June 29 2021 — The time has come to unpack the mysteries. Four years ago, I coined the expression “Havana Syndrome” which implied a link between the (then) recent Havana attacks and the old story of the Microwave Syndrome in Moscow. Considering the known facts, it seemed plausible that the ‘diplomats’ posted in Havana were the victims of a spying operation using microwaves. This hypothesis was ridiculed at the time but today, it is regarded as the most likely theory by the US academy of Science and the Intelligence Community. In this post, I will address two difficulties that have never been discussed during the last four years. The plausible answers to these puzzles appear to point to a well-defined, and highly plausible scenario. If correct, this explanation has far reaching consequences.
UPDATE (July 9 2021) — Hiding Microwave Attacks in Plain Sight — Here is certainly a fair question. If the US Intel Community suspects microwave attacks against their people, why don’t they install spectrum analyzers in the homes and offices of U.S. diplomats. Although it is certainly a good idea, the devil is always in the detail. And you can be sure that the culprits will not make it easy for these attacks to be detected. In this update (at the end of this post), I suggest an old trick that may have gone forgotten…
UPDATE (July 12 2021) — At Long Last, Spy Agencies Turn to Scientists — During the Trump administration, the State Department commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to examine Havana syndrome. Its report concluded that a microwave weapon was a likely cause of many of the episodes but was hampered in part because of a lack of access to information. Scientists were not given the full range of material collected by the intelligence agencies. The National Security Council, working with the C.I.A. and the director of national intelligence, has established a pair of outside panels to study Havana syndrome. Outside scientists with security clearances will be able to view classified intelligence to better understand what may have caused the brain injuries.
UPDATE (July 19 2021) — On Friday, The New Yorker magazine revealed that two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats and other officials in Vienna have reported symptoms similar to those of Havana syndrome. The new cases are confirmed by the US State Department, which said it was “vigorously investigating”.
UPDATE (July 23 2021) — According to the Wall Street Journal, CIA Director William Burns has tapped a veteran of the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden to head the ‘Havana Syndrome’ task force. Follow us on twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: HAVANA SYNDROME — International Legal Implications
RELATED POST: Three Years Ago — US Spies & the Havana Syndrome
UPDATE (July 23 2021) — CIA officer from bin Laden unit will lead Havana Syndrome probe —
According to the Wall Street Journal, CIA Director William Burns has tapped a veteran of the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden to head the ‘Havana Syndrome’ task force. The identity of this officer is classified.
The task force is composed of specialists from across the agency and includes intelligence analysts, clandestine officers who collect human intelligence, clinicians and human resource specialists.
The appointment comes as two dozen new cases were reported in Vienna, Austria.
NBC News uncovered information that the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service “helped develop and deploy small physical detection devices in Cuba and a handful of other posts” aimed at detecting pulsed microwaves. Technical information about these devices is of course classified.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the new chief of the CIA’s task force is reportedly a veteran of the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center and has spent more than a decade on intelligence analysis and targeting.
PS — William Burns gave his first sit-down interview since assuming the role of Central Intelligence Agency director in March. In a wide-ranging conversation, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly asked him several questions about the Havana Syndrome. I will review his answers in a following post, but here are some quick comments.
Q — Have you learned what causes it?
A — We still don’t know for sure, but I am absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this.
Q — So you’re persuaded this is real.
A — I’m certainly persuaded that what our officers and some family members — as well as other U.S. government employees — have experienced is real and it’s serious. (…) we have a very strong team of people — the best across CIA — focused on those questions of “What?” and “Who?”, led by a very experienced and accomplished senior officer who, a decade ago, led the successful hunt for bin Laden. So we’re throwing the very best we have at this issue…
Q — Is it Russia?
A — Could be, but I honestly cannot — I don’t want to suggest until we can draw some more definitive conclusions who it might be. But there are a number of possibilities. (…) The National Academy of Sciences, a year ago, in a very extensive report that they did, suggested that the most plausible theory for what caused this was some form of directed energy, and that sort of narrows, then, the number of potential suspects who could have used this, have used it historically and have the reach to do this in more than one part of the world…
END of UPDATE
UPDATE (July 19 2021) — Two dozen new cases reported in Vienna — On Saturday, the Austrian Foreign Ministry announced that Austria is working with the U.S. authorities to get to the bottom of a reported spate of suspected cases of an ailment known as “Havana syndrome” among U.S. diplomats in Vienna. [REUTERS]
On Friday, The New Yorker magazine revealed that two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats and other officials in Vienna have reported symptoms similar to those of Havana syndrome. The new cases are confirmed by the US State Department, which said it was “vigorously investigating”.
