Report: 'Adversary' Responsible for Havana Syndrome Attacks

The U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba is seen on Jan. 4, 2023.
FILE - The U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba is seen on Jan. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, File)

Nearly 60 years after U.S. scientists began secretly investigating the effects of Soviet microwaves on American diplomats in Moscow, Washington officials are still reluctant to blame Russia for wounding scores of CIA, FBI, State Department and other U.S. and Canadian officials with a weapon that causes a debilitating malady popularly known as Havana Syndrome.

But a collaborative project by 60 Minutes and other news outlets seems close to outing the Kremlin. At least they’ve found officials willing to go on the record that a weapon is involved.

“For the first time, sources tell 60 Minutes they have evidence that a U.S. adversary may be involved in attacks on American government officials and a condition known as Havana Syndrome,” the CBS newsmagazine teased in a tweet Thursday.

“The FBI, CIA and State Department are investigating a theory that some of these officials were injured by an unseen weapon,” Scott Pelley intoned in a preview. “Who might be targeting Americans, and why, are unknown.”

The report amounts to a tiny, yet significant advance from previous studies, including by the CIA, ruling out adversaries employing a weapon.

Pelley said in a promotional clip that “a car chase in Florida may have provided the vital clue” to the origin of the incidents, suggesting a Russian connection but not tipping his hand on the details. “For the first time, we evidence of who might be responsible,” he said, without naming a culprit.

The story is a joint project of 60 Minutes, Germany’s Der Spiegel and The Insider (a Russia-focused news outlet), which will “be publishing our report simultaneously with the broadcast,” according to Insider editor Michael Weiss.

“Many U.S. officials and their families believe they’ve been injured by a secret weapon in the hands of a foreign adversary,” Pelley said.

That’s an advance over a plethora of recent reports that virtually dismissed the possibility of a weapons involvement and suggested most of the roughly 1,000 overseas Americans who’ve reported being felled by something that seemed to pierce their brains were suffering from other causes, including mass hysteria, at posts where sick bay reports were numerous, as in Havana.

The storied show obviously wants to attract viewers by holding out the identity of a suspected party until Sunday night, but six decades worth of scientific, government and journalistic reports have singled out Russia’s experiments with, and deployment of, directed energy weapons. If Moscow’s responsible, it’s probable that it has engaged proxies to carry out the attacks, providing it some degree of plausible denial, however flimsy. Washington’s evidence has to be bullet proof before it fingers the Kremlin.

In any event, a 60 Minutes finding that any adversary has indeed wielded such a weapon flies in the face of a recent U.S. intelligence report declaring it was “very unlikely” a foreign adversary was responsible for what it calls “Anomalous Health Incidents,” in which as many as 1,000 U.S. government employees and officials have reported falling ill with symptoms including splitting headaches, nausea and cognitive dysfunction, preceded by loud, mechanical sounding noises.

The initial incidents in Cuba between 2016 and 2018 gave rise to the Havana Syndrome moniker, but since then similar events suffered by Americans have been reported in Russia, China, India, Germany, Latin America and Washington, D.C., including in the White House campus.

Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who has long helped U.S. intelligence agents untangle problems with their agencies, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) in 2021 that “these cases started LONG before Havana, Cuba in 2016. Evidence exists tracking back these symptoms & incidents 50 years. My first client #MichaelBeck, a @NSAGov employee, was impacted in 1996.”

“In fact,” the NSA “admitted to me in writing back in 2014 that it knew of intelligence from 2012 abt these incidents,” Zaid continued, linking to “the memo they gave me.” He added, “We know @CIA has classified info from 1980s & 1990s without doubt.“ In his X thread, he also displayed “CIA purported kodachrome slides, which appear to date abt 1970, clearly show use of InfraRed & Microwave technology, for purposes unknown,” showing it “was something they were investigating.”

But several conflicting reports and investigations since the Havana incidents have only muddied the waters.

A 2020 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, commissioned by the State Department, said the Havana incidents coincided with the Obama’s administration’s resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2016. State crooked a finger at Moscow, saying there “was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed radio frequencies, which could have resulted in the development of a portable, nonlethal, covert weapon designed to exploit something called the Frey Effect, in which microwaves cause a victim to hear “clicks, buzzing, hissing or knocking”— symptoms reported by U.S. diplomats and spies.

But when hard scientific, medical or other evidence failed to materialize, officials began blaming the victims’ own “psychogenic” issues as a cause, i.e., stress, neuroses and the like. Or a head injury. Blame was being deflected away from machines or devices that might have caused the health issues, even, contradictorily, as Cuba’s communist regime was being blamed for causing them.

“No one I know - NO ONE - believes #Cuba was responsible for 2016 incidents,” Zaid wrote. “Havana was just location. Just like w/China, Russia, Colombia, Australia, England, Poland, Austria, Vietnam & list goes on. This issue has significantly damaged our relations w/Cuba for no good reason.”

