back to article Havana Syndrome definitely (maybe) not caused by brain-scrambling energy weapons

Havana Syndrome – the inexplicable illness experienced by some US intelligence and diplomatic personnel – is almost certainly not caused by energy weapons, according to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It has, rather, attributed the malady to pre-existing mental health challenges exacerbated by …

  1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    What a relief

    Saying the job has stress levels producing severe and permanent neurological damage is a perfect way to boost morale and staffing numbers.

    They should have blamed aliens.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: What a relief

      Hey Chronic Traumatic Head injuries are a proud American tradition - one president was even famous for "having played too much football(*) without a helmet"

      * i.e. 'American football'

      i.e. Rugby for schoolgirls

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a relief

        "Rugby for schoolgirls"

        Er, in these enlightened times I should point out that the average female rugby player is probably tougher than the average male in the UK... and like their male counterparts, they don't feel the need for body armour in their sport.

        1. Ideasource Bronze badge

          Re: What a relief

          Oh don't be such a school-girl, ye silly social-centric preacher.

          Freaking missionaries.

          I'm just joking. I don't care what you do.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a relief

        American football is stupid rugby, the differences in rules all make it easier to sustain serious injuries.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: What a relief

          > the differences in rules all make it easier to sustain serious injuries.

          They should just allow them to use guns

        2. teebie

          Re: What a relief

          American football is a game where most of the time time is spent not playing the sport (60 minutes spread over 3 and a bit hours), and the players have more padding than the Michelin Man.

          They should have called it American Cricket,

    2. Mostly Irrelevant

      Re: What a relief

      Based on what we now know about the incidence of habitable worlds in the galaxy coupled with the global max speed of the universe it's not logical to believe in extrasolar aliens. That's why the whole idea has become the domain of cranks.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: What a relief

        "it's not logical to believe in extrasolar aliens. That's why the whole idea has become the domain of cranks."

        I think the domain was already inhabited mostly by cranks before, even without some of the data we have today. After all, there's still a reasonable chance that there's life of some form on a planet somewhere, which doesn't have to be as habitable as ours is. What's much harder to believe is that the life that might exist is constantly coming to visit us in the form of whatever the science fiction portrayal of aliens has recently been, leaving no evidence except the clear memories of someone who changes their tune from time to time when media attention is lacking.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to see here, move along please

    Despite having pointed the finger away from several potential sources over the years, and having a long list of credible accounts and people with confirmed and significant heath problems, there is nothing to see here. Please return to your foreign posts regardless of your safety concerns. Thank you, the US government.

    If this report was intended to dispel concerns over it, it is accomplishing the opposite effect. Carefully guarded terms framed to sidestep identifying any actual terms, all tailored to dispel parts of the suspicions without ever identifying the source of any of the know cases. Also positing things in terms that there is one and not multiple sources of these effects and while stridently claiming it totally almost certainly probably wasn't a foreign adversary conducting an attack, also helpfully ducking the question of what caused the incidents in the first place.

    I can see a few of these cases being fraud, hypochondriacs or attention seekers, but many other cases were reasonably reliable career staff that are harder to brush off. Too many had verifiable injuries. The reports in Cuba were leaning to organophosphate poisoning at one point, which wouldn't have line of sight issues. During a time when Russia was sending kill squads all over europe with a collection of rather nasty nerve agents. Or the maybe US embassy was spraying for tropical pests and not disclosing the ingredients list.

    No idea what actually happened, or the method used, but the careful phrasing leaves them a lot of wiggle room. That's not the kind of report that builds trust.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing to see here, move along please

      Come on, they said it plain as day if you read it correctly. "Not caused by a foreign adversary" - so it's something they're doing then, but can't admit to. A way of abusing the detainees, this is bleed over / unexpected foci?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Nothing to see here, move along please

        The detainees you think are connected aren't there. The embassy is in Havana. The detainees are in Guantánamo Bay naval base. A very basic knowledge of Cuban geography would inform you that these places are far apart.