“The first possible syndrome case in Vienna was reported a couple of months after Biden’s Inauguration. That case and subsequent ones were reported to officials in Washington soon after they occurred. But the Biden Administration decided not to announce the Vienna outbreak—officials were concerned that any public disclosure about the cases would hamper ongoing U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement investigations, which are still under way in Vienna.”
Why here? Vienna — home to several U.N. agencies and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — is a hub for diplomatic activity and spying, since many spies operate under diplomatic cover. Only Brussels has a higher density of spies than Vienna.
Why now? No one knows, but… The city is currently hosting indirect talks between Iran and the US over attempts to resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Is the timing just a coincidence?
Who is the culprit? Many American officials suspect that Russian operatives and technology were responsible for the attacks. The US IC has not determined intent or motive. “We do not have a view on that yet,” a senior Biden Administration official told The New Yorker magazine.
Vienna Convention — On September 17 2018, I argued that microwave attacks against diplomats violate the Convention. For instance, Article 29 of the 1961 Vienna Convention states that “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable…the receiving state shall treat him with all due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom, or dignity.”
For now, it appears that both the US and the Austrian Government consider that the use of microwave radiation against a diplomat is a violation of the Vienna Convention.
State actor? — Those responsible for these attacks certainly know that there will be a heavy price to pay if they are caught. Former US (acting) Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has called these attacks an “Act of War.”
Yet, these new attacks would appear to indicate that the culprits are not afraid, either because they do not think they will ever be caught, or because they have come to the conclusion that the reward is worth the risk.
As most states act rationally, it is hard to make sense of this reckless behavior. Of course, the culprit could be a non-state actor. The technology is certainly not out of reach for the drug cartels. But what could possibly be their motive? The plot thickens…
END of UPDATE
There are many ways to solve a mystery… Nevertheless, as Mitch Ditkoff argues, there are some time-tested principles you may want to consider before responding to the stories you are told.
The readers of this blog already know that my favorite tool is an clear and accurate TIMELINE.
Two categories of ‘dangerous idiots’ have skewed the “Havana Syndrome” debate because clueless MSM journalists are so willing to quote them.
The first argues that “it” — a concept they have not yet defined — has been going on for a long time, all the way back to the 1960s!
How would you react if someone tells you that Caligula shot himself in the head with a Smith & Wesson?
This is simply nonsense. It is obviously false because the technology did not exist at the time. The motive may have existed but the means and opportunity were lacking.
The second dismissed the Havana Syndrome as a conspiracy theory. Their main argument is that the technology did not exist in the past… So what?
Don’t they know that … “It always seems impossible until it is done.” [Nelson Mandela]
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.
So where do I stand today? Let me first remind you what were the known facts as well as my hypothesis and my assumptions when I coined the expression Havana Syndrome.
Fact I : Microwave Auditory Effect
Doctor Hoffer and his collaborators have examined a group of 35 embassy-related individuals, among whom 25 reported auditory phenomena.
[Hoffer ME, Levin BE, Snapp H. Acute findings in an acquired neurosensory dysfunction. Laryngoscope Investig Otolaryngol. (2019) 4:124–31. doi: 10.1002/lio2.231]
The Microwave Auditory Effect is widely recognized as “one of the most interesting and
significant biological phenomena from microwave exposure.” [James C. Lin, To be published in IEEE]
Since its discovery in 1947, this effect, also known as the microwave hearing effect or the Frey effect, has been extensively studied.
A single microwave pulse impinging on the head may be perceived as an acoustic zip, click, or knocking sound. Under certain circumstances, a train of microwave pulses may be sensed as buzz, chirp, or tune by humans.
The sound described by the Havana diplomats corresponds exactly to what is expected if it had been caused by the Microwave Auditory Effect.
Fact II : Microwave Spying
Once upon a time, the Russians relied for many years on a technology unknown to the Americans to spy on the US ambassador in Moscow. The device — known as “The thing” — was the brainchild of an extraordinary genius: Leon Theremin.
This technology was totally unknown in the United States and Europe. With some help from British scientists, the US Intelligence Community eventually understood how it worked. And later, with the help of a Dutch company, the CIA fabricated their own version of this device.