Asked for comment on the upcoming 60 Minutes story Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred SpyTalk to its March 11 report, which said, “We continue to closely examine anomalous health incidents (AHIs), particularly in areas we have identified as requiring additional research and analysis. Most IC agencies have concluded that it is very unlikely a foreign adversary (my italics) is responsible for the reported AHIs.” Evidence of adversary attacks,” it added, was “not borne out by subsequent medical and technical analysis.

Two more studies, by the National Institutes of Health, released March 18, also said they could not detect any physical damage among individuals who had reported debilitating AHI-style incidents.

But that doesn’t prove anything, Dr. James Giordano, a prominent neuroscientist and chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program at the Georgetown University Medical Center, told SpyTalk. Advances in technology allow a pulsed microwave or ultrasound beam to disrupt brain functions without leaving evidence of an intrusion.

“In other words…they induce functional disruptions, not necessarily structural ones,” he told SpyTalk in a phone interview. It’s like “what happens with decompression sickness,” commonly known as the bends, he said. It disrupts without a trace, not much different, from a forensic point of view, than a passing stomach ache.

“[Y]ou may get micro-necrosis where small areas of the tissue die” after a pulsed microwave or ultrasound attack, he said, “but that's not gonna necessarily be evident”—i.e., show up—in an MRI or more advanced imaging test.

“So what we've said with regard to the Havana syndrome was very simple, and I'll go to my death saying this: Something happened to the people in Havana. It doesn't surprise me that the NIH report says that we don't find any structural indications of damage to their brain. Neither did we.”

But an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, says Dr. Giordano, who is also a professor in Georgetown’s departments of Neurology and Biochemistry and chair of a subprogram in Military Medical Ethics.

“Did we ever use the word weapon?” he says. “Nope. I never used the word weapon in a report—that was something that was superimposed upon things that I put in my initial report.”

But, he added, “you have to take a look at what nations are doing research work in research development, test evaluation and possible applications for use of these devices. And they include the United States and some of its international industrial as well as military intelligence allies and international cooperators, as well as our transpacific competitors and our transatlantic competitors.”

And that’s been going on for decades.

“So …in other words,” Giordano continued, “if the big three—the United States and its allies, [plus] China and Russia, all possess ongoing research development, test evaluation and prior, if not current-use programs in these technologies, the question then becomes: is it therefore possible that individuals in Cuba…were exposed to this type of technology somehow, some way?

“My answer to that question was not only is that possible, that is highly probable,” Girodano declared.

But could such weapons, particularly microwave emitters, which require huge amounts of energy from oversize generators, be surreptitiously moved around and placed near embassies and the homes of U.S. diplomats and spies without being detected?

“LRADs [long range acoustic devices] can certainly be scaled to the point of being fieldable and operationalizable,” Giordano said. “That's a given, I mean, that's without a doubt.” Small scale versions, designed to repel household mice and other vermin, he pointed out, are commercially available. Five or so years ago, he said, you’d need a power source “the size of a dump truck” to deploy a weaponized version. But today, “you can have a much more compact power source, which then would render this type of a microwave device, or similar quasi microwave or something along the spectrum…far smaller and yet maintain the integrity of the waveform, which would then be fieldable. And if something's fieldable, it's operationalizable.”

Much of the American work is “high side”—classified, said Giordano, who in response to a question said he also possesses a security clearance.

Patent Permits

Public records show the U.S. has granted scores of patents for the development of directed energy weapons and deterrents, including one in 1989 for “Microwaves to the head” and another in 2002 for “Nervous system manipulation by electromagnetic fields from monitors.” And many more like those.

One was granted to Karl Kiefer, president, CEO and founder of Invocon, an R & D firm in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, who got a patent and Marine Corps contract to develop a weapon in 2005. His project directed an electromagnetic force onto micro hairs in the ear, “and all of a sudden those hairs move and it tells the brain that the guy's someplace where he is not.” It was tested on mice.

“It’ll really do a number on you,” he told SpyTalk in a phone interview, but “all we were trying to do was, in a non-lethal way, make somebody so damn sick that they couldn't even think about fighting.”

The Marines “said thanks a lot, but no thanks,” Kiefer said—but not because the technology didn’t have promise for use on humans. It was “because they spent all their money on that damn microwave” that Honeywell, a major defense contractor, was developing. For the Marines, he said, “it was the difference in dealing with a small company in Houston that nobody had ever heard of, and Honeywell,” which has “got more friends in Washington, D.C. than we do, that's pretty sure.”

Smell Test

Mark Zaid says the government is “completely lying” about its knowledge of such weapons development.

“If we take what the IC is saying, particularly the CIA, that there's nothing there, there's nothing to look at, no foreign adversary is using this against us, then why are all these publicly available [patent] solicitations, particularly from within the Defense Department,” Zaid asked in a phone interview. “And if they're doing it there, you know they're doing it in the IC.”

Given Russia’s longtime deployment of microwaves, going back to beams it directed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the 1950s and 1960s, which may well have been the cause of higher rates of cancer and other maladies among its denizens, Zaid says it’s ridiculous for the government to keep asserting that a regime headed by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who’s adopted assassinations as a foreign policy tool, wouldn’t have pushed his military scientists to develop a portable microwave or sonic weapon.

