I'm absolutely obsessed with learning about the so-called "Havana Syndrome." I know the U.S. intelligence community just released a report stating that Havana Syndrome was not caused by a foreign adversary or anything else nefarious, but that hasn't stopped me from wanting to learn more. Greg Myre at NPR reports:
Seven different U.S. intelligence agencies were involved in the investigation, and five found it was "highly unlikely" a foreign country was to blame. One said it was "unlikely," and one didn't take a position.
The officials also said there was "no credible evidence" that a foreign adversary has a weapon capable of inflicting the kind of harm suffered by the U.S. officials.
This is the official word, but not everyone is satisfied with these findings. Again, Myre reports:
This findings in a new intelligence assessment come as a disappointment to U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials who believe they suffered attacks and are still dealing with serious health problems.
The episodes were first reported by U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2016. Some 1,500 cases among U.S. government staffers have now been reported worldwide. The vast majority of those cases have been resolved and were linked to causes such as existing medical conditions.
However, about two dozen current and former officials are still suffering from chronic ailments that have defied explanation, according to some of those officials who remain afflicted.
The assessment goes against what many people suspected, including many of the intelligence officers and diplomats who suffered these ailments.
I definitely recommend reading the rest of Myre's NPR piece to hear more from the intelligence officers and diplomats who aren't thrilled with the findings. And if you want to take a deep dive into Havana Syndrome, here are some more great resources, in the form of two new podcasts. The first, The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome, explores the various theories folks have forwarded to try to explain what is causing the ailments people have been experiencing. The podcast was created by Project Brazen and Goat Rodeo in partnership with PRX, and is hosted by Nicky Woolf. PRX, writing on Medium, explains:
In this investigation, host Nicky Woolf peels back the layers of one of the most bizarre mysteries of the modern age. Listeners will hear about how the U.S. agencies failed to agree even on the basic premises. The U.S. Department of State said it was a "sonic device," then rolled that back. The CIA have hinted microwave radiation might be involved. The FBI also denied its existence and now they seem to be rolling that back as well. A story about spycraft, technology, and the brain, "The Sound" explores the wild and wide variety of theories that have been put forward. Listeners will also hear from diplomats and spies, neurologists, and physicists to help begin to piece the evidence together.
The second, Havana Syndrome, includes lots of interviews with people who have suffered from "Havana Syndrome"–whatever that might actually be–and provides insight into their experiences. Podcast Republic describes the podcast:
In 2016, a mysterious, debilitating illness begins to afflict American diplomats and spies working abroad – first in Cuba, and then around the world. Victims report crippling neurological symptoms. Some describe the feeling of being hit by an invisible, directed pressure while they were stationed on government property, or sometimes standing in their own homes or hotel rooms. Is this bizarre illness the result of a weapon? Is it mass psychosis? Or something else entirely? Award-winning journalists Jon Lee Anderson and Adam Entous take listeners to the heart of this saga in HAVANA SYNDROME, a new podcast from VICE World News. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
In late 2018, my colleague Adam Entous and I teamed up to find out exactly what happened to these spies and diplomats. The resulting New Yorker piece – "The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome" – uncovered many new details about incidents, as well as the timeline of events that led up to the initial reports in Cuba. But years later, we – along with the rest of the world – are still asking: what is Havana Syndrome? Is it real? And if it is real, who – or what – is causing it? And perhaps the most frustrating question of all: why is it taking the US government so long to solve it?
In following the trail of clues, we uncovered some deeply-held secrets about the world of global espionage that could provide the key to finally solving the mystery.
In our reporting, we traveled to Havana to visit the scene of several early incidents; we visited London where two White House staffers reported Havana Syndrome symptoms in a hotel located just blocks from Buckingham Palace; we paid a visit to Vienna, where the second largest outbreak of reported Havana Syndrome cases led to the dismissal of the local CIA station chief; and we retraced the steps of a national security official who reported an incident within shouting distance of the Oval Office.
I'm definitely NOT a conspiracy theorist, but I AM fascinated by the various narratives floating around about Havana Syndrome, and especially by the stories of people who have been affected by whatever might be happening–whether that's environmental, something linked to preexisting health issues, something psychological, or something else entirely.