The “Havana Syndrome” was first reported in 2016 by employees of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. After a lengthy investigation, U.S. intelligence agencies deemed it “highly unlikely” that the mysterious illness afflicting American diplomats, known as “Havana Syndrome,” was the result of hostile action. However, the intelligence community offered no explanation for the diplomats’ ailments.
Beginning in 2016, American diplomats and intelligence officers working in various countries began to complain of feeling unwell with very strange symptoms. Diplomats and secret services suspected that this illness was caused by some hostile actions from Russia, China or other countries. And now the U.S. is rejecting this version, but they are not giving any other explanation. This phenomenon, a combination of specific symptoms, has been named “Havana Syndrome” because the first case was detected in the capital of Cuba.
On Wednesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a declassified report containing assessments from seven government organizations. They examined more than 1500 “anomalous health incidents” in more than 90 countries. Victims have included intelligence officers, military personnel, State Department employees, and senior aides to government officials, such as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Five of the seven agencies that participated in the study concluded that “available intelligence data indicate that U.S. adversaries were not involved in the occurrence of the recorded incidents” and that such involvement was “highly unlikely”. However, not all participants in the study are equally confident in this conclusion. The report notes that two agencies have “moderate to high” confidence in their assessment, while three have “moderate” confidence.
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American employees affected by “Havana Syndrome” reported dizziness, headaches, and a strong and painful ringing in their ears. In addition to Havana, cases have been reported in Geneva, Berlin and several other locations. A previous report by the U.S. intelligence community, released in early 2022, indicated that while the majority of cases could be explained by natural causes or stress, several dozen cases remained unexplained and could have been caused by the influence of some devices.
In the statement by CIA Director William Burns, it is stated that while the data obtained provides grounds to reject the enemy sabotage version, it “does not cast doubt on the experiences and real health problems reported by U.S. government officials and their families, including CIA personnel, while serving our country. In the internal official memorandum seen by CBS, the BBC’s American partner, the US Department of Defense, which was not among the seven departments conducting the investigation, also stated that the symptoms of “Havana Syndrome” were “authentic and compelling”.
At a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said one should never put a time limit on intelligence-related investigations. “He said, ‘This conclusion is a conclusion based on the highest quality information available at a given time.'”
As public awareness of the phenomenon grew, U.S. lawmakers in 2021 began working on a bill to help victims of the syndrome. The Helping American Victims of Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden in October of that year. The U.S. Department of State has officially stated that employees with confirmed brain injuries as a result of this disease are eligible to receive over $180,000 each. There is no official data on how much affected CIA employees can claim.