All you want to know about Havana Syndrome

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Frontier India News Network
Frontier India News Network
Frontier India News Network is the in-house news collection and distribution agency.

At least 20 people who worked at the American Embassy in Austria have complained of sudden dizziness and headaches. The reasons are not clear; the US authorities are investigating. They suspect this is the case of ‘Havana Syndrome’.

The American authorities are more and more inclined to conclude that the so-called Havana syndrome in several American civil servants is a consequence of ‘directed energy’ or ‘Acoustic Attacks’; Washington believes that a foreign state may be behind this.

CIA Director William Burns and lawmakers familiar with the investigation, publicly speaking about the causes of the “Havana Syndrome”, usually use “attacks”. Still, several officials are sceptical about such an interpretation, and some prominent neurologists call it implausible. At the same time, members of the Senate’s special intelligence committee, whom the intelligence community informs about the progress of the investigation, claim that the latest information proves the sceptics are wrong. 

Senators themselves are increasingly citing so-called directed energy attacks as the cause of the Havana Syndrome. “It seems to me that this is quackery,” – says Marco Antonio Rubio, an American politician and lawyer serving as the senior United States senator from Florida, for those who believe that the symptoms of the syndrome are psychosomatic.

“Havana syndrome”

For the first time, American diplomats in Cuba complained about similar symptoms in 2016-2017. Then at least 19 employees of the US Embassy in Havana were injured, diagnosed with “minor injuries and cerebral edema”, hearing loss, severe headaches, loss of balance and cognitive impairment. Initially, the US authorities expressed assumptions about some “acoustic attacks”, but this version was not accurately confirmed. They were investigating the victims at the Canadian Embassy.

US Embassy in Havana which reported Havana Syndrome first
US Embassy in Havana which reported Havana Syndrome first

American diplomats worldwide began to complain of similar syndromes – in Russia, China, Vietnam, India, Great Britain, Austria, Australia, Latin America, Central Asia, the Balkans, and even in the United States itself. To date, more than 200 such cases are known. Some of the victims avoid publicity. Among those who, on the contrary, are trying to attract as much attention as possible is the former CIA officer Mark Polymeropoulos.

In December 2017, CIA agent Mark Polymeropoulos was assimilated into a new role: he was in charge of covert control operations in Europe. A business trip to Moscow was a must at a new career stage. He now speaks of this trip with regret, “In the middle of the night in December 2017, I woke up with a ringing in my ears, dizzy, everything in the hotel room was spinning, I felt sick … It was really scary. I spent a lot of time in Iraq, Afghanistan and naturally before that I got into dangerous situations, but this was one of the most frightening and disorienting moments in my life. “

Douglas Smith of the University of Pennsylvania, who investigated the issue, called the symptoms “concussion without concussion.” 

Different versions

In 2018, The New York Times published a hypothesis about microwave radiation, which the Russian special services may be using. In 2019, the UK Brain Recovery Center and the Nova Scotia Canadian Health Authority reported neurotoxins in anti-mosquito pesticides could cause this problem. In 2020, the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released a version of directed radiofrequency radiation. Other versions were also expressed, including about a massive psychogenic illness.

CIA Director William Burns admitted in an interview with US National Public Radio on July 22 that the cause of the ailments, dubbed “Havana Syndrome,” has not been established. At the same time, he did not rule out Russia’s involvement in the alleged attacks on intelligence officers and US civil servants. As The Washington Post reported in late September in an article about the recall of a CIA resident from Vienna, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that the ailment was mental, not physical.

The US blames Russia

In 2017, employees of the US Embassy in China experienced similar Cuban symptoms. The American intelligence community started talking about a potential attack using electromagnetic influence and a Russian trail.

“I would not rule out that the Cuban special services received some technical assistance from the Russians,” says ex-CIA officer James Olson. He had faced similar influences before.

“When I served in Moscow in the 1970s and 80s, a similar attack was carried out against the embassy staff, they were exposed to microwave radiation. It is known to cause serious harm to health, including brain tumors. They did it without any specific purpose, and we closely monitored the health of our employees. “

According to experts, in the case of the Cuban Syndrome, Russia had more than compelling motives to harm relations between Washington and Havana. At the same time, the operation could be carried out without the knowledge of the Cuban authorities, who in every possible way denied their involvement in the attacks.

