U.S. officials have been struck with a disturbing illness of a mysterious and unknown origin, with more than 130 of them succumbing to the affliction now dubbed, “Havana Syndrome.” Victims have described the attacks as a loud ringing or scraping, and at other times, as an electronic chirping of an incessant cricket.
The strange sounds have reportedly ranged from ear-splittingly loud to barely audible. As such, the symptoms have also varied from minor to deadly. The only thing certain at this point is who is being targeted: U.S. government spies, diplomats and their families.
It was first discovered five years ago in Havana, Cuba, hence the moniker. About 100 CIA agents and their loved ones are reportedly among the victims.
Officials in Washington now believe it may be microwave radiation in the form of a weapon, undoubtedly deployed by a hostile power. On Wednesday, it emerged that Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip to Vietnam had been disrupted over fears of Havana Syndrome. At least two U.S. officials fell ill while in Hanoi, Vietnam, and they had to be evacuated shortly before Harris headed there to reassure the locals that it would help them stand up to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
Considering the growing concern over President Joe Biden’s mental fitness, questions have arisen over whether Harris would be fit to take over. (She isn’t fit for it, regardless of Havana Syndrome). Victims have reported that after the attacks they have been left with a feeling of “cognitive fog.”
China and Russia are both clear suspects, with officials speculating that China would logically try to impede Harris’s visit to Vietnam, one of the few communist nations left in the world. And it appears to have worked. Harris was going to Hanoi to announce, among other things, a donation of a million coronavirus vaccine doses to the pandemic-hit country. But her trip was delayed by three hours, allowing China to rush its own envoy to the city with a pledge of two million vaccines.
Victims have also fallen ill as far apart as China, Berlin, Vienna and Washington D.C. They described in further detail that the attacks usually come at night; they heard strange noises like that of cicadas or crickets. Others said they heard minute-long bursts, while some said they heard nothing at all but felt unusual vibrations.
While most of the puzzling attacks were felt at U.S. embassies, one diplomat reported feeling the same effects while in his hotel room. He described it as a blaring cacophony that jolted him awake. When he moved to another part of the room, it disappeared. But when he went back to the same part of the room, the agonizing sound struck him again, causing him to feel dizziness and nausea.
A 2019 U.S. academic study found “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats who had fallen ill, but Cuba dismissed the report. Initial theories suggested a secret sonic weapon, although that soon gave way to the idea that someone was shooting microwave energy at Americans.
Analysts confirmed that a portable microwave weapon — using the same basic technology as a microwave oven that heats food from the inside – is capable of causing the symptoms described and has in recent years been developed by several countries including the U.S., Russia and China. The U.S. however has more or less discontinued its research, citing concerns over testing on human subjects.
China and Russia, of course, have no such moral or ethical misgivings.
Skeptics however, have countered that a weapon capable of damaging the human brain from a distance would need to be far too big to be used in a city. But some microwave experts say that a device could be transported as the contents of two large suitcases, and could focus energy on a small part of the brain. They say that rapid microwave pulses can heat soft tissue in the brain just enough to cause a “thermoelastic pressure wave” inside the skull. That pressure wave will initially be felt as sounds.
It is not confined to Havana, Cuba. More than 20 U.S. diplomats and staff were affected at the embassy in Vienna. America, like many countries, has a large presence in the Austrian capital, which since the Cold War has been known as an espionage hot spot.
Only a week ago, it emerged that at least two officials at the U.S. embassy in Berlin were being treated for the effects of Havana Syndrome. There have also been unconfirmed cases of the syndrome in Poland, Taiwan, Georgia, Colombia and Uzbekistan.
One victim in Europe was reportedly diagnosed with a brain injury akin to those found in victims of shock waves from explosions. The individual described piercing ear pain, high-pitched electronic-sounding noise and pressure in the ears.
“There is no evidence about what happened to us, but it is striking that some of us had worked on Russia-related issues,” the victim told the Wall Street Journal, adding, “Whatever it is, it is a form of terrorism.”
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