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Chances are you haven’t heard of the Havana Syndrome, and even if you have, the topic most likely took a backseat in your mind amid the overbearing outcries of never-ending COVID-19 fear-mongering.
However, with new reports and evidence springing up, it’s time we start taking this threat seriously.
What is Havana Syndrome?
Reports began surfacing in 2016 that U.S. officials, diplomats and spies working in Havana, Cuba were experiencing debilitating headaches and unbearable ringing noises when they stood in specific spots in their hotel rooms; the ringing would disappear when they moved a few feet to the left or right. At first, security experts believed the ailments were caused by devices implanted in the walls that were releasing some sort of sound wave. As a result, many officials were asked to return to the United States while the situation was examined.
But oddly enough, over the past few years, U.S. officials stationed all across the globe – China, England, Russia, Austria and D.C. – began reporting similar symptoms. We are now left in a predicament with more than 200 mysterious cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome, even cases reported on White House property.
In November of 2020, a senior National Security Council official was walking to his car when he experienced a loud ringing noise so extreme that it rendered him numb and deprived him of his ability to speak. When he was taken to the emergency room for MRIs, the doctors initially thought it was a stroke. But after reviewing the scans, the doctors were left dumbfounded. They found nothing at all.
Incidents that were, at first, considered stationary on foreign soil are now popping up within the homeland and latching onto moving targets, making the attacks even more versatile and dangerous. And as if chronic headaches, numbness and deafening rings weren’t enough, victims have also reported short-term memory loss and head injuries comparable to that suffered in a car crash or by a career football player.
From the little that can be learned from the U.S. intelligence community, which usually works under-the-radar with little public transparency during unknown occurrences, there seems to be a growing consensus that Russia is to blame. What was originally thought of as “sonic anomalies” is now believed to be some kind of targeted microwave technology developed by the Russian government to debilitate U.S. officials.
Additionally, frustrations rooted in fear are mounting among government employees who feel abandoned by a “lack of information from leadership.” Reporting on the growing tensions within the State Department, CNN points out that many employees are annoyed with the “hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.”
Many diplomacy experts (especially those with children) now question whether their career path is worth the risk of such sickness. If these mysterious incidents have been inflicted upon U.S. officials by a foreign enemy, it must be especially delightful to the adversary that the attacks have not only caused illness, but have also disrupted the collective chemistry within some of our federal agencies.
Is there an underlying message being sent to the United States from these foreign adversaries? One theory points to the microwaves as an intimidation or warning mechanism aimed at our government. In other words: “Don’t mess with us; we are capable of destroying you with a new form of violence.” Another theory suggests that the microwaves are a technique to retrieve and collect data and other information from computers and mobile devices, but produces the syndrome as a byproduct.
What makes this entire situation so infuriating is the lack of definitive truths we have. Many think it’s likely Russia at work, but it very well may not be. How can we rule out China? The communist regime has shown time and time again that it shouldn’t be trusted, and knowing its technological capabilities, I think its justifiable to leave China on the “possibilities list,” at least until and unless our government provides reliable and complete evidence to the contrary.
We can’t take action against a nation unless we are overwhelmingly confident that that nation is the facilitator of the syndrome. Poking a sleeping bear with little evidence puts us in a self-inflicted, detrimental scenario. The U.S. intelligence and defense community is in a very tough situation. They must be diligent in uncovering the culprit while having an effective plan to protect possible targets in the near future. As of now, the State Department has put together a task force, and the CIA has appointed an unnamed operative to do a thorough investigation (supposedly the same individual who undertook the manhunt for Osama bin Laden).
Will it be enough? We can only hope.
One thing is for certain: We have entered a new technological age that has presented mankind with new capabilities, both good and bad. This syndrome is only scratching the surface of territories not yet explored in modern warfare and violence. Conventional arsenals are slowly being replaced with bioweaponry, drones, microwaves, cyberattacks, etc. We must equip ourselves appropriately if we are to be protected while venturing into this era.
Davis Soderberg is a former associate with the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter @soderberg_davis.
Author: Davis Soderberg