The CIA has said the strange and mysterious ailment known as Havana Syndrome is not the product of a sustained global campaign by a hostile power aimed at hundreds of U.S. diplomats and spies.
There have been hundreds of cases involving possible symptoms of the mystery illness, which the agency now claims to have found alternative explanations in all but about two dozen cases.
In the unresolved case, the agency has not been able to rule out foreign actors involvement including the original cases that began at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2016.
Instead, the Biden administration has simply termed the those afflicted as ‘anomalous health incidents.’
The CIA has declined to comment.
The CIA has said the strange and mysterious symptoms are not as a the result of a sustained global campaign by a hostile power (file photo of the lobby of the CIA in Langley, Virginia)
The syndrome first surfaced at the US embassy in Havana, when government employees suddenly found themselves afflicted with the mysterious malady
For several years, it had widely been accepted that the symptoms of a brain injury were being caused by Russia or some other foreign power that was deliberately targeting Americans around the world.
The aim, it was believed, was in order to cause them harm or to collect intelligence.
That theory has now been deemed to be completely unfounded according to sources speaking to NBC News.
Those who have experienced Havana Syndrome have expressed disappointment that the agency appears to have now dismissed the claims.
Some have also suggested the CIA’s findings may not be the end of the matter on the subject given that it did not coordinate with other intelligence agencies including the Defense Department.
Symptoms of Havana Syndrome include loud noise, ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties
What is ‘Havana Syndrome’? The mysterious illness that started in the US embassy in Cuba and causes memory and hearing loss
The problem has been labeled the ‘Havana Syndrome,’ because the first cases affected personnel in 2016 at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.
At least 200 cases across the government are now under investigation.
People who are believed to have been affected have reported headaches, dizziness and symptoms consistent with concussions, with some requiring months of medical treatment. Some have reported hearing a loud noise before the sudden onset of symptoms.
Countries its been reported in: Cuba, United States, China, Russia, Vietnam, Austria, Germany, Serbia, United Kingdom, Georgia, Poland, Taiwan, Australia, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan
There are still calls for more research to take place into what may have happened despite the ruling out of hundreds of cases.
‘Even two dozen cases is a lot of cases if Americans were attacked,’ one person who was briefed on the findings said.
Symptoms of Havana Syndrome include loud noise, ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties, and many still continue to experience these or other health problems, according to a 2020 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report.
The report assessed the symptoms to be ‘consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy.’
Some have reported hearing a loud noise before the sudden onset of symptoms.
But it’s unclear if victims sustain any neurological damage or any long-term damage and it’s unclear what might have caused that damage.
U.S. intelligence officials once points the blame at Russia in what they believed to have been deliberate attacks on diplomats and CIA officers working abroad.
But in the three years since that time, spy agencies have not found enough evidence that would pinpoint the cause or culprits behind the incidents.
The 2020 report details how observed brain injuries were consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy, which the report also said that Russia had long been studying.
Russia has consistently denied any involvement.
It leaves scientists and government officials puzzled about certain about who might have been behind the attacks which started in late 2016.
It’s know known if the symptoms could have been caused inadvertently by surveillance equipment – or if the incidents were caused by a mysterious sonic weapon.
Some doubt its existence, however, and call it ‘mass hysteria.’
The leading theory behind the cause of the suddenly surfaced syndrome starts with a device that scientists say Russia could have invented during the Cold War, which was later used to spy on US embassies by collecting data from laptops and cell phones.
However, experts now theorize that a hostile country – like Russia or China – may have turned this microwave technology into a weapon.
Both countries deny any involvement in any of the incidents relating to the mysterious syndrome and U.S. officials now say they cannot say for sure that the attacks were intentional attacks or the result of human activity.
At least one of the three American serving at the consulate in Geneva (pictured) believed to be inflicted had to be medevacked from Switzerland to the U.S. for treatment in a 2021 incident
In private, the CIA Director William Burns had described the various as ‘attacks’ yet he together with the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, have endorsed the latest reports findings.
There are likely to be more reports on Havana syndrome in the coming months.
The White House National Security Council has put together a task force that is examining Havana Syndrome and it it is expected to report shortly.
The Defense Department, FBI and the State Department are also working on their own investigations as to the origins of the syndrome.
In the latest incidents, three US diplomats in Geneva and one in Paris were afflicted with the suspected syndrome.
Last summer, four officials serving at U.S. diplomatic missions in Geneva and Paris also came down with ailments linked to ‘Havana Syndrome.
