Report: US officials had sudden symptoms before Harris’ Hanoi visit

A CBS News investigation into ‘Havana Syndrome’ said embassy officials and advance team members were affected in 2021.
By RFA Vietnamese
2024.04.03
Report: US officials had sudden symptoms before Harris’ Hanoi visit Tourists ride classic convertible cars on the Malecon beside the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba, Oct. 3, 2017.
(Desmond Boylan/AP)

Close to a dozen U.S. officials suffered from unexplained symptoms just before Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Hanoi in 2021, according to a CBS News investigation into a string of incidents around the world that’s become known as “Havana Syndrome.”

The “60 Minutes” report found evidence that suggests Russia is behind numerous “anomalous health incidents” that have left dozens of American diplomats with prolonged injuries following sudden head pressure, dizziness or head or ear pain.

The incidents date back to 2016, when officials working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana began reporting the symptoms.

The March 31 report said there were two separate incidents in Hanoi that affected 11 American officials – two U.S. Embassy officials and nine members of a U.S. Department of Defense advance team ahead of Harris’ Aug. 24-26, 2021, visit.

The CBS report suggested that either Russian officials or Vietnamese officials were involved, and that Russia provided Vietnam with equipment that uses “directed, pulsed radio frequency” to injure its targets.

ENG_VTN_HavanaSyndromeReport_04022024.2.JPG
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris leaves her plane, as she arrives at the airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Aug., 24, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP)

Another possibility, according to the report, was that Vietnamese officials weren’t aware of the dangerous effect of the Russian equipment and believed it was only for surveillance. 

The report provides evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the provision to Vietnam’s security services of Long Range Acoustic Device, or LARD, emitters and short wave equipment for human body scanning technology.

‘Hanoi wouldn’t dare to do this’

Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, told Radio Free Asia that it’s unlikely that Vietnamese officials would have motive to harm American officials.

“While Vietnam’s security services had every incentive to eavesdrop on American officials prior to and during Vice President Harris’ visit to Hanoi, they did not have an incentive to cause deliberate physical harm to U.S. officials,” he said.

Vu Minh Tri, a former Vietnamese military intelligence officer, agreed, saying in a message to RFA that Vietnamese officials wouldn’t do something so “ignorantly unjustifiable.”

“Hanoi wouldn’t dare to do this,” he said. “Vietnam would use LARD to suppress the people in the country, but wouldn’t do this to the United States.”

Flight delayed

Harris’ flight into Hanoi from Singapore was delayed for several hours because one U.S. diplomat was being medevaced out of Vietnam, according to the CBS report.

She was the first U.S. vice president to travel to Vietnam since the unification of the country under the Communist North in 1975. Her two-day visit came a month after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Hanoi for meetings with Vietnamese officials.

Harris spoke with Vietnam’s leaders about shared efforts to counter “bullying” by China in the South China Sea. 

She announced during her trip that the United States would donate another 1 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine following an earlier donation of 5 million doses. She also launched the new Southeast Asia regional office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Hanoi.

In its 2024 threat assessment issued in February, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that it was “unlikely” that a foreign adversary was behind the incidents. 

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday that it “has been the broad conclusion of the intelligence community since March 2023 that is unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible” for the incidents. 

RFA sent an email to a Vietnamese government spokesperson seeking comment on the CBS News report, but there was no immediate response.

Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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