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A CIA Office Visits Moscow, Returns with Mysterious, Crippling Headaches


Marc Polymeropoulos, a senior CIA legitimate, photographed in Moscow’s Red Sq. in 2017. He fell in unfortunate health on that rush and has since suffered debilitating migraine headaches that led him to resign from the company.

Courtesy of Marc Polymeropoulos

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Courtesy of Marc Polymeropoulos

Throughout 26 years at the CIA, Marc Polymeropoulos spent hundreds of time in rough areas, savor warfare zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he by no diagram suffered any injure till December 2017, when he was napping at a Marriott Resort in Moscow shut to the U.S. Embassy.

“I was awoken within the center of the evening,” recalled Polymeropoulos, 51. “I steady had not possible vertigo, dizziness. I needed to throw up. The room was spinning. I may perchance perchance now not even stand up without falling down. I had tinnitus ringing in my ears.”

He suspected a execrable case of meals poisoning and carried on alongside with his 10-outing. The debate over with integrated conferences with senior Russian intelligence officers, a smartly-liked enlighten despite the long history of anxious household between the 2 countries and their peer companies.

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But a second bout hit just a few days later. Polymeropoulos canceled his final conferences and felt lucky to construct it relieve onto a airplane to the U.S.

On the time, Polymeropoulos was settling staunch into a brand recent, senior location at CIA headquarters. After a protracted time within the Heart East, he had become the company’s No. 2 legitimate for clandestine operations in Europe, including Russia.

But just a few months after he returned from his Moscow rush, in February 2018, he started suffering crippling migraines that also plague him frequently.

“I started this more or less an not possible bolt of seeing quite loads of doctors, quite loads of MRIs and CT scans and X-rays,” said Polymeropoulos, whose epic was first reported in GQ journal. “Indirectly a neurologist diagnosed me with occipital neuralgia.”

This nerve irritation at the relieve of the top would expose his headaches, though it be no longer sure what resulted in it.

Clinical thriller

Polymeropoulos is rarely any longer on my own.

Since 2016, bigger than 40 U.S. diplomats who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and bigger than a dozen at U.S. consulates in China hang complained of a vary of signs that moreover encompass balance considerations, ringing of their ears and memory loss. Extra than a dozen Canadian diplomats who served in Cuba in 2017 reported connected signs.

Polymeropoulos is the first to hyperlink his illness to Russia. He says a CIA colleague who traveled with him to Moscow in 2017 suffers connected ailments. As effectively as, several CIA officers working on Russia considerations in other places on the earth hang moreover been bothered, he said. Other than Polymeropoulos, the others are quiet at the CIA and hang no longer spoken out.

A automobile drives previous the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2019. Extra than 40 Americans working at the embassy suffered from unexplained ailments that integrated headaches, balance complications and memory loss.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

A automobile drives previous the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2019. Extra than 40 Americans working at the embassy suffered from unexplained ailments that integrated headaches, balance complications and memory loss.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

“One amongst whom I do know very effectively and has been if truth be told severely affected,” he said.

So much of the Bid Department diplomats had been examined at the University of Pennsylvania’s Heart for Brain Injure and Restore, as well to the University of Miami and the National Institutes of Neatly being.

The backside line: doctors teach the ailments are exact, but they build no longer know what’s inflicting them, and so they’ve no longer found proof of annoying mind injure.

Political questions

As effectively as to the medical thriller, there are moreover political questions referring to the so-known as Havana Syndrome.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Recent Hampshire Democrat, said her keep of labor has bought complaints from staff who served overseas for the Bid Department, the Commerce Department and the CIA.

Some hang no longer been handled effectively, she said, and she wishes to clutch if this is expounded to political sensitivities in going thru Cuba, China and Russia.

“One of the necessary most staff were doubted after they reported their signs. Some were compelled to stay restful. Some were ostracized and reprimanded for asserting they were unwell,” Shaheen said. “So I mediate that’s one in every of the very exact questions. Why were some people handled otherwise than others? Did it hang anything else to build with our insurance policies in diverse countries?”

Secretary of Bid Mike Pompeo rejects this.

“There were no politics linked to this. The recommendation by some capability is that we did now not offer protection to our officers as a result of some elevated political goal. That is patently pretend,” Pompeo said when requested at a most up-to-date press convention.

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A recent file

The Bid Department commissioned a peer final year by the National Academies of Sciences, which handed within the file in early August.

But the findings hang no longer been released, mighty to the frustration of Dr. David Relman, the Stanford professor who chaired the peer.

“I’m pretty puzzled and and critically dismayed that it has been this long with if truth be told, silence,” Dr. Relman informed NPR. “We spent a year of resplendent laborious work addressing some if truth be told subtle cases and complex complications.”

Dr. Relman expects the file to be made public, as is the custom of labor done by the academies.

“A series of people here were grievously harmed and are suffering quiet. So I mediate it is some distance a terribly necessary enviornment, even though we are in a position to no longer give you an easy acknowledge,” he said.

Unproven theories had been circulating for the previous few years.

The main one is that U.S. officers were subjected to some make of sonic or microwave assaults by international governments. Perchance the intent was to ruin them. Or perchance the aim was to consume secrets from their telephones and computers, and the officers were steady collateral injure.

Russia, China and Cuba hang all denied the sort of actions.

Early retirement

With mountainous reluctance, Marc Polymeropoulos retired from the CIA final year at age 50.

He believes he was attacked all the diagram thru his 2017 talk over with. But he acknowledges that there is now not any proof at this point, and said his point of interest is on regaining his effectively being.

“I steady may perchance perchance now not take a seat at a pc or proceed to conferences. The headaches were steady too debilitating,” he said.

Polymeropoulos is a fat, bearded guy who spoke with me on his front porch in northern Virginia. An American flag hangs out front. Halloween decorations body his suburban residence. He stresses that he’s no longer a disgruntled historical employee. Removed from it.

“I spent 26 years in an organization that I quiet take care of. I if truth be told hang expensive chums there,” he said. “I was an awfully a success officer who retired within the senior ranks. So the realization of speaking about this publicly is basically subtle for me.”

Polymeropoulos was examined by the CIA medical staff and then by many non-public doctors, however the headaches continue to plague him. After a prolonged relieve-and-forth with the CIA, he was allowed to model up in a peer at the National Institutes of Neatly being in Bethesda, Md. Nonetheless it be steady a peer. What he wishes is basically just correct mind treatment all the diagram thru the side road from the NIH — at the Walter Reed National Militia Clinical Heart.

Walter Reed is cutting-edge in phrases of treating annoying mind injuries, a testament to its mountainous ride in going thru wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’ve requested [the CIA] persistently over the final year to send me to Walter Reed, and so they’ve actively rejected this, which to me is is kind of mystifying,” he said.

The CIA declined to communicate referring to the specifics of his case, but said, “The CIA’s first precedence has been and remains to be the welfare of all of our officers.”

Greg Myre is an NPR national security correspondent. Apply him @gregmyre1.

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