A similar incident occurred in Paris, where senior embassy officials informed diplomats and encouraged others to report any unusual symptoms (U.S. Embassy in Paris pictured)
Of the three American officials serving at the consulate in Geneva, at least one had to be medevacked from Switzerland to the U.S. for treatment, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Staff were later informed about the incident by the mission’s leadership during a town hall meeting.
This was followed by a similar incident in Paris, where senior embassy officials informed diplomats via email about a suspected case, encouraging others to report any unusual symptoms.
In response to the new reported incidents U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the entire federal government is working to get to the bottom of the illness.
‘To date, we don’t know exactly what’s happened and we don’t know exactly who is responsible,’ Blinken said last month.
‘I’ve heard them. I’ve listened to them. You can’t help but be struck by how these incidents disrupted their lives and their well-being. We’re doing everything we can to care for them.’
The sonic weapon the could cause Havana syndrome is said to be a smaller version of this 1990s Soviet microwave generator, which is kept at the University of New Mexico
The incidents in Geneva and Paris took place where the U.S and Russia held security talks in early December over Moscow’s troop buildup near the Ukraine border.
Blinken said the United States has raised the illnesses with the Russians but still cannot make a determination about who was responsible.
The Secretary of State added he has met with State Department employees around the world who described the illnesses and how these incidents disrupted their lives.
‘There is no doubt in my mind that people have been directly and powerfully affected,’ he said.
All in the mind? How the mysterious Havana Syndrome is a ‘global experiment in mass suggestion’ and NOT targeted attacks expert claims
Since Havana Syndrome emerged in late 2016, the US government has made the mysterious phenomenon an intelligence priority and spent tens of millions of dollars investigating potential microwave weapon attacks by foreign adversaries.
But medical sociology expert Dr Robert Bartholomew is so convinced it’s a case of mass delusion, he’s co-authored a book on it with Robert Baloh – Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.
The unexplained illness, which was first recorded in Cuba, has since spread to US embassies across the world (and also some Canadian), with a reported 130 cases. Symptoms include hearing loss, severe headaches, memory issues, dizziness and brain injury.
The Embassy of the United States of America in Cuba, which is where Havana Syndrome was first allegedly encountered
Dr Bartholomew doesn’t mince his words. He means what he says and says what he means.
Katy Perry’s music was blasted by the Philippines government to break up a demonstration
‘There is more evidence for Bigfoot than there is for Havana Syndrome,’ the US expatriate who is based at the University of Auckland, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The evidence overwhelmingly points to mass hysteria, or as it is commonly referred to by scientists – mass psychogenic illness. Havana Syndrome is a result of incompetent government officials and bad science. I would go so far as to rename it Havana Syndrome Delusion – the absurd belief, in the wake of persistent evidence to the contrary, that diplomats are being targeted with an energy weapon.’
He says it is possible to use noise as a weapon, just not in the way Havana Syndrome victims maintain it is.
‘In the Philippines, the government blasted Katy Perry music to break up a demonstration. Other than that, it doesn’t work very well because of the laws of physics.’
Dr Bartholomew says there are four theories as to what causes Havana Syndrome.
‘The first theory that popped up was that it’s a sonic weapon that used soundwaves to make people sick. This one is really far fetched because these people in Havana weren’t targeted in the embassy. They were targeted in their homes, and mainly in two big hotels. To target somebody in a huge hotel would defy the laws of physics – 99 per cent of the soundwaves would bounce off the outer wall. It just doesn’t work that way.’
‘The second explanation was that it was pesticides that were being sprayed to kill mosquitos that were carrying the Zika virus. The problem with that is, there’s no neurotoxin in the world that only affects American and Canadian diplomats and their families.’
‘The third explanation is this microwave stuff, the Frey Effect [an auditory phenomenon where microwave or radio frequencies generate clicking sounds inside the head]. This gained popularity after the National Academy of Sciences came out with their report and said it could be the Frey Effect. But they weren’t sure. If you look closely at the report, it was just a guess. The person that identified the mechanism in the Frey Effect is Ken Foster at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s a bio-engineer. I contacted him and he said it’s definitely not the Frey Effect.’
Mass psychogenic illness
‘So you’re left with the only plausible explanation, which is mass psychogenic illness. The first people infected were intelligence officers on the same small station. This is a defining feature of mass psychogenic illness. It follows social networks and it usually begins in these small, cohesive groups and spreads outwards, and that’s exactly what happened. These people all belong to a common work environment. There’s a high degree of stress, they’re in a foreign country, they knew they were being surveilled 24/7. It’s a classic setup for mass hysteria.’
