During 26 years on the CIA, Marc Polymeropoulos spent loads of time in tough locations, like struggle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he by no means suffered any hurt till December 2017, when he was snoozing at a Marriott Hotel in Moscow close to the U.S. Embassy.
“I used to be awoken in the midst of the evening,” recalled Plolymeropoulos, age 51. “I simply had unbelievable vertigo, dizziness. I wished to throw up. The room was spinning. I could not even get up with out falling down. I had tinnitus ringing in my ears.”
He suspected a foul case of meals poisoning and carried on along with his 10-day journey. The go to included conferences with senior Russian intelligence officers, a typical apply regardless of the lengthy historical past of tense relations between the 2 international locations and their spy businesses.
But a second bout hit a couple of days later. Polymeropoulos canceled his remaining conferences and felt lucky to make it again onto a aircraft to the U.S.
At the time, Polymeropoulos was settling into a brand new, senior place at CIA headquarters. After a few years within the Middle East, he had turn into the company’s no. 2 official for clandestine operations in Europe, together with Russia.
But a few months after he returned from his Moscow journey, in February 2018, he started struggling crippling migraines that also plague him consistently.
“I began this type of an unbelievable journey of seeing a number of medical doctors, a number of MRIs and CT scans and X-rays,” mentioned Polymeropoulos, whose story was first reported in GQ magazine. “Ultimately a neurologist recognized me with occipital neuralgia.”
This nerve irritation at the back of the pinnacle would clarify his complications, although it isn’t clear what brought on it.
Ploymeropoulos will not be alone.
Since 2016, greater than 40 U.S. diplomats who labored on the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, and greater than a dozen at U.S. consulates in China have complained of a spread of signs that additionally embody stability points, ringing of their ears and reminiscence loss. More than a dozen Canadian diplomats who served in Cuba in 2017 reported comparable signs.
Polymeropoulos is the primary to hyperlink his sickness to Russia. He says a CIA colleague who traveled with him to Moscow in 2017 suffers comparable illnesses. In addition, a number of CIA officers engaged on Russia points elsewhere on the planet have additionally been bothered, he mentioned. Aside from Polymeropoulos, the others are nonetheless on the CIA and haven’t spoken out.
“One of whom I do know very properly and has been actually severely affected,” he mentioned.
Many of the State Department diplomats have been examined on the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, in addition to the University of Miami and the National Institutes of Health.
The backside line: medical doctors say the illnesses are actual, however they do not know what’s inflicting them, they usually haven’t discovered proof of traumatic mind harm.
In addition to the medical thriller, there are additionally political questions concerning the so-called “Havana Syndrome.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, mentioned her workplace has obtained complaints from workers who served overseas for the State Department, the Commerce Department and the CIA.
Some haven’t been handled properly, she mentioned, and she or he desires to know if that is associated to political sensitivities in coping with Cuba, China and Russia.
“Some of the staff had been doubted once they reported their signs. Some had been pressured to remain silent. Some had been ostracized and reprimanded for saying they had been sick,” Shaheen mentioned. “So I believe that is likely one of the very actual questions. Why had been some folks handled otherwise than others? Did it have something to do with our insurance policies in varied international locations?”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejects this.
“There had been no politics connected to this. The suggestion in some way is that we did not shield our officers due to some bigger political goal. That is patently false,” Pompeo mentioned when requested at a current press convention.
A new report
The State Department commissioned a examine final 12 months by the National Academies of Sciences, which handed within the report in early August.
But the findings haven’t been launched, a lot to the frustration of Dr. David Relman, the Stanford professor who chaired the examine.
“I’m fairly puzzled and and considerably dismayed that it has been this lengthy with actually, silence,” Dr. Relman instructed NPR. “We spent a 12 months of fairly arduous work addressing some actually powerful instances and difficult issues.”
Dr. Relman expects the report back to be made public, as is the custom of labor performed by the academies.
“A variety of folks right here had been grievously harmed and are struggling nonetheless. So I believe this can be a actually vital situation, even when we will not offer you a simple reply,” he mentioned.
Unproven theories have been circulating for the previous few years.
The main one is that U.S. officers had been subjected to some kind of sonic or microwave assaults by international governments. Perhaps the intent was to injure them. Or possibly the intention was to steal secrets and techniques from their telephones and computer systems, and the officers had been simply collateral injury.
Russia, China and Cuba have all denied any such actions.
With nice reluctance, Marc Polymeropoulous retired from the CIA final 12 months at age 50.
He believes he was attacked throughout his 2017 go to. But he acknowledges that there is no proof at this level, and mentioned his focus is on regaining his well being.
“I simply could not sit at a pc or go to conferences. The complications had been simply too debilitating,” he mentioned.
Polymeropoulos is a burly, bearded man who spoke with me on his entrance porch in northern Virginia. An American flag hangs out entrance. Halloween decorations body his suburban house. He stresses that he isn’t a disgruntled former worker. Far from it.
“I spent 26 years in a corporation that I nonetheless love. I’ve expensive associates there,” he mentioned. “I used to be a really profitable officer who retired within the senior ranks. So the thought of speaking about this publicly is absolutely troublesome for me.”
Polymeropoulos was examined by the CIA medical employees after which by many personal medical doctors, however the complications proceed to plague him. After a prolonged back-and-forth with the CIA, he was allowed to enroll in a examine on the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. But it is only a examine. What he desires is specialised mind remedy throughout the road from the NIH — on the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Walter Reed is innovative with regards to treating traumatic mind accidents, a testomony to its huge expertise in coping with wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve requested (the CIA) repeatedly during the last 12 months to ship me to Walter Reed, they usually have actively rejected this, which to me is is form of mystifying,” he mentioned.
The CIA declined to debate the specifics of his case, however mentioned, “The CIA’s first precedence has been and continues to be the welfare of all of our officers.”
Greg Myre is an NPR nationwide safety correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.