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“Havana Syndrome”: how to explain this mysterious disease affecting American diplomats?

Staff at the US Embassy in Colombia are said to be suffering from “Havana Syndrome”. New cases for a phenomenon still unexplained and appeared in 2016 in Cuba.

Originally, in 2016, it was an unexplained illness that struck around twenty American Embassy employees stationed in Cuba. Patients then complain of a sort of “acoustic attack”. Since then, the “Havana Syndrome” has manifested itself in China, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Austria, Russia, Taiwan and even Washington, among civilians as well as diplomats, military personnel and others. American intelligence officers.

Symptoms ? “A lot of people hear a persistent noise “, an anonymous source told AFP, “a piercing pain, feel a strong pressure in their head”, preventing them from concentrating and creating memory lapses. Those affected also report problems with balance and dizziness, coordination, eye movement, as well as anxiety, irritability and what victims have called “cognitive fog”. Brain damage has even been diagnosed. Joe Biden  underlined in August  that this disease left “debilitating neurological consequences”.

Latest cases recorded,  at least two staff from the American Embassy in Bogota , Colombia, are said to be suffering from similar symptoms, reports the  Wall Street Journal on  Tuesday, October 12. What are the causes of such a phenomenon? Washington has so far not been able to shed all the light, but favors a few avenues.

Radio waves?

More or less far-fetched hypotheses have followed one another, such as the one suggesting that the noise in question corresponded to the mating song of a cricket, or even possible poisoning from pesticides. But according to a report from the American Academy of Sciences, “directed radio wave energy” is the most likely cause of these symptoms. Microwave beams are an explanation that comes up regularly.

The visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam, delayed several hours this week by an ” abnormal health incident ” reported by the US Embassy in Hanoi, has once again shone the spotlight on this phenomenon. Washington still has not been able to shed light.

It was in 2016 that the first American diplomats stationed in Cuba began to complain of discomfort.

But the case did not come to light until 2017, when then-US President Donald Trump recalled most of his diplomats from Havana to respond to this new threat.

More than twenty US government employees and members of their families are involved in Cuba between late 2016 and May 2018, as well as Canadian diplomats.

In 2018, similar symptoms hit a dozen other American diplomats in China. Cases are successively reported in Germany, Australia, Russia, Taiwan and even Washington.

Last July, The New Yorker newspaper reported the existence of more than twenty cases in Vienna, Austria, since the beginning of the year.

The US State Department refuses to provide an overall estimate of the number of people affected. ” The number of 200 cases has been mentioned “, confirmed or suspected, told AFP a source familiar with the matter, deploring a form of omerta.

“A lot of people hear a persistent noise, a piercing pain, feel a strong pressure in their head “, explains this source, also describing long-term effects like ” difficulty concentrating and memory lapses “.

The diplomats concerned suffered from a variety of ailments including problems with balance and dizziness, coordination, eye movement, as well as anxiety, irritability and what victims called ” cognitive fog “. Brain damage has even been diagnosed.

” Each reported case of a possible unexplained health incident is unique, ” and ” we take each report very seriously ” to ” provide affected employees with the necessary care and support ,” a spokesperson for AFP told AFP. American diplomacy.

Researchers who analyzed the victims by medical imaging explained that their brains had ” undergone something ” causing ” changes “.

More or less far-fetched hypotheses have followed one another, such as the one suggesting that the noise in question corresponded to the mating song of a cricket, or even possible poisoning from pesticides.

But according to a report from the American Academy of Sciences, ” directed radio wave energy ” is the most likely cause of these symptoms. Microwave beams are an explanation that comes up regularly.

Problem: despite an investigation still underway since the first cases, the US government has not been able to ” determine the cause of these incidents or whether they constitute an attack on the part of a foreign actor “, admits the state department.

” It’s hard to believe, and even scary, because those who investigate ” within the government task force ” are the best, ” sighs the source familiar with the matter.

After the Hanoi case, ex-CIA agent Marc Polymeropoulos, himself a victim in Moscow in 2017, clearly mentioned the hypothesis of attacks.

” It seems to me that our adversaries are sending us a clear message, that they are not only able to target our intelligence agents, our diplomats and our military ” but also ” our most senior officials “, he said. Wednesday at the national security site Cipher Brief.

From the start, U.S. officials have wavered, with some officials downplaying symptoms sometimes attributed to stress, others privately mentioning possible attacks and suspecting countries like Russia.

The Trump administration, which had not hesitated to provoke a diplomatic crisis with Cuba, had been accused by some affected victims in China of underestimating their case for political reasons: it was, according to them, not to be angry with Beijing as the Republican billionaire was negotiating a trade deal.

AFSA, the main union representing American diplomats, said in an internal document obtained by AFP that it had to insist that ” suspected ” victims be treated as ” confirmed ” ones. She welcomes progress in recent months – since the arrival of Joe Biden’s administration.

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