The committee was not in a position to assess “specific scenarios involving malevolent actors,” David Relman, a Stanford University professor who led the committee, wrote in a preface to the report. Yet, he said, “the mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others.”
The report recommends that the State Department act now to establish plans and protocols so it can immediately begin an investigation if similar incidents occur in the future.
“The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad,” the report concludes. “The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly.”
The panel said its findings were hampered by the government’s slow and uneven response to the incidents, in which different patients were evaluated by various methods and clinicians at different points in their illness. It also said that the information made available on patients from China was “too sparse and fragmentary to be able to draw any substantive conclusions about these cases,” and therefore the report focuses on events surrounding the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
The scientists sent the report to the State Department in August, and agency officials there then put it under review. Lawmakers pressed the department to publicly disclose the findings, saying its failure to release the information fit with a pattern of secrecy and inaction by the Trump administration. In interviews in October, Mr. Relman criticized the department for not acting faster to release the report.
Some victims said at the time that the Trump administration was trying to avoid addressing its shortfalls toward the safety of U.S. government employees overseas, especially ahead of the November elections. Asked in late October by a reporter about the illnesses, Mr. Pompeo did not mention the report and said only that the government was unable to determine the cause.
Several lawmakers have forcefully pressed the State Department to be more accountable and provide proper health and work compensation benefits to all of the victims and affected family members. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, has inserted a provision on long-term benefits into the latest defense budget bill that Congress is expected to pass this month, though Mr. Trump has threatened to veto the measure for reasons unrelated to the provision.
“Their illnesses and suffering are real and demand a response from Congress,” Ms. Shaheen said. “While I’m encouraged by the progress we’re seeing, much more must be done to uncover the source of these incidents and ensure that no other public servant suffers in this way.”
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.