Havana Syndrome

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Havana Syndrome

  • A recent U.S. intelligence report says that ‘Havana Syndrome’ — a collection of symptoms and related brain injuries, reported by U.S. officials, particularly diplomats in embassies — could be caused by pulsed electromagnetic energy or close-range ultrasound.
  • These findings are somewhat different in tone from a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report from January, which, in a majority of cases, suggested other causes for the phenomena, such as underlying medical conditions.

Havana Syndrome

  • ‘Havana Syndrome’ is a colloquial name given to a set of symptoms such as dizziness, hearing loss, headaches, vertigo, nausea, memory loss and possible brain injuries first reported by 16 U.S. Embassy staff and their family members in Havana, Cuba, in 2016-17.
  • There have been other instances of the phenomenon, which has mostly impacted U.S. officials.
  • A staffer travelling in India with CIA Director Bill Burns complained of ‘Havana Syndrome’ like symptoms last September.
  • In August, Vice President Kamala Harris’s arrival in Vietnam was delayed after reports of an ‘anomalous health incident’ or AHI, in Hanoi.
  • Other countries from which American officials have reported AHIs include Colombia, Russia, China and Uzbekistan.
  • Cases ascribed to the ‘Havana Syndrome’ have also been reported from within the U.S.

Findings of Latest investigation

  • A panel, constituted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA, said on Wednesday that some of the ‘Havana Syndrome’ cases could have been caused by pulsed electromagnetic energy in the radio frequency.
  • The results of the investigation did not point to who may have been behind the phenomenon, nor commented on their motivations.
  • A partially redacted report summary finds that the symptoms of AHI are “genuine and compelling.”
  • Some individuals were affected in the same space, and they showed temporary elevations in biomarker levels that are linked to cellular injury.
  • Significantly, the investigation found that a subset of the AHIs could have been caused by external stimuli and could not be explained by known medical and environmental conditions.

Core characteristics of AHI

  • The investigation identified four “core characteristics” that describe all AHIs:
  1. A hearing impact.
  2. Existence of other almost simultaneous symptoms such as a loss of balance or vertigo.
  3. A “strong sense of locality or directionality.”
  4. Absence of other conditions, medical or environmental, that could have caused these symptoms.
  • The core characteristics could plausibly be explained by pulsed electromagnetic energy, possibly sent using nonstandard antennas and techniques, from as far as “tens of hundreds of metres”, including through building materials.
  • Ultrasound, from a nearby source, could also explain the AHIs, the panel finds, as it rules out biological and chemical agents, ionising radiation, bulk-heating from electromagnetic energy, and sound of various frequencies as “implausible explanations.”

What happens next?

  • The publicly available part of the recommendations of the latest study seem to suggest a focus on collecting more data and identifying AHIs more clearly.
  • It suggests developing more sensitive and specific tests for biomarkers and rolling out more objective clinical measurements for the incidents.
  • Another recommendation is communicating better to U.S. government employees in order to reduce the impacts of psychosocial factors and neurological disorders, irrespective of their causes.
  • U.S. government bodies, such as the CIA and the State Department, also continue to investigate the source of these possible attacks.