Dr Robert Bartholomew has written a book called Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.
Dr Bartholomew says mass psychogenic illness has been around for centuries in various forms.
‘It used to be called mass or epidemic hysteria. In the past three or four decades it’s been called mass psychogenic illness. The phenomena has been around for millennia. There are clear cases dating back to the dancing mania of the middle ages and beyond. I have collected about 3,500 cases going back to the middle ages.
‘It started in a small CIA unit in Havana, Cuba in late 2016. And that’s exactly what you would expect from mass psychogenic illness. It starts in small, close-knit groups and then spreads from there, usually to people of lower status, which is exactly what happened here.
‘And so you have these CIA officers walking around near their houses, noticing that there are these strange sounds at night. And then one day, one of them felt unwell, felt they had dizziness, ear pain and they went to the clinic at the embassy and the guy made an observation that “You know, it was almost like somebody was pointing a device at my head”.’
This should have set off alarm bells in the medical community, but didn’t.
‘After that emerged, they heard from two other officers from the same unit, that they had heard these strange sounds as well. Then a theory emerged that they were being harassed with some secret weapon.’
It turns out there’s a long history of Cuban agents harassing American diplomats in Havana that went back decades.
‘All of the diplomats that were sent to the new embassy in Havana that opened in 2015 (after diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba were reinstated under President Barack Obama) had been briefed about it.
“Because during the Cold War, Cuban agents were notorious for harassing diplomats. They would sneak into their houses at night while they slept and throw dog poo on the floor, open up all the windows so you get mosquitos, all sorts of things.
‘So when they went over there they were paranoid. They were on the lookout for this stuff and they know they are being surveilled 24-7, so you’ve got this sense of anxiety already.’
Dr Bartholomew says belief in Havana Syndrome amounts to a ‘global experiment in mass suggestion’.
‘What’s happened is the (US) State Department issued a warning to their embassies all over the world, to diplomats and intelligence officers to be on the lookout for “anomalous health incidents” that may or may not be accompanied by strange sounds.
‘What do you think is going to happen? Now people all over the world are on alert for anything unusual in terms of health. People have mysterious health incidents all the time, or just health incidents in general.
‘So now it gets redefined as “Oh, it must be Havana Syndrome”.
Dr Bartholomew is fired up and passionate in his criticism of Havana Syndrome as a non-existent condition.
‘It’s a big waste of money, it’s an international wild goose chase that has wasted tens of millions of dollars by the US government, gotten people needlessly upset, wasted valuable time and resources during the pandemic and during a time in the world when we’re fighting global warming and this money could be used better elsewhere,’ he says.
‘All they had to do was follow the facts. The didn’t follow the facts. You can summarise this case in one sentence – When you hear the sounds of hoofbeats in the night, first think horses, not zebras.
‘The State Department looked for unicorns. They were going for the most exotic hypothesis, which was some kind of sonic weapon. Why in the world would you think you were being targeted by some kind of sonic weapon? Yes, some people heard noises, but the noises weren’t the same. There were high-pitched noises, there were low-pitched noises, they were all over the place.
‘They were all having ear pain. Well, it’s not uncommon to have hear noises and have popping sounds in your ear.’
But why is the US government wasting time, money and resources on Havana Syndrome? Part of the answer lies in an FBI report into the issue that has not been made public, but part of which has been leaked.
‘Honestly, I think they’ve figured it out,’ says Dr Bartholomew.
‘We know recently, from the leaked FBI report that they concluded that it was mass psychogenic illness. And I think intelligence agencies have figured this out. They know it’s mass hysteria.
‘But it’s embarrassing that over the last five years, under the Trump and now Biden administration, you’ve got the same individuals in these agencies who concluded that the sounds of crickets and cicadas were actually a secret weapon. It’s ridiculous and it’s embarrassing.
‘When this comes out, now it’s like “What are we going to do here?” They’ve painted themselves into a corner. Now after five years, to come out and say “Sorry, we misinterpreted insect sounds for some kind of secret foreign weapon, it’s going to be hugely embarrassing and it highlights their incompetence.’
The effects on white matter tract in the brain is one of the symptoms claimed for alleged victims of Havana Syndrome, but Dr Bartholomew says there is a far more benign explanation.
