Sign on front of a US embassy reads Embassy of the United States of America
Sign on front of a US embassy reads Embassy of the United States

Mysterious Havana Syndrome Not a Foreign Attack: CIA

Sharing interim findings of an investigation into strange illnesses among US diplomats and intelligence officials, the CIA says it’s unlikely that they are the result of directed energy or other weapon levied by an adversary.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Jan 20, 2022

ABOVE: The US embassy in Berlin, Germany, where cases of Havana syndrome have been reported © ISTOCK.COM, TEKA77

Over the last few years, more than 1,000 US government personnel have reported largely unexplained symptoms including dizziness, nausea, tinnitus, and headaches. According to a new interim report from the CIA, most cases of so-called Havana syndrome can be attributed to preexisting medical conditions or environmental or other factors, and not to an unidentified foreign attack on US government personnel. Multiple news outlets cite those findings based on comments from an anonymous CIA officer. But the idea that Russia, Cuba, or another country has a hand in the mysterious ailment is not off the table, as the CIA, as well as the Pentagon, and the FBI, other agencies continue to investigate these incidents.

“While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done,” CIA Director William Burns says in a statement, multiple outlets report. “We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it.”

The first cases of a mysterious ailment occurred in 2016 at the US embassy in Havana, giving rise to the name Havana syndrome. Due to the similarity of the symptoms to those associated with traumatic brain injury, speculation grew among affected officers that the cases stemmed from attacks with microwaves or other forms of directed energy, an idea supported by a 2020 report from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

See “Recording of ‘Sonic Attack’ in Cuba Was Crickets: Scientists

According to The New York Times, members of the Trump administration, including CIA leaders, were skeptical of the theories that the cases stemmed from foreign attacks, causing outrage among sufferers of Havana syndrome. But according to the anonymous CIA officer’s comments to the media, the CIA’s ongoing investigation indicated that a likely cause was identified in all but two dozen of the cases investigated. In some instances, the Associated Press notes, individuals thought to have Havana syndrome were later diagnosed with brain tumors or bacterial infections.

A group of Havana syndrome victims call the CIA interim findings “a breach of faith” and write in a statement that they “cannot and must not be the final word on the matter,” The New York Times reports. “The C.I.A.’s newly issued report may be labeled ‘interim’ and it may leave open the door for some alternative explanation in some cases, but to scores of dedicated public servants, their families and their colleagues, it has a ring of finality and repudiation,” the statement says.

For now, the CIA says it will continue to investigate, and President Joe Biden continues to pledge support for people suffering from Havana syndrome symptoms. Last October, he signed into law the Havana Act, which will establish a framework for providing financial aid to these patients.