South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Report: Illness that hit spies, diplomats caused by radiation

- By Ana Swanson and Edward Wong

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.

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