CIA begins compensating victims of Havana syndrome

Several of the recipients are former CIA officers who were injured while serving in Havana in 2016 and 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The CIA has begun to make compensation payments to current and former officers who sustained traumatic brain injuries from a series of mysterious health incidents, according to officials and others briefed on the arrangements.

About a dozen people suffering from debilitating symptoms that have become known as Havana syndrome have either received the payments or been approved to receive them, the people familiar with the programme said.

Several of the recipients are former CIA officers who were injured while serving in Havana in 2016 and 2017. However, payments are also being processed for current and former officers whose injuries occurred elsewhere.

Diplomats and CIA officers began reporting ailments arising from strange incidents beginning in 2016 in Havana. Since then, government employees and family members in China, Austria, Serbia and other locations around the world have also reported symptoms.

One victim who has received payments praised the CIA for making the application process easy, but lawyers for other officers have expressed worry that later cases may be harder to adjudicate.

Unlike those hurt while serving at the CIA station in Havana, some injured officers have a shorter and potentially less well-documented treatment history, which may make applying for payments more difficult.

The officials briefed on the payment programme said the CIA was trying to be compassionate, not miserly, in making its decisions, something lawmakers who devised the program said they wanted.

Several current and former officials who discussed the program did so on the condition their names not be used because elements of the program, and injured officers who work for the agency, remain secret.

The Havana Act, which Congress approved last year, provides up to US$187,300 (S$261,000) in compensation to each victim.

Tammy Kupperman Thorp, the CIA director of public affairs, said the act gave the agency authority to provide payments to employees, family members and other individuals affiliated with the CIA who have "a qualifying injury to the brain".

"The guidelines put in place were developed in partnership with the inter-agency and permit payments regardless of where the incident occurred," Thorp said. "As we have previously said, these authorities are an important part of the agency's commitment to support its workforce."

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