Once again there are reports about Havana syndrome attacks on US diplomats and intelligence officers in different parts of the world. Most recently CIA called its station chief in Vienna, Austria for not responding properly to an alleged outbreak. The move came after many US intelligence officials in Vienna reported symptoms consistent with the mysterious disease. Commonly these symptoms include migraine, dizziness, and memory loss. According to the reports, dozens of officials and their children in Vienna reported these symptoms. Those who are affected claim that they hear the buzzing sound of a machine coming from one direction and feel pressure in their heads.
Some have also complained about nausea and fatigue among other symptoms. Apart from US government, scientists and doctors are also trying to find out about potential causes of the Havana syndrome but it is still an enigma. There are of course several theories about the possible reason behind this illness given how it is often targeting US agents and their families. One is that it might be some kind of new warfare through an invisible weapon; another is that the victims could be feeling the effects of some secret spy equipment; or as per other claims that it’s all in the patient’s head.
How Havana Syndrome Attacks Began?
The first case of Havana syndrome was officially reported in 2016 in Cuba. The victims were CIA officers and Canadian embassy workers; the reason why the details were kept confidential initially but then eventually got out as anxiety spread. Reportedly, 26 personnel associated with the US government along with their families suffered unexplained brain injuries, headaches, memory loss, and cognitive difficulties. Donald Trump who was the president of the United States back then blamed the Cuban government for the Havana syndrome attacks, which Cuba denied. Examinations revealed that the victims’ ears were damaged from inside which could have been caused by a directed energy beam. US State Department alleged that its diplomatic staff was facing attacks from some kind of sonic weapon from Cuban forces or some other hardline group. However, Cuban scientists ruled it as an episode of psychological stress. The incidents also did not stop there but kept on occurring throughout the course of 5 years.
In 2018, health incidents similar to those reported in Cuba happened in Guangzhou, China as well when two consulate workers flew back to America. One of them was convinced that he was the victim of a targeted attack but it was not confirmed. One more happened in 2019 in Washington, US with a female worker of the National Security Council (NSC). Other cases emerged in Russia, India, and Uzbekistan too among many others that were classified. The year 2021 has seen a greater influx of back-to-back cases. Reportedly, since 2016, more than 200 US officials and their relatives in the country and abroad have gotten sick with Havana syndrome, out of which 100 are CIA officials and their families.
As there was no concrete evidence of the cause, wild theories were bound to emerge. Initially a lot of focus was on blame games, phycological illness, or a possibility of a secret weapon. However, recently the focus is rapidly shifting towards another possibility which dates back to Cold War era.
Connection with the Cold War Era Incidents
It was a dark time between 1946 and 1991 after World War II that involved an intense conflict between the US and Soviet Union, and their allies. Even though it was peace on the surface but countries waged war based on political, economic, and propaganda advantages. At the height of the Cold War in 1970s, the US believed that Russia was using microwave technology to control the mind of Americans. After Cuban incident, Professor James Lin of the University of Illinois immediately suspected that the same microwaves were responsible for the Havana syndrome attacks. His beliefs were based on his research in the 1970s as well as his personal experience as reportedly he heard the sounds himself in the past.
Around World War II, there were many reports of people hearing things whenever the nearest radar began sending microwaves into the sky. It raised concerns as microwaves were not supposed to make external sounds. The majority of the scientists believed that Radio Frequency or microwaves interacted with the nervous systems.
To test the theory, Professor Lin conducted experiments in a small room (in University of Washington) lined with absorbent materials, sat on a wooden chair holding a light switch, and had an antenna aimed at the back of his head. His colleague sent pulses of microwaves through the antenna from outside of the room. Whenever the Professor heard a sound, he pressed the switch. He described the sound of a single pulse as a zip or a click and a series of pulses as the chirping of a bird.
These sounds were not external and only produced in his head. The Professor believed that the soft brain tissues absorbed the microwave energy and converted them into pressure waves moving inside the head, which the brain registered as a sound. This happened when high-power microwaves were transferred as pulses, which were different from the low-power continuous waveform used in mainstream devices such as a modern microwave oven. Lin stressed that the power of microwaves must be kept low when testing them or using them in the application.
The Moscow Signal during Cold War Era
The Cold War saw a collision of different sciences in the name of super-power rivalry. Highly advance technologies including mind control were being explored due to the fears of a rival getting an upper hand. That’s where the microwaves also came in. Soviets were performing their own experiments too so the US wanted to keep a close watch. America was concerned that Soviet microwaves could be used to compromise the brain function of US officials. However, the intentions of the US were clearly more than just being defensive. For many decades, a huge 10-storey US embassy in Moscow was immersed in a wide invisible beam of low-level microwaves but nobody working inside knew about it. Later it became known as the Moscow signal, which only a few top officials knew about in the beginning.
The beam originated from the top of an antenna placed on the balcony of a nearby Soviet apartment. From there it hit the sensitive floors of the embassy where ambassador’s office and such were located. It was first spotted in the 1950s but remained a secret for many decades. The embassy staff claimed that they were trying to learn about its purpose. They theorized that the Moscow signal either picked up secret conversations through windows, or perhaps activate a Soviet listening device hidden inside the embassy, or even capture vital information when microwaves hit electronic devices in the US embassy. The Soviets claimed that it was to jam US equipment on the roof that intercepted Soviet communications in Moscow.
Even the US military has confessed to using its methods to convert an electronic device into a weapon of sound beams. It has been involved in using the weapon to beam sounds and spoken words into the minds of people. According to reports, a former UK intelligence agent informed the media that microwaves can also be used to rig electronic devices for identifying and tracking devices like the Moscow signal. Some agents speculated that if such a device existed even by a US manufacturer, it could be in poor condition which is why the symptoms of Havana syndrome attacks are amplified. However, US officials were unable to identify or recover any such device.
Results of the Latest Experiment
The theory about another nation targeting the US with Havana syndrome attacks is imminent but the lawmakers need concrete evidence. The microwave evidence may not be conclusive but the government and the scientists believe its presence is much stronger than before. Reportedly, the testing phase is improved this time, and data is being collected and analyzed in a more systematic manner. The results this year have shown specific markers in the blood that indicate brain damage. Previously, the tests were being conducted late due to which the markers were fading away. However, these markers have been spotted for the first time as victims are reportedly getting tested as soon as after reporting symptoms.
The debate is still not conclusive because some subjects could have Havana syndrome while others are being associated with it just because of brain damage. Reportedly, there are concerns among different US officials whether the intent of technology has been changed this time and it is just an attempt to unsettle the US. Some even mentioned it as an internal conflict meaning one US state could be trying to take advantage from the activities of another.
The mystery surrounding the Havana syndrome attacks is seen as its greatest strength. It spreads fear and anxiety among people wondering whether they are affected and even makes it harder for US officials to operate internationally.
CIA on the Case
According to reports, the US government has appointed a dedicated task force for solving Havana syndrome attacks. This team is led by a CIA official, who was also involved in the search for Osama Bin Laden. The director of the CIA, William J Burns suggested that there was a strong possibility the syndrome is intentionally caused by Russia, which the Kremlin has denied.