US diplomats, spies may have been hit by electromagnetic energy

A security guard stands outside the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 12, 2017.

A security guard stands outside the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 12, 2017. (Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)

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WASHINGTON — Some of the 1,000 U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers hit by a mysterious illness known as Havana Syndrome could have been targeted by electromagnetic energy pulses, according to a report to U.S. intelligence leaders released on Wednesday.

"Pulse electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radio frequency range, plausibly explains" the ear pain, vertigo, and other symptoms of some of those suffering the ailments first reported by U.S. diplomats in the Cuban capital in 2016, experts from inside and outside the U.S. government said.

The panel of experts was convened by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Deputy Director David Cohen.

The combination of symptoms "cannot be easily explained by known environment or medical conditions" among a subset of victims. The number of those people was not disclosed in the report's unclassified executive summary.

Cases have been reported in Russia, China, Tajikistan and some African countries.

The findings echo a 2020 National Academy of Sciences study and follow a Jan. 20 interim CIA report that concluded that it was unlikely that Russia or another foreign adversary was behind most of the so-called "anomalous health incidents."

The CIA report, however, said there were about two dozen cases of the 1,000 that remained unexplained.

The report released on Wednesday did not delve into responsibility. But its conclusions will likely fuel frustration among current and former U.S. officials who lack a clear explanation for their chronic afflictions.

"We were not looking at attribution or assigning it to a foreign adversary or actor. We stuck to the causal mechanism," a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the report told reporters.

The panel found that the symptoms "are genuine and compelling" based on medical reports and interviews with physicians and victims.

In finding that "pulsed electromagnetic energy" could be the cause, the panel said "information gaps exist" but there are several plausible ways the energy could have been generated "each with its own requirements, limitations and unknowns."

Such sources exist that "are concealable and have moderate power requirements," the report said. "Using non-standard antennas and techniques, the signals could be propagated with low loss" through the air and building materials.

Individuals accidentally exposed to electromagnetic energy signals — which include radio waves, microwaves and X-rays — have reported "sensations" similar to the symptoms reported by Havana Syndrome victims, the report noted.

Ultrasound also could account for the symptoms, but only if a victim was in close proximity to the beam because ultrasound "propagates poorly through the air and building materials," it continued.

Psychosocial factors — which include work demands, stress and depression — cannot alone account for the core symptoms of Havana Syndrome, it said.

The report offered recommendations to help understand, prevent and manage the afflictions, including collecting and coordinating incident and medical data within the U.S. government.

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Jonathan Landay


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