‘Havana syndrome’: Terrifying origin of mystery condition

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Mysterious headaches afflicting US diplomats are being blamed on Russian spies.

Almost a dozen officials suddenly began suffering head pressure, dizziness and ear pain shortly before US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Vietnam in 2021.

And the Pentagon says one of its officials suffered headaches and nausea ahead of a NATO summit in Lithuania last year.

They’re just some of the higher-profile examples of more than 1000 incidents recorded in Austria, China, Georgia, Germany, India, Russia and Taiwan since US embassy officials in Cuba first reported problems with hearing, vision and balance in 2016.

The “Anomalous Health Incidents” (AHI) have since become known as “Havana Syndrome”. But the diverse range of often seemingly unrelated symptoms has made identifying their cause difficult and controversial.

A new international investigation by US CBS 60 Minutes, Latvia’s The Insider and Germany’s Der Speigel has revived claims that a mysterious acoustic weapon produces the symptoms. It’s supposed to focus pulses of inaudible sound and/or microwaves on a room or person at levels that can disrupt the soft tissues of the brain and inner ear.

Russia’s Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (an intelligence agency still known by its former Soviet Union abbreviation GRU) is blamed by the media investigation. Its sabotage squad, Unit 29155, is said to have developed the Long Range Acoustic Device (LARD) technology involved.

But last year, the US body tasked with oversight and assessment of all US intelligence agencies, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), found it was “very unlikely” the diverse and unexplained health symptoms were the result of attacks from foreign adversaries.

Moscow agrees.

“This topic has been discussed in the press for many years. And from the very beginning, most often it’s linked to the Russian side,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told media earlier this week. “But nobody has ever published any convincing evidence, so all this is nothing more than a groundless and unfounded accusation.”

Operation Reduktor (Gearbox)

“Members of the Kremlin’s infamous military intelligence sabotage squad have been placed at the scene of suspected attacks on overseas US government personnel and their family members, leading victims to question what Washington knows about the origins of Havana Syndrome and what an appropriate Western response might entail,” The Latvian-based The Insider component of the joint media investigation states. GRU Unit 29155 is real. It has a long, established history.

It’s the unit allegedly behind the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, UK, in 2018.

It’s also reportedly under the direct control of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And he has personally promoted and rewarded several of its members for developing LARD under a project called Operation Reduktor (Gearbox).

The first deployment of the “nonlethal” weapon may have been well before Cuba.

The investigation states a US official in Frankfurt, Germany, was “knocked unconscious by something akin to a strong energy beam” in 2014.

And there have been allegations Russia has since shared the espionage technology with China.

Anxiety. Bloody noses. Concentration loss. Fatigue. Hearing loss. Migraines. Nausea. Vertigo. Vision loss.

All are symptoms associated with the alleged sonic and microwave attacks.

Reports state subsequent brain scans have, in some instances, shown lasting tissue damage similar to that found after repeated concussions.

How microwave radiation – or even pulses of sound – can limit their physical impact to brain tissue remains controversial. Some have accused the victims of “mass hysteria” and falsely attributing the effects of stress and overwork to “enemy action”.

But the international media investigation quotes “Patient Zero” – the first CIA agent to be afflicted with the condition while in Cuba – of accusing Washington of a cover-up.

“What this long-term investigation has shown is that either the intelligence community is incapable of carrying out its most basic function, or it has worked to cover up the facts and gaslight injured employees and the public,” he told The Insider.

Weapon or paranoia?

The alleged attack on Vice President Harris’s delegation in Vietnam is one of the largest scales of LARD assault yet reported. And it happened in the lead-up to the first visit by such a high-ranking official since the Vietnamese Communist Party victory over the United States there in 1975.

Two US embassy and nine Department of Defence offence officials were hurt in two separate attacks, the 60 Minutes component of the investigation claims.

Harris’s arrival in Hanoi was reportedly delayed for several hours after one of the diplomats assigned to escort her had to be medevaced back to the United States.

The report speculates that the government in Hanoi was unaware surveillance equipment it allowed Russian agents to deploy had physically harmful effects.

But Washington maintains there is no evidence of any such attack.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday that it “has been the broad conclusion of the intelligence community since March 2023 that it is unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible” for these incidents.

The DNI review of evidence assembled by all seven US intelligence agencies said it found no proof supporting audio or microwave attacks, such as damage to sensitive electronic equipment. It added that most incidents “can be reasonably explained by medical conditions or environmental and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses.”

But CBS cites the example of one anonymous victim claiming to be an FBI counterintelligence agent as saying the lithium-ion battery in her mobile phone had “swelled” to the point of breaking its case.

Calling herself “Carrie”, the witness says she was attacked in her home in Florida in 2021.

“Bam. Inside my right ear. It was like a dentist drilling on steroids. That feeling when it gets too close to your eardrum? It’s like that, times 10,” she said, adding that she’s suffered memory and attention problems ever since.