Havana Syndrome — At long last, CDC investigation reveals the exact sequence of events [UPDATE — STATE Dept. MEMO : CIA closed Station two weeks before US Diplomats departure]

“Sometimes it was the sudden onset of a loud noise leading to intense pain, while others felt pressure on the head leading to dizziness and vertigo. The sensations seemed to come from a particular direction in a specific location. This became known as Havana syndrome.”

Gordon Corera –BBC News

February 9 2021 — During his confirmation hearing, incoming US Secretary of State Antony Blinken committed to sharing more information about the “Havana syndrome” affair. Blinken also promised “accountability” if a state actor was responsible.  Four years down the Havana Syndrome mystery, we have finally obtained (from the CDC investigation) the exact sequence of events in Havana. And the timeline makes it quite clear what actually happened. I believe that, after just a bit of additional work, we may come to a reasonably safe conclusion very soon. Follow us on twitter: @Intel_Today

RELATED POST: HAVANA SYNDROME — International Legal Implications

RELATED POST: Havana Syndrome — What Are the Frequencies Used by US Intel for Microwave Spying? [2019]

RELATED POST: Three Years Ago — US Spies & the Havana Syndrome

RELATED POST: One Year Ago — Havana Syndrome : Pesticide may have caused diplomats’ illness. Really? [Comments from Dr James Giordano]

RELATED POST: Two Years Ago — Havana Syndrome & Microwave Weapons: Q&A with Professor James Lin

“The mechanism for the cause of the injuries is currently unknown. We do not know the motive behind these incidents, when they actually commenced, or who did it. We do know that USG, and Canadian diplomatic community members, were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

Accountability Review Board (June 2018)

UPDATE (February 15 2021) — A formerly classified internal State Department review obtained by the National Security Archive reveals that the CIA closed its station in Havana before the diplomats were pulled out.

The Accountability Review Board [ARB] report provides the first official confirmation that the CIA closed down its Havana station and pulled its operatives out of Cuba in September 2017.

A September 13, 2017, entry in a chronology of U.S. government actions states: “CIA informs [Acting Assistant Secretary Francisco] Palmieri of its decision to withdraw personnel from Havana for the foreseeable future.” Secretary Tillerson ordered the departure of all non-emergency personal on September 29 2017.

The decision appeared to be precipitated by two more U.S. intelligence officers falling ill on August 22 2017, while staying at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, reinforcing suspicions at the CIA that their agents were being targeted.

“In August 2017, two TDY [temporary duty travel] personnel experienced medical injury from an incident at a Havana hotel.”

The ARB criticized the CIA for failing to share information about the health-related experiences of its agents in Havana in late 2016 and early 2017, delaying the State Department’s ability to rapidly react.

“Both at [Havana] Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response,” the report noted in its findings on communication and information sharing.

The Board forcefully recommended that:

“The Secretary of State should advise employees, and his counterparts at other agencies represented at missions overseas, that he expects complete transparency and prompt notification regarding any episode that results in harm or increased danger for USG employees.”

The Board received information on similar health incidents in at least three other countries. “In addition to Embassy Havana, there were reports of similar incidents at several other posts (Tashkent, [redacted country/city name], and China).”  

In the case of China, the report included a cable (not released with the declassified version) from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, dated May 21, 2018, stating that the Embassy had convened an Emergency Action Committee to address a “victim of auditory or sensory phenomena.”

According to the Board, there was “one medically confirmed report regarding a Consulate Guangzhou employee, who described incidents in Guangzhou, China, similar to those experienced by Embassy Havana community members and whose injuries were confirmed by medical experts to match those of the Havana victims.”

The CIA’s involvement may have also made the U.S. response more difficult, as the spy agency was reticent in sharing information about its affected personnel, the report said. [ABC News]

“Both at Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response,” it said, calling for “complete transparency and prompt notification regarding any episode that results in harm or increased danger for USG (U.S. government) employees.”

CIA spokesperson Nicole de Haay declined to answer specific questions.

“CIA’s first priority has been and continues to be the welfare of all of our officers,” said de Haay.

“The U.S. investigation into attacks that had sickened American diplomats in Havana in 2017 is still underway and remains a high priority,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on February 11 2021. [REUTERS]

END of UPDATE

Laura: But the thing that makes it a mystery is all of the political tensions that surround these groups of people — our relations with Cuba, our relations with Russia.

Adam: You might call it a sociopoliticogenic illness.

The Case of the Sick Spies (The Politics of Everything)

As I wrote a few days ago:

Every Counter-Intelligence analyst should carefully study the Dreyfus Case.

