“My brain is broken”: Former CIA analyst struggling with Havana Syndrome says she has not received promised care
Despite public assurances of medical care and financial support through congressional legislation for those suffering from the
“I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to work again. I mean, I’ve lost everything,” former CIA analyst Erika Stith told CBS News as part of a monthslong investigation.
“We got this as a result of serving our country. And we deserve to be taken care of,” Stith said.
Stith, who says she held a Top-Secret security clearance, told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge, “My brain is broken.”
She believes her condition stems from a 2018 while on assignment for the CIA in Europe.
Stith said she suffers from nausea, headaches, blurred vision, and balance and memory issues. At first, she blamed her suffering on a prior concussion, but her balance became so unsteady she fell down the stairs, cracking her ribs. It was her own mother who first suspected it could be because of her time serving in the CIA.
“Honestly, she had been asking me for six months, ‘This Havana Syndrome thing, do you think you could have that?'” Stith recalled.
is a mysterious set of cognitive and neurological ailments named after cases first reported among diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
“It is a well-conceived global program to attack Americans,” former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman said. He tracked suspected Havana Syndrome attacks for the Trump administration.
Kupperman told Herridge he believes the number of people who have reported Havana Syndrome incidents is near 1,000 if you include family members with symptoms. He said it does not just happen overseas — two of Kupperman’s government staffers were reportedly attacked
“It tells us that somebody is very serious about sending us a message that they can reach out and do very bad things to our employees at the highest levels,” Kupperman said.
Last year, President Biden signed legislation for medical and financial help for US personnel affected by Havana Syndrome which is also known as Anomalous Health Incidents or AHIs. But an email obtained by CBS News suggests access to a key government treatment program at a military hospital for some victims could end in three weeks.
“As President Biden has underscored, protecting Americans and all those who have served our country is our primary duty. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our workforce who have devoted their careers to protecting our nation,” Maher Bitar, the National Security Council’s Anomalous Health Incidents Interagency Coordinator, told CBS News in a statement. “We remain intensely focused on providing rapid and effective care to affected personnel and we are bringing the full resources of the U.S. Government to bear to determine the cause of anomalous health incidents.”
“For us to abandon them now is really a disgraceful act,” said Kupperman.
After CBS News contacted the National Security Council about the email indicating care could end in late June, a spokesman said:
“DoD’s Special Secretarial Designation, which authorizes non-Military Health System (MHS) beneficiaries access to treatment for AHI in the MHS, must be renewed annually. The NSC is working with the Department of Defense (DoD) to confirm that current and former NSC personnel who require continued care have their authorizations extended as needed.
“The NSC is committed to ensuring that our current and former personnel who have experienced an AHI receive the specialized medical care that they need for as long as they need it. It is our priority to support the men and women who serve our country.”
Stith’s documents show she spent months going back and forth with the CIA for care as a former employee but ultimately declined to share her medical records with the agency.
“By the time they came back to me and said, ‘OK, we have a process in place,’ I had already successfully talked my way into a treatment program and I had managed to make that happen privately and have been paying for it myself,” she said.
Stith said she “completely” gave up on the CIA process and wants other people who believe they developed their ailments as a result of serving the country to know that they “deserve to be taken care of.”
Stith who recently applied through CIA for permanent disability under the Havana Act now uses hearing aids and takes up to 20 pills a day. Stith told CBS News she can only do one or two tasks each day. Simple errands like going to the supermarket, she said, can be overwhelming.
Newly married, Stith said she and her husband cannot consider starting a family. “There are medications that are Contraindicated for pregnancy. It would not be safe,” told Herridge. “And on top of that, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to work again. I mean, I’ve lost everything.”
In a statement to CBS News, a CIA spokesperson said:
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our workforce and CIA family. Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs) cut right to the core of this profound obligation. We are focused on ensuring our officers and their families access the care they need. In parallel, we continue to bring all resources to bear to explore all possible causes in our ongoing investigations.
“We are working closely across the interagency to ensure that officers have access to available benefits. That work is ongoing. As part of that approach, we are grateful for the passage of the HAVANA Act which will enable the distribution of additional benefits to qualifying individuals. We are working with Congress and the interagency on implementation.”
“We cannot address individual cases. We take all reports of health concerns seriously. The IC’s interim findings reported in January remain valid today; no evidence has been found so far tying a foreign or hostile actor to any of the more than 1000 reported health incidents worldwide. We have found multiple causes to reports which is why we continue to work with our USG partners to bring every resource to bear to investigate all causes.”
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