“I, of course, do not have indisputable evidence, but perhaps Russia wanted to introduce differences in relations between the United States and Cuba in order to stop the policy of detente that began at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. That is, you are attacking American officials in Cuba and, naturally, we immediately blame the country’s leadership, since they did not protect our diplomats. As a result, we take a step back in relations, introduce sanctions and here we are again where we were, “ex-CIA officer Daniel Hoffman told Voice of America in an interview.

In favour of the version about microwave radiation were the conclusions of scientists in the US Academy of Sciences report, published in December 2020. True, they could not entirely exclude other causes of ailments: psychological factors, chemical poisoning or infection.

“The Commission considers these cases to be very serious because of the role of direct pulsed electromagnetic radiation as a possible mechanism of action, as well as because of the significant suffering and deterioration in the health of some patients,” the authors of the report said.

The experts’ caution in their conclusions is understandable. Opponents of the radio-frequency version argue that such radiation could not damage internal organs without external traces in the form of burns. And the weapon itself is considered by many scientists to be science fiction. There was even an alternative and much more banal version. And all thanks to the audio recording of that very mysterious sound, made by one of the diplomats, released by the Associated Press. Several acoustics experts have stated that this is the sound made by a common cricket species in Cuba.

According to the neuropathologist and author of the book on the “Havana Syndrome” Robert Ballou, under conditions of stress and surveillance of diplomats in countries such as Cuba, China or Russia, the sound of insects could trigger a massive psychogenic illness in which people instil illness in themselves. At the same time, Ballou notes that the symptoms in such patients are quite real, which cannot be said about their causes.

“This is a very important point: despite claims that the brain has suffered from electromagnetic effects, no objective test has confirmed this. They talked about hearing loss, but this, too, has not been confirmed by any objective research. Patients have changes, but they are not in the structure, but in the physiological processes of the brain. “

Despite its popularity, this theory remains highly controversial. According to Dr Douglas Smith, in the first study established, the sounds – regardless of their nature – have nothing to do with the brain damage identified in patients. Mark Polymeropoulos, as well as his colleagues, does not believe in such a theory. He adds that the stigma associated with alleged mental disorders could have caused many government officials not to report symptoms.

Former intelligence officer Olson makes another point. Lack of information about the reality of any weapon does not mean that it does not exist. An example of this is the use of polonium-210 or “Novichok” by the Russian special services, which no one has ever heard of.

“Look at the attacks against dissidents and politicians: Litvinenko, Skripali, now Navalny. This is an organized attack on Russia’s enemies using advanced technological and scientific solutions. Putin is a very dangerous person and I don’t think we can deny the possibility that he would eventually strike inside the US,” Olson said.

Last week, the New York Times, citing sources, reported that the total number of patients with Havana syndrome has already reached 130. The CIA announced an expansion of the investigation, which a special working group is carrying out. Secret briefings were held for members of Congress in April. Officially, the American government still does not know what caused the mysterious symptoms. The doctors were unable to diagnose Mark Polymeropoulos either. Due to health problems, he retired and still suffers from headaches.

CIA Director William Burns has warned the Russian Federation of the consequences if it turns out that Russia is behind the cases of the “Havana syndrome” among US diplomats, the Washington Post reports.

As per the report, confidential conversations were held between the head of the CIA and representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in early November 2021.

At the same time, Burns did not threaten Moscow directly and did not accuse it of any actions against diplomats. 

Russia denies its involvement

Moscow has no relation to any incidents of the so-called Havana Syndrome. On Thursday, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, commenting on The Washington Post’s claims that CIA Director William Burns warned during his visit to Moscow Russia of ‘consequences,’ if it was complicit in such incidents.

The reporters inquired if the issue of the Havana Syndrome was raised during the visit by the CIA chief to Moscow in early November and if he raised it during his talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This issue was not raised in any way with Burns’s political interlocutors here in Moscow, and it was not touched upon with the head of state. As for the content of Burns’s talk with his counterparts in the intelligence services, I have nothing to say on this matter as this is non-public information,” Peskov said, replying to a corresponding question.

“What we can utterly reject on this score relates to any hints, presumptions or claims of Russia’s alleged complicity in these cases. We have nothing to do with that,” the Kremlin spokesman stressed.


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