Thursday 17th June 2021
Mysterious diplomatic illness
USA puzzles over “Havana Syndrome”
From Kevin Schulte
Since 2016, US diplomats have been falling ill with “Havana Syndrome”. Meanwhile, the mysterious disease even occurs in the White House. The security authorities are in the dark, most likely the microwave theory.
The mysterious disease appeared for the first time at the end of 2016. At the time, some employees of the US embassy in the Cuban capital Havana reported pressure waves in their heads, others remember penetrating noise that suddenly settled in their heads. “A sound like a huge flock of cicadas following you from room to room, but when you open the door outside, it stops immediately,” wrote the US magazine “The New Yorker”.
To get to the bottom of the matter, the US State Department enlisted the help of leading scientists – one of them was James Giordano, chief neurologist at Georgetown University in Washington. “At the end of 2016, I was approached by employees of the US State Department in order to use inductive forensics to show some possibilities and probabilities of what might have happened to those affected in Havana,” says Giordano in the ntv podcast “Another thing learned”.
Dizziness, headache, tinnitus
In the past four and a half years, the US State Department has registered more than 130 cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”, the “New York Times” recorded in May. American diplomats, intelligence officials, soldiers and their families around the world. There have been several similar reports from US embassy officials in China, as well as reports from Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Colombia, Taiwan, and Australia. Most recently, the disease even reached the White House.
The symptoms are very different. A ringing, a whirring, a chirping in the head. Many of those affected get dizzy or have severe headaches, others report loss of balance, visual, speech or hearing disorders or even tinnitus. Some only feel uncomfortable for a short time, others need immediate medical treatment and struggle with the consequences for a long time.
After the first cases in Havana, there was speculation in all directions, recalls Giordano. “It seemed unlikely to me that any pharmacological agents or industrial chemicals had leaked. Such residues could not be detected in any case.” The more likely explanation at the time was some kind of ultrasound device, Giardono said. “Such devices are easy to get at because they are used to fight vermin in the home. The idea was that the people concerned would be exposed to such an acoustic device.”
In the past four and a half years, Giordano and other experts have backed up this speculation with details. “Does electromagnetic radiation play a role, including the possibility of microwave radiation? Or is it a combination of acoustic or ultrasonic components and electromagnetic microwave components? All of these are considered.”
“We smell the problem”
The American National Academy of Sciences also came to the conclusion at the end of last year that it is most likely that “targeted, pulsed radio frequency energy”, that is, electromagnetic radiation, triggers the “Havana Syndrome”. This is the so-called microwave theory. The panel is silent in its report as to whether this happened on purpose, whether someone could have used this radiation as a weapon against employees of the US government. However, it states that the investigation also faced “several challenges” that would have made a systematic investigation impossible. The scientists write that the authorities have given too little health data on the sick. This is likely to be related to the status of many of those affected as embassy or secret service employees.
Giordano does not share the statement made by some researchers that the mysterious diseases could also be mass hysteria among diplomats and their relatives. “In a few cases that may be true. But as far as the first two dozen employees at the US embassy in Havana are concerned, the likelihood of a mass psychogenic effect is very low to zero.” Those affected had clear signals and neurological characteristics for a disease. Nothing that could only have been imagined. You don’t know exactly what happened, but you “smell the problem”, Giordano gives hope for a full explanation.
Microwave as a weapon?
The fact that microwave technology can be used as a weapon is basically nothing new. Developing the technology per se is not that difficult, but there are certain factors that complicate its use. “The question is not whether this type of device exists and whether it can be used as a weapon. But the question is how likely it would be,” says neurology professor Giordano, who is considered one of the world’s leading bioethicists. “If the operation wasn’t secret and it didn’t matter that someone noticed the attack, there are a number of different devices and technologies that can be used in this way. If you want to camouflage an action to some extent or, in extreme cases, even completely cover it up, that would require a lot of sophistication – in the development of the weapon and its handling. “
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Who could perform such a complex operation? The study by the National Academy of Sciences says nothing about this. James Giordano doesn’t want to speculate either. But of course there are guesses. A state, for example, that is at odds with the United States, perhaps even enemies. In principle, every country is able to do so if it has a previous or ongoing research, development, test and evaluation program.
Russia is considered the prime suspect
According to “New Yorker”, leading officials of the Trump administration at the time, but also members of the Biden administration, hold Russia responsible for the “Havana Syndrome”. It is known that microwave weapons were experimented with in the former Soviet Union. But even four years after the first cases, the American security authorities still do not have clear evidence. For research, this would result in three central challenges, says Giordano: “Are these types of technologies really so complex and so well developed that they are ready for operational use? Which types of technologies are best developed, which are the most available and which ones are actually used? What needs to be done to recognize, weaken or prevent their use in a wide variety of situations? ”
All these questions remain largely unanswered more than four years after the first cases in Cuba, which is why criticism is being voiced. Victims of the acoustic attacks in Havana and China wrote a letter to the US State Department at the end of May. It was believed that the new administration would take better care of them than the Trump administration did. Instead, those affected are denied adequate medical treatment and generally too little is done to determine the causes of the diseases, it says.
The Pentagon has since responded. A new pilot program provides that diplomats can voluntarily undergo extensive health checks before they leave the United States. The approximately three-hour test should include examinations of hearing and eyesight, reports “Politico”. If there is an “inexplicable health incident” abroad, the medical check can be repeated and the data compared. Maybe this will help you track down the “Havana Syndrome”.