‘In December 2017 information was leaked to the media that doctors examining a number of Havana Syndrome patients had discovered significant white matter tract changes in their brain,’ he says.
The cover of Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, by Robert Baloh and Robert Bartholomew, which is out now
But when the full report came out, the facts did not back up the very selective leak.
‘Of 21 patients. three had white matter tract changes. Two were mild and one was moderate. If you walk down the streets of Sydney or Melbourne today and randomly pick 21 people, that’s exactly what you would expect to find, because white matter tract changes are common in everything from migraine to depression, to normal ageing. So the claims of white matter tract changes are a myth, but they were out there for nearly a year before the study came out.
Despite not believing in Havana Syndrome, Dr Bartholomew has great sympathy for the people who are being treated for it.
‘It’s not that they’re making it up. They’re having real symptoms, but they’re caused by their lives. They’re psychological.’
‘We are working overtime across the entire government to get to the bottom of what happened, who’s responsible. And in the meantime to make sure that we’re caring for anyone who’s been affected and to protect all of our people to the best of our ability,’ he added.
The European incidents now add to the list of roughly 200 reported cases of the yet unexplained illness, colloquially named for its first reported case in 2016 at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba.
Almost half of the cases involved CIA officers or their relatives, nearly 60 have been linked to Department of Defense workers or relatives, and about 50 involved State Department.
In October, three Havana Syndrome sufferers came forward to share the agonizing symptoms of the disease, with two of them claiming it left them brain damaged and destroyed their promising diplomatic careers.
Tina Onefur, Kate Husband, and Husband’s partner Doug Ferguson were all working for the US State Department, stationed in Cuba’s capital, when they found themselves afflicted with the mysterious malady.
The syndrome first surfaced at the embassy in Havana in 2016 – months before Onefur, Husband, and Ferguson were diagnosed.
The three described their debilitating symptoms – which include hearing loss, severe headaches, memory issues, dizziness, grogginess and even brain damage – in detail during an interview with NBC News last year.
Onefur, sobbed as she spoke and recalling the fact she can now only work two hours a day from home due to doctor-diagnosed brain damage, and said she was washing dishes one night in March 2017 at her home in Havana when she suddenly found herself overcome with pain.
‘The kids were upstairs playing, and I was standing at the kitchen window, and all of a sudden I felt like I was being struck with something.’
When asked what the sensation felt like, Onefur said the pain was like nothing she had ever felt before in her life, and explained, ‘It was gripping – it was like I’d been seized by some invisible hand, and I couldn’t move.’
When asked by interviewer Andrea Mitchell how her health is today, Onefur, choking back tears revealed that her symptoms were still as strong and prevalent as ever, even after more than four years.
‘It’s not easy to talk about our health because it’s an invisible injury,’ Onefur said,
‘It’s four-and-a-half years of of excruciating headaches, it’s four-and-a-half years of stumbling losing my balance, four-and-a-half years of vision degradation,’ Onefur asserts of the illness, while breaking down in tears.
In a nearby neighborhood in Havana in the winter months of 2016, Kate Husband and Doug Ferguson were working in the US embassy by day, with their nights spent together at their shared home.
But nights for the couple – who both hail from Michigan – would often be strangely interrupted, by a high-pitched, piercing noise seemingly coming from their backyard.
‘It was persistent, kind of at the same level all the time,’ Husband said of the shrill sound, which they never managed to identify, adding it was ‘very, very loud’ and ‘nothing you can sit with.’
Ferguson, however, managed to capture the mysterious noise on his phone and played it back for Mitchell during the interview.
The sound on the recording – a high-frequency ringing that somewhat resembles a dog whistle – is strikingly similar to a sound previously released by AP in a 2017 covering the then just-surfaced syndrome.
When asked if any other people in her neighborhood had heard the same sounds and was afflicted with similar symptoms, Husband said they had.
After feeling a slew of symptoms in the coming months, the couple was later examined by neurologists at the University of Pennsylvania.
In early 2017, Ferguson was cleared to go back to work, but Husband was diagnosed with brain damage by doctors, and was subsequently sent to receive treatment.
Husband told Mitchell that during the diagnosis, a doctor told her, after analyzing scans of her brain, ‘it’s like you aged 20, 25 years all at once.’
She later retired from her work for the State Department on the grounds of a medical disability.
Husband further revealed during the interview that she still suffers from balance issues associated with the brain damage she suffered after the 2017 diagnosis – a sensation that would trigger violent bouts of nausea, and a fogginess that makes even the most basic tasks difficult.