Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday he’s appointing two veteran diplomats to lead the State Department’s efforts on “Havana syndrome,” a series of mysterious health episodes that first emerged at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and now include similar issues reported by over 200 diplomats, CIA operatives and national security officials in Washington and overseas.

In another encouraging move, Blinken said the department has “new technology” to help the government figure out what is causing the incidents, which have plagued three consecutive administrations and the U.S. intelligence community. The State Department also has made reporting any health incidents a top priority.

“We have sent a very clear signal throughout our bureaus and elements within the department that every single report has to be taken extraordinarily seriously,” a senior administration official told McClatchy before the announcement of the escalated State Department response.

Psychological harm

It’s about time that the U.S. government focused this level of attention on the problem. Those who suffer from it have “experienced serious physical consequences, including persistent headaches and hearing loss. They’ve also experienced psychological harm, including trauma, anxiety, depression,” with no clear explanation, Blinken said.

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Havana syndrome has played havoc on their lives. And it all began in Cuba, where the government considers any U.S. presence to be a form of spying.

In 2016, diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana began reporting strange physical symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo and cognitive difficulties. Before taking ill, some reported hearing a constant sound at work or home and said they felt odd vibrations.

Doctors at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania, who first treated the U.S. diplomats in Havana, eventually found evidence of brain injury and damage to the victims’ inner ear’s vestibular system, the Miami Herald reported.

“It’s very, very powerful, and it only reinforces in me the absolute conviction that we need to do everything possible for our people — to care for them, to protect them. We will get to the bottom of this,” Blinken promised.

Let’s hope so. Like the Obama and Trump administrations, President Joe Biden’s team has not been able to explain the incidents. The Cuban government denies participating in any wrongdoing toward foreign diplomats.

The U.S. government suspects, but has not been able to confidently determine, that the episodes are attacks on American personnel by a foreign adversary.

The Biden administration believes it is getting closer to identifying who is responsible and understanding what mechanism is being used to cause the mysterious medical condition. We hope the answer comes quickly.

Until then, Blinken is attacking the problem on two tracks: he named Jonathan Moore, a career foreign service officer, to coordinate the overall State Department response, and Margaret Uyehara as senior care coordinator to ensure affected diplomats receive top medical treatment.

When the culprits finally are unmasked — and we cannot wait for that moment — they must be punished for these out-of-bounds attacks on the U.S. and its diplomats. And whatever is causing Havana syndrome must be dismantled for good.

This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of The Miami Herald.

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