“If we're trying to get our people to develop it, are we supposed to believe that the adversaries are so stupid that they wouldn't be doing the same thing?” Zaid asks. “I mean, it just doesn't make any sense. It's so insulting to our intelligence.”

Washington doesn’t want to admit what it knows about Russia’s likely sponsorship of Havana Syndrome attacks for a number of reasons, Zaid maintains. One is that it would be “an act of war” by Russia—which the Biden administration would feel obligated to respond to. Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s CIA director, reportedly shied away from delivering bad news about the Russians to the White House and downplayed the Havana Syndrome problem. Biden’s CIA director, William Burns said he warned Moscow during a visit in 2021 that there would be hell to pay if evidence showed it was behind the incidents.

“They're attacking our people, and they have violated the age-old rule about not harming fellow intel officers, even on the other side,” Zaid said. “And they're doing it not just to our intel officers, but to their family members, including children and pets.“


“It hasn't really gotten any press,” Zaid says, “but there have been” odd health problems with embassy employees’ cats and dogs (who of course can’t explain why they feel bad). The CIA can’t claim the animals fell ill from “mass hysteria and psychogenics or whatever crap,” he says. “I mean, that's just ludicrous.”

There’s another reason for avoiding blaming microwave or sonic weapons as the cause of the incidents, he says.

“I believe we've known about it for a long, long, long time, and we haven't done anything to protect our people. So it's gonna be really embarrassing to reveal that they've been letting people go into harm's way—even if it wasn't a weapon back in the day, and it became a weapon or it became weaponized.”

It’s possible that the U.S. itself was experimenting with the technology as an offensive or defense weapon and accidents happened, he volunteers. Or that the Russians didn’t know how lethal the technology was: What was maybe intended as a tool to merely harass Americans with low level radiation—”like a tire slash,” Zaid said— turned out to be far more dangerous. But then, as hostilities with Washington deepened over election interference and Ukraine, a theory goes, they embraced it.

In 2021, Congress passed the Havana Act to compensate victims for “brain injuries from hostilities while on assignment.”

Moscow Rules

The U.S. knew as far back as 1965 that the Soviets were conducting tests showing that “humans subjected to low-level (non-thermal) modulated microwave radiation, show adverse clinical and physiological effects,” according to a Top Secret memorandum written by Richard Cesaro, an official with DoD’s Advanced Research Project Agency. So of course the White House ordered up a program of “intensive investigative research” on “higher primates,” code-named TUMS (for Technical Unidentified Moscow Signal), to see if we could replicate the phenomenon “to supply some data base for possible use in a protest action” against the Kremlin, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the private National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The Soviets continued to bombard the American embassy in Moscow with microwaves, and without protest from the U.S., which then, as now, apparently, wanted to avoid a diplomatic or military crisis with Russia. Only after a new ambassador, Walter Stoessel, arrived in 1974 and threatened to resign unless everyone was told about it did the issue explode into the open, the BBC reported in 2021. "That caused something like panic," a later U.S. ambassador, Jack Matlock, recalled. “Embassy staff whose children were in a basement nursery were especially worried. But the State Department played down any risk. ” Only after  Stoessel himself fell ill, “with bleeding of the eyes as one of his symptoms,” the BBC said, did Secretary of State Henry Kissinger accept that his illness was linked to the microwaves and very quietly protest to his Russian counterpart, saying "we are trying to keep the thing quiet". Stoessel died of leukemia at the age of 66. "He decided to play the good soldier," and not make a fuss, his daughter told the BBC. 

For the past half century, the U.S. and its adversaries have been in a supersecret “brain weapons arms race,” journalist Sharon Weinberger said in a September 2022 edition of the now defunct "Conspiracyland" podcast. Weinberger, author of The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, said “one of the working theories was that [the Soviets] knew something we didn't know, that they had uncovered some secret of weaponizing microwaves. And so we had to catch up with them, and we had to have our brain weapons.”

We’ll find out more about brain weapon war on this Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes—how much, one can only guess, given the sustained pushback from U.S. intelligence agencies. That 60 Minutes has worked closely with Bellingcat, the independent investigative consortium that has demonstrated an extraordinary capability to penetrate Russian secrecy, gives ground for optimism.

Former senior CIA operations officer Marc Polymeropolous, one of the earliest and most prominent victims of whatever they want to call it, isn’t cheering yet.

“This seems new and notable,” he tweeted carefully Thursday, after Mark Zaid posted the 60 Minutes announcement promising "new information about the Pentagon's global investigation into these mysterious incidents,” including “evidence that a U.S. adversary may be involved."

“May be involved,” 60 Minutes says. Lots of wiggle room there.

Zaid himself, who appears in the multi-part report, along with an FBI client of his who describes her own harrowing experience, sounded more optimistic in his note on the X platform.

“I highly recommend watching @60Minutes this Sunday night,” he wrote, “as it addresses in 2/3 segments (rarely done) new information abt Anomalous Health Incidents.”

“New information” will hardly put an end to the scandal, of course. We’ve had plenty of “new information” that’s only served to muddy the waters. It’s well past time for somebody—everybody—to come clean.

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