Mysterious ‘Havana Syndrome’ in US Embassies: What do we know?


Five cases of “Havana Syndrome” have been reported in Colombia. In August, US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam was delayed due to cases. How the syndrome came about is not clear.

Cases of the so-called Havana syndrome have been reported at the US Embassy in Bogota. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque confirmed the fact to AFP news agency, after it was reported in the Wall Street Journal. “Of course we are aware of this situation, but I want to leave it to US officials, who are doing their own investigation because it is about their own personnel,” he said during a visit to New York.

At least five families linked to the embassy in Colombia are said to have experienced symptoms of the mysterious syndrome. The US mission in Bogota is one of the largest missions in the world. In addition to career diplomats and staff, several intelligence agents and Drug Enforcement Administration officials are stationed there.

In August: Cases in Hanoi

In Vietnam the syndrome made news in late August. US Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to fly from Singapore to Vietnam on August 24, where a meeting with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc was on the agenda. But the departure was delayed by more than three hours after his team was informed about two possible cases of Havana syndrome in the Vietnamese capital.

A statement from the US embassy in Hanoi said Harris’ office had decided after a thorough review that the vice president could travel. It said there was no security risk. Harris spoke as planned in Hanoi on Wednesday.

The embassy statement spoke of a recent “disproportionate health phenomenon” – the term US diplomats always use heavily when talking about Havana syndrome. But what does it actually mean?

First appearance in Cuba

The puzzle first surfaced in 2016, when dozens of cases were discovered between US and Canadian diplomats and their family members in the Cuban capital. Those affected faced drowsiness, fatigue, headache and hearing and vision problems. Some of the victims also lost their hearing ability permanently.

Since the events in Cuba, Russia, China, Austria and, most recently, in Berlin, symptoms have been repeatedly reported by US diplomats and intelligence officials.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that those affected by the incident reported nausea, dizziness, severe headaches, earaches and fatigue, and some were unable to work.

The newspaper reported that US representatives with Havana syndrome have also been registered in other European countries. Some of those affected were related to issues such as gas exports, cyber security and political interference.

tremor-like symptoms

Symptoms appear suddenly. According to the report of GQ magazine, in 2017 a patient was affected while lying in bed at night in Moscow. Due to his nausea, he initially thought he had food poisoning, but then felt so dizzy that he collapsed while trying to go to the bathroom.

“It felt like I was going in both a throw-up and a pass out at the same time,” the CIA employee told the magazine.

The whole thing completely pissed him off. For example, unlike some US citizens at the embassy in Havana in 2016, they said they didn’t hear any loud noises.

Experts from the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania studied some US citizens injured in Cuba and published a study in 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In it, the researchers write that the patient was severely impaired in his or her balance and cognitive, motor and sensory abilities – much like those who had suffered a serious injury.

But unlike a concussion, the symptoms did not disappear; They only calmed down repeatedly before returning with even greater force.

cause unknown

US intelligence coordinator Avril Haines recently said officials were unsure about what caused the “unusual health incidents”. But conjectures abound, of course.

Experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the US raised a voice in December 2020, suggesting that targeted pulses of radio-frequency energy were behind the symptoms.

Other researchers believe that Havana syndrome is caused by microwave weapons that US adversaries use to specifically target diplomats, intelligence officers and their families. Such weapons employing high-frequency radiation have already been developed.

Microwaves operate in the range of one to 300 GHz. Microwave ovens, which are common in many homes, heat food at a frequency of 2.5 GHz. As the frequency increases, the radiation carries more energy. The right tools can be used for the purpose of the people. The rays then penetrate deeper into the body depending on the frequency and can cause damage there.

For example, the US Department of Defense has developed a weapons system that uses microwaves at a frequency of 95 GHz.

Another possible cause of the symptom that has been considered is sound weapons – this thesis is supported, for example, by the fact that some Havana victims heard a piercing sound before their symptoms began. However, other patients with Havana syndrome heard nothing.

There may also be systems that allow strikes at inaudible range, but little is known about these except that military officials are researching them. So far, experts have classified their existence as highly unlikely.

The question of who is responsible for Havana syndrome is as vague as its causes.

In May, US government officials, who asked not to be named, told Politico magazine that they suspected Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency to be behind the attacks. Although the White House has not yet officially made any allegations.

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