Washington, DC (WorkersCompensation.com) — An intelligence panel looking into causes of Havana Syndrome has said that some of those who have reported becoming ill could “plausibly” have been caused by “pulsed electromagnetic energy” from an external source.
But, officials said, the panel stopped short of any definitive cause, saying that electromagnetic energy and ultrasound could explain some symptoms of the mysterious ailment experienced by some U.S. officials around the world.
First reported by U.S. diplomats in 2016, “Havana Syndrome” is the name given to unusual and unexplained medical symptoms like severe headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, visual and hearing problems, vertigo and cognitive difficulties. The first cases of Havana Syndrome were reported at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. In many cases, the victims reported hearing strange high- and low-frequency sounds just before the symptoms appeared. Some reported that they felt like they’d been hit by an invisible blast wave.
Since then, federal employees around the world have reported similar symptoms. Officials have said the symptoms are “consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed, radio frequency energy,” but that there was no concrete information on who or what could be responsible for the attack.
This latest report comes on the heels of a leaked interim report from the CIA that said most of the cases of Havana Syndrome are less likely to be caused by attacks from a foreign power, and more likely undiagnosed medical conditions, stress or environmental causes. Last month, three intelligence officials spoke to reporters at Politico about an as yet unreleased interim report on the condition, and said their findings don’t point to ultrasound or energy wave attacks.
“We’ve learned a lot,” an intelligence official familiar with the panel’s work told reporters, speaking on anonymity under terms set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “While we don’t have the specific mechanism for each case, what we do know is if you report quickly and promptly get medical care, most people are getting well.”
In 2020, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found the syndrome was likely caused by sound waves, but gave no evidence to support that claims.
“Overall, directed pulsed RF energy, especially in those with the distinct early manifestations, appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases among those that the committee considered, along with PPPD as a secondary reinforcing mechanism, as well as the possible additive effects of psychological conditions,” the report said. “The committee cannot rule out other possible mechanisms and considers it likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others. In particular, the committee could not be certain that the individuals with only the chronic set of signs and symptoms suffered from the same cause(s) and etiologic mechanisms as those who reported the initial, sudden onset set of signs and symptoms.”
The syndrome has prompted Congress to action, and employees to file suit.
In August 2021, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the Havana Syndrome Response Act, that would punish those responsible for the attacks, provide assistance to personnel subjected to the attacks and prioritize research into protective countermeasures.
“Around the world, American personnel are being attacked in their homes, in hotels, and even on public streets,” McCaul said in a statement at the time. “What first started in Havana in late 2016 has now expanded to more than 130 possible cases from all around the world – including right here in Washington, D.C. That’s why I’ve introduced the Havana Syndrome Attacks Response Act. We must find out who is behind these attacks and hold them responsible. And we must reassure the people who serve our nation overseas that we have their backs.”
And in December, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced legislation that would support government employees who experience Havana Syndrome, ensuring that their medical bills are covered and that they have instruments in place to report their experiences.
Also in December of last year, a State Department officer who said he and his family were struck with Havana Syndrome filed suit against the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the U.S. State Department alleging disability discrimination arising from his condition.
Mark Lenzi, a member of the diplomatic security services, claims that he was a victim of a series of incidents beginning in Guangzhou, China in 2017, and that the State Department is retaliating against him for speaking up about his continued symptoms.
In his court filings, Lenzi said he, his wife and his children began experiencing “sudden and unexplained mental and physical symptoms, including headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, nosebleeds, sleeplessness and memory loss.
Lenzi said the inspection of his home was conducted with out-of-date equipment, and that he was told by the engineer doing the inspection that officials at the State Department wanted to keep the incident quite.
The suit also claims that State Department officials in Guangzhou knew that American federal employees were experiencing unusual symptoms.
Lenzi claimed in his suit that he was treated differently despite having similar symptoms to what employees noted in Havana, and that he received less support for the State Department in getting medical care.
The State Department has said that it is trying to find the balancing point between sharing more details so diplomats can stay abreast of the situation, while not hyping the threat.
Blinken met with victims in September 2021. In November, he announced the appointment of two new diplomats to head up the department’s efforts to tackle “anomalous health incidents.”
On Jan. 20, 2022, Blinken promised to continue work to find out the causes of Havana Syndrome.
“We have been working overtime to try to understand what happened, who might be responsible and at the same time to do everything we can to care for our colleagues who have been affected and to protect people,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Berlin. “We will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of it.”