Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this morning, U.S. Senator Susan Collins asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken whether President Biden will address the issue of directed energy attacks targeting American personnel at his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also urged Secretary of State Blinken to maintain sanctions on Iran.
Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed legislation authored by Senator Collins to support American intelligence and diplomatic personnel who have incurred brain injuries from likely directed energy attacks. The Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act would authorize the CIA Director and the Secretary of State to provide injured employees with additional financial support.
Referencing the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit, Senator Collins asked Secretary Blinken, “When President Biden meets with President Putin, will he raise the issue of directed energy attacks against American personnel since Russia is one of the countries that is suspected of wielding this weapon?”
Secretary Blinken thanked Senator Collins for authoring the HAVANA Act and said it is greatly appreciated by the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service and Civil Service. He also explained that, at President Biden’s direction, the National Security Council is leading a government-wide review to get to the bottom of the directed energy attacks.
Secretary Blinken continued, “We do not know who if anyone is actually responsible, state actor [or] individuals. This is exactly what we're trying to get to the bottom of. So certainly if we have concerns, suspicions, beliefs that any state actor, Russia or otherwise, was involved and engaged in this, you can be sure that we will take it to them. But right now, we simply do not know. This is why the President has ordered this intensive effort to see if we can get to the bottom of what happened.”
Pushing back against Secretary Blinken’s response, Senator Collins said, “I have to say that I'm very disturbed to hear you say, ‘If anyone.’ These injuries are very real. They've been substantiated at the University of Pennsylvania, at NIH, at Walter Reed. And I know there's been grave frustration by personnel at the State Department about the response. So I think we need to move to determining which adversary is using what kind of weapon to harm our American personnel.”
Turning to Iran, Senator Collins said, “During your confirmation hearing, you indicated that it was not in America's national security interest to lift sanctions on the Iranian financial sector, including the central bank, as well as Iran's energy sector, given the connections with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Will you commit today that the administration will not provide sanctions relief, including through waivers or general licenses, that directly or indirectly benefits the central bank of Iran, or the national Iranian oil company, unless or until, the Treasury Department determines that these entities are no longer connected to the IRGC or Iran's terrorism financing activities?”
Secretary Blinken responded that the State Department continues to engage in indirect conversations with Iran about the possibility of a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.
“And I would anticipate that in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, if they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA. They will remain unless and until Iran's behavior changes,” Secretary Blinken concluded.