        The report is vague because people don't like to hear that their symptoms are psychosomatic. Nobody wants to hear that and many will reject it if it's said, but it happens and many attempts to prove what happened has suggested it as a predominant cause. Individual problems that affect one person can spread to people nearby if they can convince themselves that they're under attack, and being in a country with the loosest of diplomatic ties while charged with somehow improving that can bring on the stress that makes that easy.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    symptoms are also consistent with known RF effects

    " such as dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, cognitive deficits, and memory loss,"

    Also consistent with the consumption of recreational vegetable products generally more available in the Caribbean

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: symptoms are also consistent with known RF effects


    2. Little Mouse

      Symptoms are also consistent with... run of the mill Migraines

      "dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, anxiety" - "tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo, and cognitive difficulties"

      Textbook migraine symptoms.

      Speaking as someone who gets combinations of the above 3-4 times a month, they have my sympathy, but it doesn't scream "conspiracy" to me.

      1. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: Symptoms are also consistent with... run of the mill Migraines

        >> "dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, anxiety"

        All of which are also indicative of heatstroke. Too many enjoying the April sun perhaps?

      2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Re: Symptoms are also consistent with... run of the mill Migraines

        You forgot the symptom, "memory loss".

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: symptoms are also consistent with known RF effects

      Embassies have always housed radio equipment, they use it to communicate back to their country. Although modern communications have largely made this redundant the capability would be important in places like Cuba which are not only regarded as hostile but lack the reliable communications infrastructure needed to replace radio. When I heard about this syndrome I thought immediately "poorly maintained microwave equipment" -- probably leaky joints in waveguides**. We tend to think of the US and its government as super-capable, always having the latest state of the art kit in perfect condition, but its more likely that equipment will be older and that the screening process for staff (especially technical staff) will leave them in short supply so the idea of a leaky satellite terminal isn't that far fetched.

      Everything will be highly classified and obviously once problems have been identified they'll be quietly fixed so expect the syndrome to just go away.

      **Tricky things. To the uninitiated they look like plumbing but they're not, the power is transferred in the inside walls, not the middle as that you'd expect. Sections are joined by bolting flanges together and its there that you can get leaks because the gasket's not perfect or the bolts weren't tightened quite right.

      1. Robert 22

        Re: symptoms are also consistent with known RF effects

        I would have thought that they would have looked very carefully for any RF signals that might conceivably be an issue. They probably do that regularly at the embassy to look for RF bugs - I am reminded of the "Great Seal" bug that did require that it be radiated with a strong continuous wave RF signal to work.

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    So its time to removed all those sanctions and stuff imposed because of the Havana syndrome?

    Only kidding, of course.

  5. clochard

    Omega-6 health effects

    Possibly the effects of excessive consumption of nuts, seeds, and foods prepared with "vegetable" aka seed oils. Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio too damn high.

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Havana Affair

    Would the same story had happened in Beijing instead of Havana, I wonder if the report would have reached the same conclusion.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Havana Affair

      But remember Cuba contains advanced alien military technology beyond the USA's understanding.

      That's how a small, apparently impoverished, island continues to be an existential threat to a super power.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Havana Affair

        Its a threat because it still exists and anyway we need those Florida votes.

        The general lack of understanding of world geography makes it possible to both conduct ongoing economic war with a country (for 60 years and more) and also pay rent on a sizable chunk that is a major military base. Guantanamo is not a defendable island, its got sqiare boundaries, and it relies on Cuba proper for things like fresh water supplies -- there's farms and communities just beyond the fence line.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: Havana Affair

          Just don't enter the access road by mistake, at best you'll spend hours with a machine gun pointed at you while their security guards check your paperwork, your cars, your belongings and with whoever is in charge that you're not a terrorist of sorts... yeah... not the stress-relieving days of vacations one hopes for

      2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: Havana Affair

        It was a threat because it was allied with the USSR, who was known to park nuclear warheads there. But, that was then. Now, I doubt Russia could get a warship all the way there in one go.

        I never was a fan of Obama, but always thought that his attempt to normalize relations with Cuba was a step in the right direction. I wish we'd have continued that initiative.

  7. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

    The FBI will shortly declare

    that there is a suspicion of the syndrome being caused by a virus escaped from a Wuhan lab in 2019.

  8. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    technical term

    ... concluded that "it is 'very unlikely' a foreign adversary is responsible for the reported anomalous health incidents." (p/) It's worth noting that the term "very unlikely" – when used in this context by the National Intelligence Council – is a technical term that means there's roughly an 80 percent chance it was something else.