I have long suspected that “Microwave Spying” was still a tool on the shelf of the modern spies. In the aftermath of Snowden’s revelations, Der Spiegel published a catalogue of surveillance technologies used by the NSA and CIA to eavesdrop on foreign spies and diplomats.
And indeed, these documents show that the U.S. Intelligence is using products — with names like LOUDAUTO and ANGRYNEIGHBOR — against foreign embassies.
Those devices are generally considered as direct successors of Leon Theremin’s brilliant invention. The old devices were in used until the end of the 1990s when it was decided to take advantage of new technologies. Same idea, better design…
Fact III — A preference for spooks
According to several US reports quoting Intelligence officials, most US diplomats affected by this mysterious illness were in truth intelligence officers.
This information was in fact one of the reasons I dismissed the idea that fumigation against mosquitoes may have caused the mysterious illness.
How could neurotoxins differentiate between real diplomats and spooks?
Intel Today — Hypothesis and Assumptions
Hypothesis — Considering the known facts, it seems plausible that the ‘diplomats’ posted in Havana were the victims of a spying operation using microwaves.
This is the reason why I coined the expression “Havana Syndrome” which implies a link between the recent Havana attacks and the old story of the Microwave Syndrome.
Assumptions — Some people have suggested that the brain lesions were caused by device intended to inflict injury. This explanation never made sense to me.
In my opinion, inflicting injury was not the purpose of this operation but the lesions are nonetheless very real.
According to recent stories published by various US media, the American Intelligence Community has come to the same conclusion.
Other Theories — Psychologist Robert Bartholomew claims that the symptoms are not externally induced, but the results of a functional or psychogenic disorder.
I have long argued that the Timeline does not support the theory of an “epidemic hysteria”.
Edward Shorter is the Jason A Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine as well as a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
Professor Shorter has researched the methods allowing to differentiate psychogenic from somatogenic complaints and he categorically rejects the mass hysteria explanation.
The National Academy of Science Report
In the spring 2019, the US State Department requested the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a full review of the Havana Syndrome. The committee submitted its report to the State Department in early August 2020..
The long-awaited report by the National Academies of Sciences concluded that the mysterious neurological symptoms experienced by American diplomats in Cuba were caused by pulsed microwave energy.
“Overall, directed pulsed RF energy … appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases among those that the committee considered.”
The report recommends that the State Department establish a response mechanism for similar incidents that allows new cases to be studied more quickly and effectively.
Lessons from CIA psychologist Richards J. Heuer : “Never fall in love with your ideas!“
Obviously, the Intel Today Hypothesis is now taken very seriously by the top experts and it is regarded by the US I. C. as the most likely explanation of the Havana Syndrome.
It seems very likely that the ‘diplomats’ posted in Havana were the victims of a spying operation using microwaves.
In April 2021, , during an interview on CNN (Spanish), Juan Gonzalez — Special Assistant to POTUS & NSC Senior Director for Western Hemisphere — admitted that US diplomats in Havana were subjected to microwave attacks. [Joe Biden no es Barack Obama en la política hacia Cuba]
“Tenemos que asegurarnos de que nuestro personal en la embajada estadounidense en La Habana estén seguros y no corran peligro de un ataque de microondas o no sé cómo lo están llamando hoy.”.
[“We have to make sure that our staff at the US embassy in Havana are safe and not in danger of a microwave attack or I don’t know what they are calling it today.”]
This is the first time ever that a high level US official confirmed that us diplomats in Havana have indeed suffered microwave attacks..
And now, what do we do? I am of course delighted that my hypothesis — and the name I coined for it — has been widely accepted.
But the readers familiar with this blog know that this grumpy old man is never happy and always suspicious of everything…
Accurate intelligence judgments do not solely rely on the abundance and accuracy of the information. Indeed it has long been known that rigorous analysis of the information is at least as important as the gathered material in order to reach accurate intelligence estimates.
In the 1960’s, CIA psychologists Dr Richards J. Heuer demonstrated that analysts often ignore relevant information — because it does not fit with their views — and thus easily become over-confident.
Let us avoid this pitfall and let us pay attention to a couple of mysteries which we must not ignore if we want to get to the truth!
Puzzle I : Is the CIA hiding some piece of the mystery?
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.”
Even within the U.S. government, the agency had been reluctant to reveal which officers had been afflicted. The DIA was so frustrated that they initiated their own investigation.
