Double Check: Has the Havana Syndrome mystery finally been put to rest?

By: alexander smith&
July 3 2023

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Double Check: Has the Havana Syndrome mystery finally been put to rest?

Source: Reuters

Reports by U.S. and Canadian government officials at embassies in Havana, Cuba, of a mysterious illness that arose in 2016 have given rise to conspiracies of bioweapons and international espionage. Sufferers reported a mixture of symptoms, including sudden, intense headaches, nausea, vertigo, ringing in the ears, and lowered cognitive ability. 

The illness, since dubbed Havana Syndrome, has reportedly affected around 200 individuals, though the precise number has not been released. Havana syndrome reportedly affected mostly U.S. officials and their families on all continents, including in 2018 at the U.S. embassy in Guangzhou, China. One American official claims to have experienced symptoms on the White House grounds. It has been classified as a functional disorder: symptoms caused by the brain improperly sending and receiving information to the rest of the body, like those responsible for irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia. 

The mysterious nature of the condition and the fact that it was initially identified in U.S. government officials has given rise to the theory that it is caused by foreign adversaries using bioweapons. 

However, a recent investigation by seven U.S. intelligence agencies shows that most of the agencies involved concluded that foreign interference was not responsible for Havana syndrome, primarily due to a lack of adversary activity. Five of the participating agencies concluded that it was very unlikely that foreign adversaries were responsible. One stated it was unlikely, while another abstained from giving a judgment. The study concluded that the reported illnesses “were probably the result of factors that did not involve a foreign adversary, such as preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors.”

Dr. Robert Baloh, Professor of Neurology at UCLA and co-author of the book “Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria” told Logically Facts, “In the vast majority of cases, the symptoms were explained by pre-existing conditions such as migraine and persistent postural perceptual dizziness triggered by stress or by psychosomatic illnesses caused by stress.”

Despite the Biden administration allocating compensation to “agency personnel who incur brain injuries from hostilities while on assignment” - including Havana syndrome -  through the HAVANA act, many sufferers have been left feeling betrayed after U.S. intelligence recently concluded that foreign adversaries did not cause Havana syndrome. However, despite this official conclusion, the mystery surrounding Havana syndrome has not died down on social media.

Foreign adversaries and mass hysteria

A popular explanation among conspiracy theorists on social media and Reddit forums is that Havana syndrome is caused by attacks from foreign adversaries using direct energy weapons (DEWs), sometimes called microwave weapons. While this may sound far-fetched and futuristic, the technology for microwave weapons has existed for decades, though their application in this context is debated by experts.

The phenomenon echoes events and concerns from the Cold War. Reports of health problems at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in the 1970s have been attributed to a listening device, informally called The Thing, hidden in a wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States by Russian spies and presented to the embassy as a gift.

The Thing was not the only Cold War example of suspected microwave espionage. The Moscow Signal was a microwave transmission detected in the U.S. embassy that was also claimed to have caused health effects on embassy staff, though studies showed there was not enough evidence to support this. A U.S. intelligence study determined that the transmissions were more likely attempts to spy on government affairs and did not cause ill health effects.

The nature of the symptoms of Havana syndrome, seeming to arise from nowhere, lend themselves to this explanation because the supposed weapons used do not need physical contact. Discussing DEWs with 60 Minutes, physicist and High-Power Microwave expert James Benford confirmed the feasibility of using DEWs in this situation. "Vans have windows, microwaves go through glass. They go through brick. They go through practically everything." However, microwave weapons would be difficult to hide and leave clear evidence, such as signal interference, that would be easily detectable.

Some have suggested that Havana syndrome is a case of mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness (MPI), rare occurrences usually brought on in groups of people involved in high-stress situations. In 1518, it was reported that up to 400 people in what is now Strasbourg, France, were inexplicably stricken with what was called the "dancing plague," causing them to dance continuously for up to two months. In the years since this has been attributed to mass hysteria but its cause remains a mystery.

Baloh’s co-author, Dr. Robert Bartholomew, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland is critical of a 2018 JAMA study that claims to have identified potential neurological differences in sufferers of Havana syndrome compared to healthy controls while dismissing the possibility of MPI. Bartholomew told Logically Facts, “The authors of a 2018 JAMA study on Havana Syndrome patients dismissed the possibility of mass psychogenic illness by noting that the subjects showed no evidence of feigning. They also placed MPI as a collective delusional disorder. How one of the world’s top medical journals could have published such claims is mystifying and reflects poorly on the editors. MPI is not a psychiatric disorder – period. It is a stress response found in normal populations. Furthermore, the lead author of the 2018 JAMA study said that his team dismissed MPI as there was no evidence of collusion among patients. He said, to have 'mass hysteria' you must have all the patients 'in collusion together to make sure all their symptoms match.'  This is wrong/false/incorrect. MPI has nothing to do with collusion, and how they reached this conclusion and how the JAMA editors published it, is nothing short of scandalous.”

A report by Dr. Ali A. Asadi-Pooya, a neurologist with the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Centre at Thomas Jefferson University, published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health reviewed studies on Havana syndrome published between 2016 to September 2021 and concluded that "this syndrome should be considered and investigated as a health concern, not as a political issue" due to the fact that, while some relevant research did identify a group of shared symptoms among sufferers of Havana syndrome, “none provided a good level of evidence” that the cause was human-made. 


U.S. intelligence has officially refuted the possibility that Havana syndrome was caused by a series of enemy attacks. With no alternative offered, what explanation does that leave? The announcement won't do much to put speculation and conspiracy theories to rest.

With the official announcement from U.S. intelligence that it is highly unlikely that a foreign adversary was responsible for Havana syndrome, there are still no definitive answers. The floods of conspiracy theories about DEWs, Bioweapons, and international espionage will still circulate. But what would be enough? An official explanation from the government will do little to satisfy conspiracy theorists, and further medical studies seem unlikely. As Dr. Bartholomew told Logically Facts, “I would not waste money doing more studies because the evidence for this being caused by microwaves or sonic weapons is not there.”

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