter Spaces, citing China’s record on abuse, surveillance and freedom of speech. “It’s shameful for António Guterres to appear at the games.”
A spokesperson for Guterres did not immediately return a request for comment on Merkley’s criticism. But the secretary-general was asked last month about attending the Olympics, which he said must be considered an “instrument for peace.”
Merkley and Rep. JIM McGOVERN (D-Mass.) are leading a campaign to highlight China’s political prisoners throughout the entirety of the Olympics.
WARREN CALLS WEAPONS TESTER INFO RESTRICTIONS ‘UNACCEPTABLE’: Sen. Elizabeth Warren blasted the Pentagon’s independent weapons testing office for restricting information on some programs in the public version of its annual report, per our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!).
“This is a continuation of an unacceptable trend at the Department to reduce the public’s access to basic information essential for accountability,” Warren wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN. “Opponents of independent operational testing have worked diligently to neutralize DOT&E since its creation and submitting to this unjustified classification sabotages the office.”
The move, she argued, will weaken accountability and “be abused to avoid disclosure of failures in our major weapons programs.”
MENENDEZ QUESTIONS IRAN DEAL TALKS: Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took to the Senate floor late Tuesday night to criticize the Biden administration over reports that America’s reentry into the Iran nuclear deal is near.
“I have yet to hear any parameters of ‘longer’ or ‘stronger’ terms or whether that is even a feasible prospect. And even when it seemed a constructive agreement might be possible last summer, upon taking office, the Raisi government abandoned all previous understandings and … made absolutely clear that Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional proxy networks are ‘not negotiable.’ Moreover, at this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?” he said. “We cannot ignore Iran’s nefarious support for terrorism or accept threats to American interests and lives.”
Menendez has long been skeptical of the Iran nuclear deal and was one of the Democratic opponents to it during the Obama administration. That he remains in opposition to it now isn’t surprising, but progressives still denounced Menendez for his remarks.
“Now more than ever we need Members of Congress to SUPPORT, not undermine, American diplomats,” Foreign Policy for America Executive Director ANDREW ALBERTSON piled on.
— DANIELLE JABLANSKI is now a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.
— CAROLINE NGUYEN is now a director at the Council on Environmental Quality, where she works on international engagements and implementation of the Federal Sustainability Plan. She most recently was a managing director at the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
— JONATHAN SWAN and HANS NICHOLS, Axios: “Leaked document reveals Biden’s Afghan failures”
— ALICE FORDHAM, KUNM: “New Mexico asks National Guard to work as substitute teachers to keep classrooms open“
— AMY B. ZEGART, Wired: “American Spy Agencies Are Struggling in the Age of Data”
— The Atlantic Council, 9 a.m.: “Russia-Ukraine Conflict and Implications to Turkey — with MATTHEW J. BRYZA, DEBRA CAGAN, YEVGENIYA GABER and CAN KASAPOĞLU”
— The Middle East Institute, 9 a.m.: “Second MEI-CENTCOM Annual Conference: Keynote Address with Gen. KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR. — with GERALD FEIERSTEIN”
— The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 10 a.m.: “Poland’s Leadership of the OSCE in a Time of Crisis — with ZBIGNIEW RAU”
— The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 10 a.m.: “Ideas and Priorities for NATO’s Future: Presenting the NATO Shadow Strategic Concept — with NICO LANGE, JULIAN LINDLEY-FRENCH and ALEXANDER VERSHBOW”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Close to Home: Supporting Vet Centers in Meeting the Needs of Veterans and Military Personnel”
— The Hudson Institute, 2 p.m.: “How the United States Can Help Defend Ukraine — with MICHAEL DORAN and BEN HODGES”
— The Meridian International Center, 6 p.m.: “A Conversation With Her Excellency ADELA RAZ, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — with ROBERT MOORE”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who often wishes he could curtail our droning.