The FBI investigators quickly found out that “The Cubans are being more open about this investigation with the F.B.I. than the C.I.A. is.”
Even more puzzling… CIA Director Gina Haspel personally dismissed the idea that American — and Canadian — embassy staff in Cuba may have suffered from microwave attacks. For God sake, Haspel is not even a scientist! What is her problem?
Puzzle II : Why so much RF power?
Dr. Swanson et al. examined 24 US Cuban embassy personnel exposed to an unknown directed energy source. They found that 21 of those examined had clinical findings similar to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).
[Swanson RL, Hampton S, Green-McKenzie J, Diaz-Arrastia R, Grady MS, Verma R, et al. Neurological manifestations among US government personnel reporting directional audible and sensory phenomena in Havana, Cuba. JAMA. (2018) 319:1125–33. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.1742]
As i pointed above, Doctor Hoffer and his collaborators have examined a group of 35 embassy-related individuals, among whom 25 reported auditory phenomena.
The threshold of RF power density required to activate the Frey effect is well documented.
Technically, there is no need for such high power to conduct a microwave spying attack.
In fact, it seems stupid as the Microwave Auditory Effect provides a clue that such attack is going on.
Let us be clear, if it was not for that weird noise, no one would be speaking about the Havana Syndrome.
But surely, the culprits are not idiots. They know full well what they are doing. How do we solve this contradiction?
At long last… A plausible scenario
Bio-compatible microchip implants that utilize RFID technology are being routinely implanted in humans.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of RFID chips in humans in 2004.
Open Source Intelligence reveals that the U.S. Intelligence Community is very interested in the RFID technology in general, and also in microchip implants.
This is hardly surprising as the technology offers a multitude of interesting possibilities for the spooks.
Of course, any electronic device can be hacked and this one is no exception. In fact, it has already been demonstrated…
On July 22, 2006, Reuters reported that two hackers, Newitz and Westhues, at a conference in New York City demonstrated that they could clone the RFID signal from a human implanted RFID chip, indicating that the device was not as secure as was previously claimed.
There is however a problem. A medical doctor can scan the device — and download for instance the medical history of his patient — while holding a scanner a few inches away from the device.
However, because of the small size of the implant, it would require a lot of RF power to hack the device from 50 yards away, such as for instance from a van stationed in the street.
Could it be that the CIA decided to use implants for some of their agents and officers?
If it were the case, there is no doubt that some would try to hack them and they would have to raise the power level above the threshold of the Frey effect.
And of course, the CIA would have a very good reason to hide this information…
By the way, last night, a comment from Sir Richard Dearlove — Former MI6 Boss — caught my attention.
“I used to journey the world extensively in several identities. I had a cabinet with packaged identities (…) properly supported with financial institution accounts, bank cards, all the pieces you wanted. But you can’t really do that anymore because of biotech. Espionage services have been forced in a different direction.” — (June 28 2021)
In my wildest dreams, I never expected that Chris Carter — the director of the X-Files — would one day mention a theory I had suggested. I am delighted that he believes the Havana Syndrome is real. I hope he will read this post and I dream he could make a new episode.
Never forget. Truth is stranger than Fiction. And it is easy to understand why. “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” [Mark Twain]
In less humorous words, smart people do dumb things. And then, they suffer a blowback….
Perhaps some readers will find this explanation quite crazy. As physicists have learned full well, that is not an issue. Instead ask yourself if our theory is crazy enough to be true?
For now, I believe that Leon Theremin’s ghost has — once again — crossed path with the CIA… Once again at their detriment. To a crafty man, a crafty and a half…
PS — In the introduction, I argued that the Havana Syndrome has nothing to do with the technology used in microwave spying operations during the 1960s. By now, you certainly understand why…. However, one should not conclude that there is nothing to be learned from these old stories. In my next post, I will explain how the culprits are probably hiding their attacks.
UPDATE I (July 9 2021) — Hiding Microwave Attacks in Plain Sight
Here is certainly a fair question. If the US Intel Community indeed suspects microwave attacks against their people, why don’t they install spectrum analyzers in the homes and offices of U.S. diplomats?
Well, this is certainly a good idea, but the devil is always in the detail. And you can be sure that the culprits will not make it easy for these attacks to be detected.
Indeed, it is perfectly possible to hide these Microwave Attacks in plain sight. Some methods are obvious but some can be very sneaky…. In this post, I will describe one of these methods.
