South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Report: Illness that hit spies, diplomats caused by radiation
WASHINGTON — The most probable cause of a series of mysterious afflictions that have sickened American spies and diplomats abroad in the past several yearswas radio-frequency energy, a type of radiation that includes microwaves, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has concluded in a report.
The conclusion by a committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields cited “directed, pulsed radio-frequency energy” as “the most plausible mechanism” to explain the illness, which came to be known as Havana Syndrome, although they said that they could not rule out other possible causes and that secondary factorsmay have contributed to symptoms, according to a copy of the report obtained by The NewYork Times.
The report, which was commissioned by the State Department, provides the most definitive explanation yet of the strange illness that struck scores of government employees, first at theU.S. Embassy inHavana in 2016 and subsequently in China and other countries. Many of the officers suffered from dizziness, fatigue and headaches and loss of hearing, memory and balance, and some were forced to retire.
CIA officers visiting overseas stations experienced similar symptoms, the Times and GQ magazine reported in October. The officers were traveling to discuss countering Russia covert operations with foreign intelligence agencies, a fact that adds to suspicions that Moscow is behind the episodes.
Although couched in careful, scientific language, the new report reveals strong evidence that the incidents were the result of a malicious attack. It attributes the illnesses to “directed” and “pulsed” — rather than “continuous”— energy, implying that the victims’ exposure was targeted, not the result of more common sources of microwave energy such as, for example, a cellphone.
It also said the committee found the immediate symptoms that patients reported — including strange sensations of pain, pressure and sound that often appeared to emanate from a particular direction or occur in a specific spot in a room — were more consistent with a directed “attack” of radio-frequency energy.
The committee considered other causes, like chemical exposures and infectious diseases, but said they appeared unlikely.
The report said that the variability of the incidents, which appeared to affect different people in differentways, left open the possible influence of “psychological and social factors.” And it said that some of the victims may be experiencing a condition called “persistent postural-perceptual dizziness,” a nervous system disorder that produces a prolonged feeling of vertigo or unsteadiness.
The episodes have been the subject of much speculation and controversy. Many of the victims, aswell as some government officials and outside scientists, have long argued that radio-frequency energy was the most likely cause, potentially the result of a weapon wielded by a foreign power.
But since 2018, the U.S. government has declined to speculate publicly on the cases, and some scientists have promoted alternate theories, like a kind of psychological illness that spread in the stressful environment of foreign missions.
Amid the controversy and confusion, some of the afflicted officers have complained that the United States has failed to support them. In several cases, the government initially refused to grant leave and provide the necessary medical care, the officers said. And with the government silent on the possibility of a foreign attack, many of the victims were left feeling that the public believed they hadmade it all up.Several of the victims have accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Trump administration officials of downplaying the issue in an attempt to avoid disrupting international ties.
The report does not point to a perpetrator, although it mentions “significant research in Russia/ USSR” on pulsed radio-frequency technology.