Pentagon investigated suspected Russian directed-energy attacks on U.S. troops

A spokesperson for the director of national intelligence declined to comment.

The investigation is part of a broader effort to look into directed-energy attacks on U.S. officials across multiple agencies in recent years. Since late 2016, close to 50 officials have reported symptoms of a mysterious illness that became known as “Havana syndrome” among U.S. diplomats posted in Cuba. Symptoms included acute ringing and pressure in the ears, as well as loss of hearing and balance, fatigue and residual headaches. Some victims have suffered long-term brain damage.

Directed-energy attacks on U.S. spies and diplomats are well-documented; the CIA recently set up its own task force to look into the issue. But the recent Pentagon effort to look into similar incidents affecting U.S. troops has not previously been reported.

Circumstances surrounding these incidents are murky, and U.S. officials have encountered difficulties in attributing the suspected attacks to any particular weapon or country.

A directed-energy attack uses highly concentrated electromagnetic energy, including high-powered radio frequency or microwave devices and particle beams, to harm a target. The attacks can take different forms, from jamming electronic equipment to causing pain or permanent injuries.

A report commissioned by the State Department and released in December pointed to “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy” as the most probable cause for the “Havana syndrome” incidents.

News of Russia’s alleged behavior comes as President Joe Biden is already staring down an increasingly aggressive Moscow, moving to impose a second round of sanctions last week for its cyberattacks and interference in U.S. elections. That round of sanctions notably excluded an effort to stop a major Russian pipeline project, and it came as historic numbers of Russian troops are assembling on its border with Ukraine.

The investigation evolved into a larger discussion involving the National Security Council, the CIA, State Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said three former national security officials involved in the discussions.

The members of Congress privy to top-secret intelligence, known as the Gang of Eight, were notified about Russia’s suspected targeting of Americans in Syria using directed energy, according to the two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The Senate Armed Services Committee was also briefed, the people said.

The congressional officials briefed on the incidents said the Pentagon believes that the nature of the directed-energy attacks is similar to those carried out against Americans in Cuba, but was hesitant to draw direct parallels.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO that he’s awaiting further information on the issue.

“I know that we’re going to be having a discussion, a briefing on that, informal — and frankly, it’s going to be confidential,” he said in a brief interview. “So let’s wait and see.”