    So does that mean it was 20 percent likely the USA side caused it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: technical term

      I think the term "foreign adversary" is more telling - it basically lays it out as a "foreign ally", presumably doing it to the detainees per request - and there's just some collateral. Grunts are just guinea pigs to the US military anyways, but without all the paperwork you need for guinea pigs.

  9. Orv Silver badge

    This reminds me of the stories in the US about cops touching a bit of fentanyl and immediately having a life-threatening reaction. (Fentanyl cannot be absorbed through the skin.)

    We're really reluctant to admit that people, even big strong police officers and Very Serious foreign diplomats, can have panic attacks. Panic attacks can feel very real and very life-threatening when you're having one. And panic attacks can be psychologically contagious once people get into their heads that something is dangerous.

    1. Ian Mason

      The very existence of Fentanyl patches as approved methods of prescribing Fentanyl to patients (check your local pharmacopeia) would strongly rebut your assertion that Fentanyl can't be absorbed through the skin. A quick check shows more than 9 brands prescribable in the NHS. Unlike some transdermal drug formulations Fentanyl patches do not contain active excipients such as DMSO intended to ease the transdermal transport of the drug, indicating that Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin without any special preparation to make it amenable to transdermal transport.

      Fentanyl is a very powerful drug and effective therapeutic doses are very small - those patches are designed to deliver between 12 and 100 micrograms per hour. A lethal dose for humans is estimated at 2 milligrams.

      Those two paragraphs taken together would suggest that transdermal poisoning with Fentanyl is a real and genuine risk if you start ferreting through something that might contain loose Fentanyl without adequate barrier protection. However, in situations where loose Fentanyl is about inhalation and accidental ingestion would represent higher and more immediate risks than transdermal absorption.

      That doesn't however rebut your suggestion that there are a lot of big girl's blouses among the US corpus of police.

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Fentanyl patches work because they mix the fentanyl with something (usually an alcohol) that can penetrate the skin, and even then it takes many minutes to deliver a dose. Dry fentanyl powder (which is what police usually encounter) cannot be absorbed transdermally. If it were that easy to absorb a large dose people wouldn't be injecting or snorting it.

        In some cases officers have had reactions after touching things that turned out to not be fentanyl, and the reactions they have are generally not consistent with a drug overdose. This is at best a panic attack and at worst an attempt to create an assault charge to make a stronger case against a defendant.

        While I don't expect you to take a Buzzfeed article at face value, this one has a lot of relevant links that talk about the issue.

  10. An_Old_Dog Silver badge


    When I was in a job where I was stressed, my muscles tensed and my lower G.I. tract became unhappy and loose. But, I did not experience any of the symptoms listed in the article.

  11. thames

    Already solved in a Canadian investigation made at the time in question

    Canada investigated the problem and fairly quickly found it was due to excessive use of pesticides during the zika virus outbreak in the Caribbean at the time. A US contractor from Florida was used to fumigate the embassies and staff housing with organo-phosphate pesticides.

    Due to the panic over zika at the time (the virus was causing serious birth defects), the fumigation was carried out much more frequently than normally recommended. The result of this was that people were exposed to toxic levels of pesticides.

    Blood samples of Canadian diplomats found above normal levels of organo-phosphate pesticides. The symptoms associated with this are consistent with these associated with so-called "Havana Syndrome", including hearing sounds that aren't there and the rest. Examination of the patients also found nervous system damage consistent with pesticide poisoning. Organo-phosphates affect the nervous system (some types of organo-phosphates are used as military nerve gas), so effects on the brain are entirely to be expected.

    The US government were aware of the Canadian medical investigation but chose to ignore it. Hypothetically this may have been due to concerns about the finger of blame (and lawsuits) coming back on the US officials who approved the use of excessive amounts of pesticides.

  12. herman Silver badge


    My ears are screaming my head off, but it is due to AA gunfire and heavy metal muzak. These Cuba embassy staff just don’t want to admit that they hit the loud party scene too much - possibly because the clubs concerned are off limits to embassy staff.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Tinnitus

      So heavy metal poisoning?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like