7th World Meeting of Families with Pope Benedict XVI (June 2012)
Two parts of the 7th World Meeting of Families were held at Milan’s Aeroporto di Bresso on 2nd and 3rd June 2012. According to press reports, there were around one million visitors present on the site at the peak time during the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.
Using the airport as the meeting venue fulfilled all the required safety criteria and allowed all the necessary security checks to be made.
All the participants were committed to strict radio discipline by keeping exchanges short, limiting transmitter power, and so on.
Security and Intelligence officers became really concerned when they discovered a mysterious – non attributed — signal at 432.96 MHz.
All attempts to locate the source of this signal failed. There is a good reason for this. The signal simply does not exist in reality. It is an electronic fiction.
You will notice that the main signals are separated by 434.00 – 433.48 = 0.52 MHz. And the suspicious signal is located exactly 0.52 MHz below the 433.48 signal.
The signal at 432.96 MHz is a fiction produced by a 3rd order inter-modulation of real signals.
Such “ghost” signal appear real, but in fact it exists only in the spectrum analyser. You may think of it as the microwave equivalent of an optical illusion.
A Clue from the Cold War
The story of microwave spying in Moscow is rather well know. But few people are aware that the Russians had hidden the attacks under a ghost signal.
American counter-intelligence officers in Moscow had, of course, noticed the spying microwave signal.
But, because it was located exactly in the region of the RF spectrum where illusory “ghost signals” from Moscow TV stations were located, they assumed, incorrectly, that the signals from the typewriter bugs were normal and innocent…
And that was exactly what the KGB assumed they would conclude. Is that brilliant, or what?
Of course, as an expert recently pointed out, Intelligence tradecraft doesn’t rely on just one “hide” (such as masking with ghost signals), but layers many “hides” on top of each other to make it extraordinarily difficult for victims of their espionage to detect attacks.
UPDATE II (July 12 2021) — At Long Last, Spy Agencies Turn to Scientists
Recent intelligence challenges have required a different range of scientific expertise, including some areas that agencies have invested fewer resources in over the years.
“This is a really interesting moment where the national security interests have changed from some of the Cold War interests,” said Sue Gordon, a former top intelligence official. “Priorities are changing now.”
The administration has pledged to Congress to make progress on determining the cause of mysterious health ailments on diplomats and intelligence officers, known as Havana syndrome.
The National Security Council, working with the C.I.A. and the Director of National Intelligence, has established a pair of outside panels to study Havana syndrome.
Outside scientists with security clearances will be able to view classified intelligence to better understand what may have caused the brain injuries.
One panel will focus on possible causes. The other is charged with helping develop devices that could better protect personnel.
“Outside scientists on the two new panels will have security clearances enabling them to look at the full range of material. The “driving purpose” of the panels is to give them access to classified information that was denied under previous studies, a White House official said.
Intelligence officials and government experts will also serve on the panels. McClatchy earlier reported on their creation.
The administration will also bring in medical experts in traumatic brain injury and technical experts on weapons systems and directed-energy devices to examine the potential causes of the health episodes, according to the administration official.
The government is examining some 130 episodes, though officials concede that some could eventually be set aside if their causes are determined and appear to be unrelated to Havana syndrome.“
The Havana syndrome has become a top priority of CIA Director William J. Burns, who pushed for the creation of these new panels.
“As part of our ongoing vigorous efforts to determine the cause of these anomalous health incidents, we look forward to working with top scientists and experts inside and outside government on this panel,” Mr. Burns said in a statement.
While scientific research has been a strength of American intelligence agencies, Ms. Gordon said, the current problems may require a different approach, bringing in more people from outside and working more with so-called open source information, including raw data collected by scientists but not always examined independently by intelligence agencies.
“I do think that they will probably approach it slightly differently than they might have in the past,” Ms. Gordon said, “with a little bit more openness.”
“More can be accomplished if the right questions, kinds of experts and data are brought together in a synergistic manner,” said Dr. David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University who chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that studied Havana syndrome cases and produced a report for the Trump administration late last year.
The Art of Unpacking Stories — Mitch Ditkoff
Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [Intel Today : What was the motive of these attacks? Here is a plausible scenario.]
Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [UPDATE — Hiding Microwave Attacks in Plain Sight]
Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [UPDATE — At Long Last, Spy Agencies Turn to Scientists]
Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [UPDATE — Two dozen new cases reported in Vienna]
Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [UPDATE — CIA officer from bin Laden unit will lead Havana Syndrome probe]