CIA finds most Havana Syndrome cases not work of enemies: Report

Spy agency’s early findings say most cases of mysterious affliction affecting US diplomats explained by other factors.

US embassy in Havana, Cuba
First cases of so-called Havana Syndrome were reported by personnel at the US Embassy in Cuba in 2016 [File: Desmond Boylan/AP]

The CIA has determined a mysterious sickness affecting hundreds of United States diplomatic workers across the world is not part of a widespread targeted campaign by a foreign power, according to US media reports.

Officials briefed on the spy agency’s preliminary finding said hundreds of cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome – which first appeared in Havana, Cuba in 2016 and is typically defined by headaches, nausea, vertigo and dizziness – could be explained by environmental factors, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

The agency is continuing to investigate about two dozen instances that could offer clues as to whether US adversaries had a hand in causing some of the cases. However, the agency has determined the majority of the 1,000 reported cases were unlikely caused by such actors, appearing to douse theories of a more widespread operation.

The latest revelation comes as the administration of President Joe Biden has faced increasing pressure to investigate the cause of the syndrome, which has been reported in Australia, Austria, China, Colombia, Germany and Russia.

Most recently, the Wall Street Journal reported several cases of the sickness were also reported in 2021 in Paris and Geneva, with one US diplomatic employee in the Swiss city requiring evacuation to the US for treatment.

A previous report by the US National Academy of Sciences, released in December 2020, said “directed” microwave radiation was likely the cause of some Havana Syndrome symptoms in Cuba and China. It did not determine how the phenomenon originated or if it was a targeted action.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US still did not know what Havana Syndrome was or who was responsible for it, but pledged to continue to prioritise investigating the issue.

Unlike the administration of former President Donald Trump, the Biden administration has, to date, avoided characterising the cases as “attacks”.

Meanwhile, in a statement to the Times, CIA Director William Burns said the agency was pursuing a complex issue with “analytic rigor, sound tradecraft and compassion”, and emphasised agency officers had experienced real symptoms.

“While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done,” Burns said in the statement. “We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies