US intelligence agencies may have ruled out the idea that a wave of mysterious illnesses afflicting US diplomats and other officials is part of a sustained campaign by one of Washington’s adversaries, but they now say in a small number of cases, the only likely explanation is the use of some sort of weapon.
A report released Wednesday by a panel of experts convened by U.S. intelligence officials finds that the primary symptoms of these cases are “markedly unusual and not reported elsewhere in the medical literature,” making it highly unlikely that the cause could be natural. .
“Pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radio frequency range, plausibly explains the features of the nucleus,” the report says.
“There are sources that could generate the required stimulus, are concealable, and have moderate energy requirements,” the report adds. “Using non-standard antennas and techniques, signals could be propagated with little loss through air for tens to hundreds of meters, and with some loss, through most building materials.”
The mysterious illness was first reported in 2016 among diplomats and other employees of the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba.
Since then, hundreds of cases have been reported in Russia, China, Poland, Austria and elsewhere, with symptoms ranging from nausea and dizziness to debilitating headaches and memory problems.
The US government has embarked on a year-long effort to find the source of abnormal health incidents, or AHI, commonly known as Havana syndrome.
An interim report released last month by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that most cases “can reasonably be explained by medical conditions or environmental and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses”. .
However, he warned that a smaller number of cases continued to defy explanation and that in these cases officials “did not rule out the involvement of a foreign actor”.
Wednesday’s report appears to support that conclusion, though officials said the latest efforts were not aimed at assigning blame for any attacks.
“There are a small number of cases that we have reviewed that had no other plausible mechanism,” according to a US intelligence official familiar with the work of the expert panel who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The mystery remains
However, exactly how the possible attacks were carried out remains a mystery.
“We don’t have a specific device,” said a second official, who like the first knew the work of the panel.
But the official said the idea that some cases of Havana syndrome are the result of some weapon is “more than a theory”.
“We had testimonials from people who had worked with RF [radio frequency] energy inadvertently and describe symptoms like that,” the official added.
The idea that a directed pulsed radiofrequency mechanism was responsible for the main symptoms of Havana syndrome – the rapid onset of pain or problems with the inner ear, including loss of balance, dizziness and nausea – was raised for the first time in 2020 the National Academy of Scienceswho called this source “the most plausible mechanism to explain” the growing number of cases.
Wednesday’s report confirmed that finding, but also left open the possibility that some of the cases could have been caused by a device using ultrasound technology, although it said an ultrasound device could not produce the correct combination of symptoms than if deployed nearby. to the victim.
In a statement on Wednesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns said efforts to determine the cause of Havana syndrome were progressing.
“We continue to pursue complementary efforts to get to the bottom of abnormal health events (AHIs) – and to provide access to world-class care for those affected,” they said in a statement.
“We will stay there, with continued rigor, for as long as it takes,” they added. “Nothing is more important than the well-being and safety of our colleagues.”
Officials familiar with the Havana Syndrome work said Wednesday “it’s frustrating” not to be able to get a clear and definitive answer about what happened to a few dozen of their colleagues and US diplomatic personnel.
But they said despite the many unknowns, the latest findings offer hope to those affected.
“We learned a lot,” said one of the officials. “While we don’t have a specific mechanism for each case, what we do know is that if you report quickly and get medical attention quickly, most people are fine.”
The report also recommended that the United States establish a central database to collect information on future reported cases, develop a set of so-called “biomarkers” to better identify new cases, try to develop technology capable of detecting an attack and improving communications.
The White House on Wednesday welcomed the report’s findings.
“The [experts] undertook a rigorous, multidisciplinary study that identified important findings and recommendations,” a National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.
The findings “will inform intensive research and investigation as we continue our government-wide efforts to get to the bottom of the AHI,” the spokesperson added.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday appointed senior official to lead the government’s inter-agency response to Havana Syndrome.