The Havana Syndrome: Why are US diplomats falling prey to this mysterious illness?

For a long time now and all across the world, a mysterious illness (with symptoms like severe headache and nausea) has been afflicting US diplomats. It is assumed that it is a result of an attack using electronic weapons.

In an interview with NPR, CIA director William Burns said, “I'm certainly persuaded that what our officers and some family members, as well as other U.S. government employees, have experienced is real, and it's serious.”


The condition first originated in Havana, Cuba when several diplomats in the US embassy reported suspicious symptoms. Consequently, US pulled out many officials and reduced their staff to bare minimum in Cuba. They also evicted 15 Cuban diplomats based in USA and former President Donald Trump accused the country of wrongdoing. “I think Cuba knew about it. I do believe Cuba is responsible. I​ do ​believe that, and it’s a very unusual attack, as you know,​ but I do believe Cuba is responsible,” he said at a press conference in White House.


A person affected with the Havana syndrome would hear strange noises and feel some kind of pressure in their head. In University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, 40 Havana patients were studied. It was found that even though they hadn’t experienced physical impact to their skulls, a part of their brain was damaged. It was as if the victims had a concussion without having a concussion. The researchers found that those affected with Havana syndrome had less white matter in their brains as compared to healthy adults.


After the cases in Cuba, similar symptoms were reported by US diplomats in China, Germany, Australia and Taiwan. In Russia, former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos described the experience as one of the scariest episodes in his life. “I woke up in the middle of the night, because I had this incredible case of vertigo. It felt almost as if I was in some kind of carnival ride. And I'll tell you, Catherine, I had spent years in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. I put my life on the line. This was the most terrifying experience of my life. I had no control,” he said in an interview with CBS News’ Catherine Herridge.


Even though several key people have accused Russia of using microwave weapons, there has been no proof and no one has been found guilty. The reason Russia is a prime suspect is because they have historically used weapons that cause brain damage (like in the Cold War) and they have the resources to pull off such a mission across the world.


CIA has been investigating the matter as they feel they’re no longer ‘the only big kid on the geopolitical block’. They understand that technology has revolutionized the way wars are fought and they are taking that into account while investigating the case.


They’re choosing their most capable officers to get to the bottom of the issue. “So we're throwing the very best we have at this issue because it is not only a very serious issue for our colleagues, as it is for others across the U.S. government, but it's a profound obligation, I think, of any leader to take care of your people, and that's what I'm determined to do,” CIA director Burns told NPR.


To support those suffering from the syndrome, the US Senate recently passed a bill. It was said that patients shouldn’t have to deal with bureaucracy to seek treatment for their injuries. Since these officials were serving the country, they should be given the same respect that we give to a soldier who suffers an injury on the battlefield.


Initially, this syndrome was considered a case of ‘mass hysteria’ and something that didn’t exist in reality. Now though, that theory doesn’t hold true because tests have revealed actual brain damage in the afflicted group.


How will USA manage to deal with this challenge? Are we seeing the start of a war that’s deadlier than any other war in history? What will be USA’s response when they get to the bottom of this? Only time can give us answers to these questions.


References:


1. What is 'Havana syndrome', the mysterious condition plaguing US officials? (Hindustan Times)

2. CIA Director Says He Is Escalating Efforts To Solve 'Havana Syndrome' Mystery (NPR)

3. Explained: What is ‘Havana syndrome’, what does the latest report say about the mysterious illness? (The Indian Express)

4. Trump Says ‘Cuba is Responsible’ for Mysterious Health Ailments in Havana (The Wall Street Journal)