As the Health incidents, known as the Havana syndrome, remain as mysterious now as they were a year ago, CIA and government scientists have been working to find a cause of the chronic ailments reported by intelligence officers and diplomats
Intelligence officials have not found any hard evidence that points to a cause. There are no intelligence intercepts implicating an adversarial spy service. No one has detected microwaves, other readings of energy pulses or any other weapons that could be to blame.
Some officials say they remain convinced Russia is involved. And CIA Director William Burns delivered a warning during his trip to Moscow last month: If Russia was found to be responsible, there would be consequences.
The trouble developing evidence shows the difficulty of the problem and suggests that absent a big breakthrough — evidence of someone using a device or an informant telling the CIA about what is afoot — getting answers will be a slow, frustrating and potentially contentious process, especially for those who have been afflicted.
Some outside experts have raised the possibility that the symptoms — chronic headache, vertigo, nausea and others — are a kind of psychosomatic reaction to stress, a so-called “functional illness” — a suggestion rejected by victims and many government officials.
Some scientists believe sensory discomfort — such as the strange sounds, heat or pressure associated with Havana syndrome cases, coupled with anxiety — can trigger real symptoms and sickness.
There have now been 750 official reports of possible anomalous health incidents, according to people briefed on the cases, but about three-quarters are no longer being investigated as likely cases of Havana syndrome. Some reports lacked the required sensory experience, such as heat, pressure or sound, before the symptoms’ onset, and others were found to have separate environmental or medical explanations. Of those cases, it is possible some may turn out to be psychosomatic, according to people briefed on the intelligence.
But of the approximately 200 cases of mysterious incidents still under active examination, the Biden administration does not think they were caused by functional illness or other psychosomatic reactions. In those cases, a US official said, multiple explanations remain possible, including directed energy, sonic devices or other medical explanations.
Directed energy, such as microwaves, remains one of the theories, perhaps the leading theory, according to American officials. But, so far, the CIA has been unable to collect hard evidence to show that any of the people suffering from symptoms of Havana syndrome have been hit with some sort of energy pulse.
Across the government, agencies are searching for clues they may have missed that could help unravel the mystery, according to officials familiar with the efforts. The examination, including the FBI, National Security Agency and CIA, involves reviewing forensic evidence, including surveillance tapes from American embassies. The government is also putting measures in place to detect any directed energy aimed at American diplomats and spies abroad.
One official said the work showed that the various agencies were determined to get to the bottom of what is happening. But, the official cautioned, the work could take time. The government needed to find “the right answer,” not “the easy answer, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because much of the government’s work to determine a cause of the incidents is classified.
US officials have repeatedly said that the symptoms people are suffering from are real and that the CIA, the Biden administration and Congress have taken steps to improve access to medical care and improve compensation for victims who can no longer work.
“What I know, having talked to dozens and dozens of my colleagues who have been victimized, is that real harm is being done to real people,” Burns told a congressional hearing last month.
In a report last year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a microwave weapon — a form of pulsed directed energy — was the most likely cause. Recent studies have indicated that directed energy or microwaves could cause brain injuries and symptoms like those of Havana syndrome.
Others briefed on the intelligence said the lack of evidence is baffling, since the kinds of directed energy known to cause injury ought to be detectable. The absence of proof could mean an adversarial power is using a technology that is unknown, and undetectable, to the United States.