Havana Syndrome: Mystery Illness found in Hanoi in Vietnam – Know Symptoms, Threat and Possible Impact

As per the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), over 200 people including American and Canadian diplomats, embassy staff, and spies all over the world have been affected by the Havana Syndrome. 

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Source: Reuters
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Source: Reuters

Havana syndrome: US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ trip scheduled on August 25, 2021, from Singapore to Vietnam was delayed by three hours. Few reports of a case of Havana Syndrome came in right before Harris’s departure. The cause of delay was determined as a mystery illness found in Hanoi in Vietnam which is referred to as Havana Syndrome. After a safety assessment, Harris resumed her trip to Vietnam.

Since the first report of the Havana Syndrome that was reported in Cuba in 2016, there have been several instances reported across Austria, Germany, China, and Russia. The US and Canadian embassies in Havana were affected by the Havana Syndrome for the first time in 2016 and 2017. Those impacted reported feeling intense pressure in the face and hearing a loud piercing sound.

Since the first report of the Havana Syndrome was reported in Cuba in 2016, there have been several instances reported across Austria, Germany, China, and Russia. In a 2019 US academic study, diplomats who had been impacted in Cuba in 2016 were found with brain abnormalities. The US National Academies of Science (NAS) in a report in 2020 stated directed microwave radiation as the most likely cause of the syndrome.

What is Havana Syndrome?

As per the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), over 200 people including American and Canadian diplomats, embassy staff, and spies all over the world have been affected by the Havana Syndrome. It is a mysterious health syndrome that was first reported in Cuba in 2016.

What are the symptoms of Havana Syndrome?

In 2016, several Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers at the American embassy in Cuba reported symptoms of sensation of pressure in their heads and sharp piercing sound. They also complained about nausea, fatigue, trouble remembering things, ear pain, and hearing loss. The brain scans of those impacted revealed tissue damage.

What causes Havana Syndrome?

There are several theories regarding the cause of Havana Syndrome, including microwave radiation exposure, sonic attack, pulsed radiofrequency, exposure to neurotoxic pesticides, intermodulation distortion caused by multiple inaudible ultrasonic signals from malfunctioning Cuban surveillance equipment, Jamaican field crickets, and psychogenic causes.

What do US investigations suggest?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), US military, CIA, National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been looking into the cause of Havana Syndrome have not reached any conclusive decision to determine the cause of the syndrome however, microwave weapons have been found as the most plausible mechanism that causes the syndrome.

The NAS in its report in 2020 had concluded that directed energy beams through microwave radiation are a plausible cause of the Havana Syndrome. Prepared by a committee of 19 experts in the medical and related fields, the NAS report titled ‘An assessment of illness in US government employees and their families at overseas embassies’ outlined four main possible causes which are microwave energy, infection, psychological factors, and chemicals.

Of these four, directed pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy was determined as the most likely cause of the syndrome. The words ‘directed pulsed’ in the report was to indicate that the exposure of victims was targeted and not simply continuous wave exposure to microwave energy such as a mobile phone.

How is US handling the threat of Havana Syndrome?

The US State Department in 2021 has stated investigation into Havana Syndrome as a ‘high priority’ task. The CIA, National Security Council, and Director of National Intelligence have established two panels, one to dig deeper into the causes of the syndrome and the other panel to build defensive countermeasures to protect US and Canadian personnel.

HAVANA Act

In June 2021, the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act was unanimously passed. Ten US Senators had proposed a Senate bill to offer financial support for personnel suffering brain injuries under the Act.

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