The main lesson to be learned is this simple. Never focus on WHO did it before you fully understand WHAT actually happened!

Carefully collect the FACTS and build the best TIMELINE [WHAT, WHERE & WHEN] you can manage.

Eventually, the WHO and the WHY will become rather obvious.

A new piece by BBC Gordon Corera is the perfect counter-example.

Neither the author nor the former intelligence officers he interviewed have any explanation for what actually happened.

But they know one thing for sure. The Russians did it!

ZERO evidence Russia is behind these ‘attacks’

On Episode 24 [The Case of the Sick Spies] of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene talk to four people who have followed the story closely: Jack Hitt, who covered it for Vanity Fair; Tim Weiner, the author of The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945-2020; Adam Gaffney, a physician; and the journalist Natalie Shure.

In the conclusion, Nathalie Shure makes a very good point.

“So, the evidence that Russia had anything to do with the attacks that I don’t believe ever even happened — that evidence is practical nonexistent.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that if this potentiality was being raised about any other country, that wouldn’t fly at The New York Times or at GQ, two outlets that recently pushed a very jingoistic version of this story reifying the idea that these were weapon attacks and that Russia was behind it.

I think that’s a function of the fact that people have been pushing stories wherein Russia is a very reductive, two-dimensional, evil character.

And that feels true enough that it doesn’t require much more inquiry. I think that’s a shame, and it’s sort of amazing to step back and see that this sort of story has been accepted by the mainstream so wholeheartedly because it’s Russia and not another country.”

“We don’t have any information about Russia having ‘directed microwave weapons’ or of incidences of the use of such a weapon. Such provocative, baseless speculation and fanciful hypotheses can’t really be considered a serious matter for comment.”

Russian Foreign Ministry

CDC — No idea what happened in Cuba

In 2018, Congress demanded the CDC investigate the illnesses. The agency’s “Cuba Unexplained Events Investigation” was a first attempt to synthesize all the medical records of 95 US diplomats and family members who were evaluated for these injuries, gathered from the State Department, National Institutes of Health, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Miami doctors who treated them.

The report, which was never made public, was obtained by BuzzFeed News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The CDC report ultimately found that the diplomats’ medical histories alone could not explain their illnesses.

Inconsistencies in their records, as well as long times between symptoms and medical tests, “hindered CDC’s ability to discriminate patterns in the data,” the report concluded.

Investigators found 15 people suffered from a two-stage syndrome — often noises followed by immediate symptoms and then neurological injuries weeks later. Nine of those people reported improvement in their conditions over time, and none reported worsening. Another 31 more were “possible” cases, either lacking neurological symptoms or with an unclear starting point, and 49 were not likely cases.

“The only conclusion that seems clear is that a constellation of neurobehavioral symptoms was experienced among embassy personnel, but the underlying reasons for the symptoms are not known and the pattern of symptoms does not correspond to any known diseases,” said Brown University epidemiologist David Savitz.

Timeline

The report does clarify the exact sequence of events in Havana.

The CDC investigation reveals that only one person from the embassy, in late December of 2016, reported neurological symptoms such as dizziness and headaches after hearing noises.

A second individual cited similar injuries in February of 2017, spurring the embassy to ask the rest of the personnel there whether they had experienced such symptoms, with some reporting similar experiences predating the first case.

Experts in mass psychology have suggested the embassy primed the group to experience the symptoms after those first two reports, possibly triggering subsequent real injuries driven by group psychology.

PS — On October 3 2017, I coined the expression “Havana Syndrome”.  [Here is the tweet] As soon as I heard about this rather unusual saga, I immediately made a connection between the Havana attacks and the old story of the Microwave Syndrome, thus the conflation Havana Syndrome.

“Given the conspiracy era we’re in, it is probably worth noting that the lack of a definitive answer is not some conspiracy of silence or effort by the State Department to hide something. We simply do not know what caused the phenomenon, and it is not the case that it’s known, or obvious, and is being suppressed.”

Brown University epidemiologist David Savitz

REFERENCES

Is Russia targeting CIA spies with secret weapons? — BBC News

Medical Records Can’t Explain “Havana Syndrome,” A Buried CDC Report Says — BUZZFEED

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Havana Syndrome — At long last, CDC investigation reveals the exact sequence of events

Havana Syndrome — At long last, CDC investigation reveals the exact sequence of events [UPDATE — STATE Dept. MEMO : CIA closed Station two weeks before US Diplomats departure]

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