April 2024Opinion

Havana Syndrome: A Simple Illness or Medical Warfare?

Anna Thibodeau

International News Editor

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Havana syndrome is a mysterious illness which is known to specifically affect U.S. diplomats and high-ranking intelligence officials, and the question at the top of everyone’s mind is about its alleged ties to Russia. The first cases of Havana syndrome were reported by U.S. officials working in Havana, Cuba in 2016, says Time. Symptoms are similar to those seen in cases of head trauma, including extreme headaches and hearing piercing sounds. Officials have also reported dizziness, fatigue, memory loss, and impaired vision, reports CBS News. Since 2016, over 1,000 U.S. officials worldwide have reported symptoms of Havana syndrome.

The syndrome re-entered public attention on March 31, when The Insider, 60 Minutes, and Der Spiegel released a joint investigation pointing the finger at Russia. According to Forbes 60 Minutes claims that Havana syndrome is a purposeful Russian attack, yet U.S. intelligence agencies deny this. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted an investigation last year and concluded that a majority of the cases were triggered by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions, or stress, says Forbes, but foreign involvement was not ruled out in two dozen cases.

Another CBS News article reports that over 100 Americans had symptoms that scientists say could be caused by a beam of microwaves or acoustic ultrasound, leaving victims frustrated that the U.S. government will not acknowledge this as a serious threat. Only one thing remains clear – there are no other viable theories about the cause of Havana syndrome and the U.S. government cannot explain it away.

Microwaves and medical warfare sound like things only found in movies. But the ties to Russia keep getting tighter, and it keeps getting harder to believe that the symptoms are just a coincidence. Greg Edgreen, a retired army colonel working with 60 Minutes, calls it a “Russia nexus,” reports Time. According to CBS News, Edgreen said in his 60 Minutes interview that “there was some angle where they [all] had worked against Russia, focused on Russia, and done extremely well.”

One FBI agent named Carrie was a victim of Havana syndrome in her Florida home in 2021. According to CBS News, she felt a sudden, intense pain in the right side of her head “like a dentist drilling on steroids.” This may be clocked as an isolated incident, unrelated to Havana syndrome, but Carrie’s phone says otherwise. At the same time she was struck with the headache, the battery in Carrie’s phone began to swell until its case broke . Then she passed out on her couch. For multiple months after the incident, Carrie complained of memory issues and problems multitasking. 60 Minutes learned from other sources that Carrie was investigating a possible Russian spy who was caught with suspicious items when pulled over for speeding in Florida in 2020.

Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, a Cuban based researcher, has a very different point of view. According to The Associated Press, Valdés-Sosa thinks the journalistic investigation does not provide serious evidence. He says, “The symptoms are varied: balance problems, sleep problems, dizziness, difficulties concentrating, and many diseases can cause them.” The Associated Press also notes that Valdés-Sosa does not dispute that diplomats are becoming ill, but believes many cases are regular illnesses that were erroneously blamed on Havana Syndrome because of its high degree of public attention.

The Russian government also denied the 60 Minutes reports on April 1, calling them “baseless” and “unfounded,” says Al Jazeera. Russia claims that Havana syndrome has been exaggerated in the press for years, but no one has ever published or expressed any convincing evidence that Russia is correct. 

This Russian statement brings up an interesting question. What evidence is needed to prove that Havana syndrome is not a natural illness? Over 1,000 people have had Havana syndrome in eight years, all of them being U.S. diplomats and officials. Is it possible that this is occurring in people outside the U.S. government, but they do not know to report it as Havana syndrome? Maybe, but that does not explain why every U.S. official with Havana syndrome is also tied to Russia in some way. Does that not count as evidence? It may not be enough to rally the troops and declare a war crime, but it is not “baseless.” It may remain unclear whether Havana syndrome is truly a form of medical warfare, but as the first and only viable theory, it is something worth investigating.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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