Have you heard about Havana Syndrome? It’s a supposed illness that is said to be affecting embassy staffers and CIA officers in Cuba, as well as other foreign countries such as China and Russia. A National Academies of Sciences panel report last year identified pulsed radiofrequency energy as the “most likely” reason for the sickness.
Now, another report raises some doubts on whether that's really what caused Havana Syndrome.
Buzzfeed News has obtained a declassified State Department report, from 2018, which concluded that injuries suffered by the diplomats more “most likely caused by crickets” rather than microwave weapons. The report was compiled by the JASON advisory group, described as an “elite scientific board” that “has reviewed US national security concerns since the Cold War.”
The report was never released to the public until now and comes to the opposite conclusion as the earlier National Academies of Sciences probe.
About 200 cases of the “syndrome” have been reported since 2018. Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Havana Act, which grants compensation to personnel with the CIA and State Department who have been affected.
“Originally classified as ‘secret,’ the report concluded that the sounds accompanying at least eight of the original twenty-one Havana syndrome incidents were ‘most likely’ caused by insects,” Buzzfeed said. “That same scientific review also judged it ‘highly unlikely’ that microwaves or ultrasound beams—now widely proposed by U.S. government officials to explain the injuries—were involved in the incidents. And though the report didn’t definitively conclude what caused the injuries themselves, it found that ‘psychogenic’ mass psychology effects may have played a role.”
“No plausible single source of energy (neither radio/microwaves nor sonic) can produce both the recorded audio/video signals and the reported medical effects,” report concluded, per Buzzfeed. “We believe the recorded sounds are mechanical or biological in origin, rather than electronic. The most likely source is the Indies short-tailed cricket.”
Buzzfeed also reported on how the JASON analysis worked.
“The team was given eight recordings of incidents linked to injuries and performed an extensive analysis of two cellphone video recordings from one patient. After extensive comparison with recordings of various insect species, they concluded with “high confidence” that the sounds, in that case, came from a particularly loud species of cricket, Anurogryllis celerinictus.”
The report also noted that the Wi-Fi and other electricity at the time was not affected, as they likely would have been by “pulsed microwaves and ultrasound.”
“JASON puts to rest the ‘microwave attack’ theory,” one expert, University of Pennsylvania biomedical engineer Kenneth Foster, told BuzzFeed. “While we can’t rule out the idea that somebody might have been trying to harass the US officers, the idea that these were attacks intended to cause injury is supported neither by a smoking gun nor by clearly identified victims.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.