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World News

What's the Havana Syndrome affecting US officials in Berlin?

Two officials have sought medical treatment after having symptoms similar to those to of US officials in Havana, Cuba in 2016.

A general view during early morning hours of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German parliament, in Berlin, Germany.
Clemens BilanEFE

The so-called 'Havana syndrome' has been an affliction that US officials have been trying to deal with in various places around the world. Berlin would represent the first time officials have felt the symptoms in a NATO country, but there have been reports of it in Cuba, where the name originates, as well as China.

What are the symptoms?

While nothing has been officially confirmed what the syndrome entails, common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness and loss of balance,
  • Hearing loss,
  • Anxiety,
  • Something described as cognitive fog, perhaps in a similar vein to 'long' covid-19 symptoms.

More world news:

Where does the term originate from?

Late in 2016, staff at the US embassy in Havana and some of their relatives started complaining about these symptoms. The US said 24 of its staff members had been affected by "auditory sensations" a year later. In response, the US government recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from Cuba. The Cuban government has denied responsibility and there is no hard evidence that it has been caused by a foreign intelligence agency.

The US state department sent 44 of those who had reported symptoms to the University of Pennsylvania's brain trauma center for MRI scans.

How is it caused?

Initially speculated by media to be caused by 'sonic attacks,' a US government report found that blame could not be attributed to directed energy waves but could be "pulsed radio frequency." It has never been officially released what the causes of the symptoms are.

While important questions remain, the report continues “the mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others."

There has been "significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures". It said that military personnel in "Eurasian communist countries" had been exposed to non-thermal radiation.

Possible explanations have included everything from mosquito fumigation to loud insects.

President Joe Biden’s administration has since intensified its own effort to look into what it is calling “anomalous health incidents” among US government personnel.


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