What is Havana Syndrome? Microwave radiation likely cause for mystery illness in US diplomats in Cuba, says study
In 2018, there were reports that US intelligence considered Russia as a leading suspect in these 'deliberate attacks on diplomats and CIA officers overseas. But there was no conclusive intelligence
Unexplained brain injuries afflicted dozens of American diplomats and spies, but what was the truth behind this sudden affliction? According to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, there is now medical evidence to support the long-held opinion of American intelligence officials, that the mysterious neurological symptoms experienced by American diplomats in China and Cuba in 2017 are consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy.
The report, obtained by NBC News, does not conclude that the directed energy was delivered intentionally, by a weapon, as some US officials have long believed. But it gives rise to that possibility. The findings were transferred to Congress after bipartisan calls led by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire who is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. She issued the following statement: “The health effects from these mysterious injuries have tormented those afflicted. Their illnesses and suffering are real and demand a response from Congress. American public servants and their families – who have been targeted – have requested that Congress receive and review this report, so I’m glad the State Department heeded our bipartisan call so we can get to work.”
According to the New Yorker, between December 30, 2016, and February 9, 2017, at least three CIA officers working under diplomatic cover in Cuba had reported troubling sensations that seemed to leave serious injuries. When CIA sent reinforcements to Havana, at least two of them were afflicted as well. The Americans suffered from headaches, dizziness, hearing a loud sound and feeling pressure in their heads, unsteady gait, visual disturbances and a range of other symptoms. Some even suffered longstanding, debilitating effects.
As many as 40 State Department and other government employees had been studied by a team of medical and scientific experts studied the symptoms and noted that nothing like them had previously been documented in medical literature, according to the National Academies of Sciences report. Specialists studied their brains and determined that the injuries resembled concussions, like those suffered by soldiers struck by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there were no signs of impact. The affliction didn’t have a name, so some of the victims started to refer to it simply as the Thing.
“The committee felt that many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by (government) employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy,” the report says. “Studies published in the open literature more than a half-century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism.”
While important questions persist, “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, as if the US government does not have its hands full already with naturally occurring threats,” says the report, edited by Dr David Relman, a professor in medicine, microbiolology and immunology at Stanford and Julie Pavlin, a physician who leads the National Academies of Sciences global health division in Washington.
NBC News was informed by a source familiar with the matter that the CIA, using mobile phone location data, had determined that some Russian intelligence agents who had worked on microwave weapons programs were at the same cities at the same time when the CIA officers suffered mysterious symptoms. CIA officials consider that a likely lead but not conclusive evidence.
In 2018, NBC News had reported that US intelligence officials considered Russia as a leading suspect in what some of them judge to have been deliberate attacks on diplomats and CIA officers overseas. But there was not — and still isn’t — conclusive intelligence pointing in that direction, multiple officials who have been briefed on the matter said.
The State Department, reacting to the report, said that "each possible cause remains speculative" and added that the investigation, now three years old, is still "ongoing." Even though it praised the National Academies of Sciences for undertaking the effort, the State Department offered a long list of "challenges of their study" and limitations in the data the academies were given access to, suggesting that the report should not be viewed as conclusive. "While the above limit the scope of the report, they do not lessen its value," the State Department said in an emailed statement. "We are pleased this report is now out and can add to the data and analyses that may help us come to an eventual conclusion as to what transpired."
The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Russia has denied any involvement in the incidents.
The study observed four possibilities to explain the symptoms: Infection, chemicals, psychological factors and microwave energy. “Overall, directed pulsed RF energy … appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases among those that the committee considered. ... The committee cannot rule out other possible mechanisms and considers it likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others.” The report says more investigation is required.
More than two dozen US workers who served in Cuba and a smaller number of Canadians were confirmed to have been affected. Even one US government worker in China who was judged in 2018 claimed to have experienced similar symptoms.
For some of the affected employees, those symptoms have been solved and the individuals have eventually been able to return to somewhat normal lives. For others, the effects have remained and posed an ongoing and significant difficulty to their work and well-being, according to NBC News interviews with US officials who were assessed by the government to have been affected.
Cuba, however, has consistently denied any knowledge or involvement in the incidents. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked in October about the investigation, stated that there was still no firm conclusion. “We've done a lot of work to try and identify how this all took place,” Pompeo said. “And we continue to try and determine precisely the causation of this while doing our best to make sure we're taking care of the health and safety of these people.”
These remarks were made by individual organizations, MEAWW cannot confirm them independently and nor does it support these claims being made on the Internet.