What is Havana Syndrome, the Mysterious Illness Linked to Russia’s Intelligence Unit? Symptoms Explained

What is Havana Syndrome, the Mysterious Illness Linked to Russia’s Intelligence Unit? Symptoms Explained

The US government has said some of its diplomats stationed around the globe infected with ‘Havana Syndrome’, reporting unexplained symptoms such as dizziness, may have been targeted by the Russia’s sonic weaponry.

This contradicts the conclusion of US officials a year ago that did not attribute ‘anomalous health incidents’ (AHIs) across embassy staff in Cuba, China and locations in Europe to an energy weapon or foreign adversary.

According to a joint report by the Insider, Der Spiegel and CBS’s 60-Minutes, new evidence suggests that sonic weaponry created and employed by Unit 29155 of the Russian GRU was probably the cause of Havana Syndrome.

Kremlin has, however, dismissed the report. “This topic has been talked up in the press for many years already. And from the very beginning most often it’s linked to the Russian side,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a news conference, as reported by Time. “But nobody has ever published any convincing evidence, so all this is nothing more than a groundless and unfounded accusation.”

What is Havana Syndrome?

The Havana Syndrome was first detected in 2016 when diplomats in Cuba’s capital, Havana, reported hearing shrill sounds at night, as experienced by staff in other locations globally and Washington DC. The symptoms include bloody noses, headaches, vision problems, and other strange hearing sensations.

In 2021, an FBI official, identified only as Carrie, had fallen victim to symptoms associated with the Havana Syndrome while she was investigating an alleged Russian spy inside the US, the joint report found. Carrie was reportedly “hit by a crippling force” while she was doing laundry at home in Florida.

“It just pierced my ears, came in my left side, felt like it came through the window, into my left ear. I immediately felt fullness in my head, and just a piercing headache. And when I realized that I needed to get out of the laundry room, I left the room, and went into our bedroom next door, and projectile vomited in our bathroom,” Carrie said on the CBS’s 60 Minutes show.

Even the attempted poisoning of defector Sergei Skripal in the UK in 2018 has been attributed to the Russia’s military intelligence operations.

According to Health.com, while some people experience the syndrome briefly, others have chronic symptoms. The causes, however, remain unknown.

Although there was no consistent evidence of brain injury, National Institute of Health studies claim symptoms were possibly caused by “pre-existing conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors”.

National Institutes of Health said their research team used advanced imaging techniques and in-depth clinical assessments but found “no significant evidence of MRI-detectable brain injury, nor differences in most clinical measures compared to controls, among a group of federal employees who experienced anomalous health incidents (AHIs).”

Where have been the cases reported?

The New Yorker reported in July 2021 that about two dozen US intelligence officers, diplomats and other government officials in Austria had reported problems similar to Havana Syndrome since Joe Biden became president.

An Insider report suggests that first cases may have taken place in Germany two years earlier than those reported in Cuba in 2016.

A Pentagon spokesperson, Sabrina Singh, told media that an unnamed senior defence department official experience Havana Syndrome during a 2023 Nato Summit in Vilnius.

What is the US Saying?

Even though the US is investigating the causes, five intelligence agencies in 2023 ruled out links of Havana Syndrome to Russia.

A former US defence department investigator Greg Edgreen told CBS that common link between victims of Havana Syndrome was what he called “Russia nexus”.

In 2021, Congress passed the Havana Act, authorising the US state department, CIA and other government agencies to provide payments to staff and their families who were affected by the Havana Syndrome during assignments.

“We are working overtime across the entire government to get to the bottom of what happened, who’s responsible. And in the meantime to make sure that we’re caring for anyone who’s been affected and to protect all of our people to the best of our ability,” the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in 2022 after further cases were reported in Paris and Geneva.

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