According to a BBC report, the name “Havana Syndrome” was coined after an illness struck people at the U.S. Embassy in Havana from 2016 to 2017.
Havana syndrome is a set of medical signs and symptoms reported by United States and Canadian embassy staff in Cuba dating back to late 2016 as well as subsequently in some other countries, including the United States.
Some persons usually diplomats and staffers, reportedly experienced hearing loss, dizziness, loss of balance and other neurological symptoms.
The health problems typically had a sudden onset: the victim would suddenly begin hearing strange grating noises that they perceived as coming from a specific direction. Some of them experienced it as a pressure or a vibration; or as a sensation comparable to driving a car with the window partly rolled down.
The duration of these noises ranged from 20 seconds to 30 minutes, and always happened while the diplomats were either at home or in hotel rooms. Other people nearby, family members and guests in neighboring rooms, did not report hearing anything.
A fact about the Havana Syndrome is that most people who have had Havana Syndrome heard a loud noise and felt an intense pressure or vibration in their head, dizziness, and pain in their ear or head.
Some people said the symptoms stopped when they went to another room, and returned when they went back to the same spot when they first experienced the symptoms.
The symptoms go away soon for some people, but others have experienced chronic insomnia, headaches, and even brain damage.
The New York Times reports that more than 130 people have had the illness, including spies, diplomats, soldiers and other U.S. officials.
Different theories have circulated about what causes the illness. But in a report by the National Academies of Sciences, the researchers concluded that the symptoms were consistent with directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy.
The committee also looked at chemical exposures, infectious diseases and psychological factors as potential culprits but found directed pulsed RF energy as the most plausible explanation.
In 2017, Donald Trump accused Cuba of perpetrating unspecified attacks causing these symptoms. The U.S. reduced staff at their embassy to a minimum in response.
In 2018, U.S. diplomats in China reported problems similar to those reported in Cuba, as did undercover CIA agents working in other countries with partner agencies to counter Russian covert operations.
In August 2017, reports began surfacing that American and Canadian diplomatic personnel in Cuba had experienced unusual, unexplained health problems dating back to late 2016.
Two White House officials came down with a mysterious illness last year that appears to be linked to a similar mystery condition that some officials at US embassies in different countries have also experienced.
The illness struck one official on the National Security Council in November 2020 as they tried to go through an unstaffed gate near the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House. They had mild symptoms afterward, including headaches and sleeplessness, and felt better after a week.
The attacks near the White House are being investigated by federal agencies, and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines told lawmakers last month that she would work to provide Congress with more information, according to CNBC .
Some U.S. embassy individuals have experienced lasting health effects, including one unidentified diplomat who is said to now need a hearing aid. The State Department declared that the health problems were either the result of an attack, or due to exposure to an unknown device, and declared that they were not blaming the Cuban government, but would not say who was to blame.
In August 2017, the United States expelled two Cuban diplomats in response to the illnesses. In September, the U.S. State Department stated that it was removing non-essential staff from the US embassy, and warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba.
In October 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “I do believe Cuba’s responsible. I do believe that”, going on to say “And it’s a very unusual attack, as you know. But I do believe Cuba is responsible.”
On March 2, 2018, the U.S. State Department announced it would continue to staff its embassy in Havana at the minimum level required to perform “core diplomatic and consular functions” due to concerns about health attacks on staff. The embassy had been operating under “ordered departure status” since September, but the status was set to expire. This announcement served to extend the staff reductions indefinitely.
Medical expert who spoke on fact about the Havana Syndrome “Brain damage is the one thing that seems irregular to me,” Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says. “The others are pretty typical symptoms that we hear about with ear-related or brain-central conditions like migraines, inflammatory conditions of the inner ear, and any type of stroke.”
The New York Times said that the Biden administration has tried to improve communication between the CIA, State Department, and other agencies to help keep moving the investigation into Havana Syndrome forward—but some still believe officials still need to be more “aggressive” in finding the source of these mysterious illnesses.
“I don’t believe that we as a government, in general, have acted quickly enough,” Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former Marine who heads the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations told The New York Times. “We really need to fully understand where this is coming from, what the targeting methods are and what we can do to stop them.”