Russia is suspected of carrying out directed-energy attacks on U.S. troops in Syria, according to a reported Pentagon briefing of top-ranking legislators on congressional intelligence panels.
Several unidentified members who were briefed told Politico that the Defense Department informed at least two groups of legislators earlier this year about the investigation, both in-person and in writing. Several former national security officials who were directly involved in the investigation confirmed to Politico that the Pentagon has been probing incidents since last year, including one in fall 2020 in which multiple U.S. service members developed flu-like symptoms while in Syria.
Two former national security officials said the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity conflict started to investigate reported incidents last year, but it’s unclear exactly how American troops have been affected, or how many may have been affected.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing just after Politico’s article was published that as far as he knows there is "no evidence" of directed-energy attacks against U.S. troops in the Middle East.
A spokesperson for the director of national intelligence declined comment to Politico.
When asked about the issue, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Politico he’s waiting for more information before commenting.
“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. “So let’s wait and see.”
His colleague on the panel, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., added that “on a number of topics where we have been briefed in a classified setting, I think the American people need and deserve to know more.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he's still searching for answers.
“I think that’s a question that has to have answers," Rubio said. "And beyond that, we’ve all seen some of these attacks on diplomatic facilities. I don’t want to link the two, but again, I just can’t comment on any of that.”
Despite the report, Phil Coyle, the Pentagon’s former director of the Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, expressed doubt about the viability of directed-energy attacks.
“It seems far-fetched to me — harder to do by far than just killing American soldiers with bombs or bullets,” Coyle told Politico. “The advantage, of course, of some imaginary weapon is maybe there would be no attribution. Nobody would be able to tell, which I guess is the situation you’re describing in Syria. All we know is these soldiers got sick, and we don’t know whether it’s food poisoning or something else that made them sick, so we can’t blame the Russians.”
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