The Theory Behind Havana’s Mysterious Degrading Health

In Havana, Cuba during 2016, a peculiar malady began affecting U.S diplomats and intelligence officers. They started to experience multiple symptoms; headaches, nausea, memory loss, pulsating cranial pressure, and other cognitive issues.


Brain scans later looked similar to those with concussions that have experienced a bomb blast or car accident. The sudden cases seemed to have no rhyme or reason behind them and baffled medical experts. These symptoms have since been dubbed “The Havana Syndrome.” 


In 2018, the numbers slowly rose to 26 cases, now five years later there are about 200 affected. CNN stated, “Last week, President Joe Biden signed into law long-delayed legislation to provide support for victims of the strange confluence of symptoms that have sickened diplomats, spies and service members around the globe.” 


A career foreign service officer, Tina Onufer, was washing dishes in March 2017 when the syndrome’s traits hit her. “I felt like I was being struck with something,” Onufer said in an interview with NBC News. “Pain that I have never felt before in my life … mostly in my head and in my eyes. … It was as if I had been seized by some invisible hand and I couldn’t move.” 


She shared this information after getting permission from the State Department and wanted the world to understand this is real. Her main reasoning was that many were writing off Havana Syndrome as mass psychosis, which is defined by Medical News Today as “a person has physiological symptoms affecting the nervous system in the absence of a physical cause of illness, and which may appear in reaction to psychological distress.” She was unknowingly one of the first to be infected.


Reports have been filed in multiple countries including Russia, Colombia, the United States, China, and Uzbekistan. Family members of U.S staff that were staying in the U.S Embassy in Bogota, which is host to anti-narcotics operatives, spies, diplomats, and aid workers have also been afflicted. 


According to the Washington Post in late September, “Last month, a member of CIA Director Bill Burns’s team reported experiencing symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome while traveling to India. In August, two U.S. personnel in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, reportedly suffered from ‘unexplained health incidents’ just before the arrival of Vice President Harris. Germany has also recently confirmed an investigation into an ‘alleged sonic attack’ against U.S. Embassy staff in Berlin.” 

It continues to say, “Earlier this year, some lawmakers in Congress urged the intelligence community to provide more information about the nature of the incidents, following reports that at least two White House officials were afflicted by similar symptoms near White House grounds in 2020.” 


With the “coincidence” of the syndrome mostly affecting U.S Officials, there were speculations that they were attacks trying to sabotage the U.S-Cuba rapprochement, but Cuban officials denied knowing anything regarding the illness.


There are theories revolving around the cause of Havana Syndrome. Investigators believed a sonic weapon was causing this, but an assessment performed in 2018 theorized it could be certain exposure to microwaves that produce energy at a radio frequency. The Wall Street Journal says, “In a new assessment published Saturday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, scientists identified ‘directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy’ as the most likely explanation for a series of symptoms experienced by diplomats posted at U.S. facilities—a broad category of energy that can include microwave radiation.” 


Similarly, as mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, a panel of nineteen scientific and medical experts gathered by the U.S State Department said, “The committee said the abrupt onset of symptoms was most consistent with ‘a directed radio frequency (RF) energy attack’ rather than inadvertent or environmental exposure, but also that more research was needed. Governments, including the former Soviet Union and the U.S., have tested using directed energy as a potential weapon or a tool for espionage or crowd control in the past.”


The most popular theory puts Russia behind a sonic weapon pointed at U.S officials as, NBC News first reported in 2018 that “American intelligence officials suspected Russia was behind the phenomenon, which some believed were intentional attacks using microwave energy. Three years later, intelligence agencies have been unable to prove that, despite a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine arguing that directed microwave energy is the most plausible explanation, and noting that Russia has studied the technology more closely than any other nation.”


In the end, there has not yet been a solid answer to why or how Havana Syndrome came to be, until then the mysterious ailment continues to terrorize, but as Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”