Hypochondriacs Can Relax: Havana Syndrome Is Baloney

Havana Syndrome, it turns out, is a figment of lots of overheated imaginations. There are no death-ray microwaves aimed at American heads in the U.S. embassies in nations Washington doesn’t like. In March, the National Institutes of Health said so. NIH studies found neither vocational harm, nor brain injury, nor blood biomarkers, pace 60 Minutes. The whole thing was a massive hoax that started eight years ago, after which the ball really got rolling in 2017, as U.S. military and intelligence officers reported symptoms from India and China. According to Wikipedia: “The most recent studies of over 1000 reported cases of Havana Syndrome have ruled out foreign involvement in all but a couple dozen cases.” Now the NIH has presumably dismissed even those. The nefarious furren conspiracy to scramble American brains was just, well, a hallucination, suggesting some of those brains had already been scrambled due to prolonged exposure to the madness called U.S. foreign policy. Still, the hoopla wasn’t as loony as it could have been – no Havana Syndrome sufferers claimed twinges in their teeth due to electromagnetic messages zapping their fillings, though conceivably that could come next. In fact, the NIH study didn’t stop 60 Minutes from airing a story about Havana Syndrome being caused by the Russians. So there may well be more insanity in the pipeline.

It started in Havana in 2016. According to Spyscape, a U.S. embassy staff person “awoke to a loud, piercing sound in one ear, followed by acute nausea and vertigo. Within years, similar symptoms of the mysterious illness had been reported by hundreds – some say as many as 1,000 – U.S. spies, diplomats and defense officials in China, Russia, Austria, Serbia, the White House and beyond.” Sound like a mass paranoid panic attack by those with brains fried by Washington propaganda? If you said yes, you could be onto something.

“Theories range from some weapon attack to nerve agents and microwave death rays.” The CIA “hasn’t ruled out foreign involvement –including in cases that originated in the U.S. Embassy in Havana.” So the CIA basically straight up said the commies could have a death ray and are using it on us. Next those wicked reds will be hypnotizing us through our laptops to steal the formula for Preparation H and send it to Wikileaks.

Official U.S. government theories included pulsed, directed, radio-frequency attacks and microwave beams aimed at the U.S. embassy. One CIA officer who awoke in a Moscow hotel room with vertigo told Spyscape: “Of course I’m concerned about the adversaries behind this, because ultimately I believe it’s an act of war.” One Havana embassy staffer described himself as a “zombie;” all I can say is keep careful track of your body parts when in contact with these cannibals in the foreign service, since who knows what they might decide to chow down on. Nor was the foreign service the only branch of government affected. One National Security council staffer “described collapsing at the White House gates, convinced he was going to die.” My question is, would he then have risen from the dead and tried to eat the president? Clearly, it was not just a mass psychosis, but a highly contagious one, with serious meal-time ramifications that I hope the secret service carefully kept tabs on.

You’d think the belief that an illness is in reality an act of war perpetrated by a hostile foreign government would, prima facie, disqualify whoever made the charge from being taken seriously. You’d also think such a fantasy would be easy to refute, but apparently not. It took the American health bureaucracy eight years to rule out enemy death rays, and I’m sure many Havana syndrome sufferers still consider themselves targets of a deadly foreign conspiracy. Such convictions require a hefty dose of megalomania, but believing that your headache is a foreign enemy attack indicates that megalomania is not in short supply.

Nor is hysteria about contamination by foreigners, bringing to mind General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove and his obsession with the purity of his bodily fluids. Indeed, the 60 Minutes opus revealed that an FBI agent who interviewed a Russian for 80 hours experienced disorientation, among other Havana Syndrome symptoms, leading one to wonder why nobody asked about the possible health implications of  80 hours of interrogation. Disorientation, crippling or otherwise, would seem to be a logical result of such a marathon. Clearly contact with foreigners, life abroad, or a stint out of the country, has stimulated some rather bizarre ideation in our diplomats, spies and military men, ideation that lay not too far below the surface and just needed the slightest nudge to come roaring wildly into view.

Meanwhile, a Northeastern professor hypothesized a different cause: he blamed crickets, specifically the Indies short-tailed cricket. This bug, “has a chirp that’s extremely annoying to the point where it can harm you,” according to professor Kevin Fu. An advisory group working with the state department agreed. “The group performed a pulse repetition analysis,” according to Northeastern Global News June 13, 2023, “of audio captured in Cuba and audio of the crickets and found they were remarkably similar.” Reassuring to hypochondriacs everywhere, the CIA asserted in 2022 that “the mysterious illness was not caused by a ‘sustained global campaign by a hostile power.’” The CIA did not reveal if arthropods were to blame.

The 1980s were particularly rife with mass hysterical illnesses. There was the West Bank fainting epidemic of 1983, the Hollinwell fainting and nausea attacks of 1980, the U.S. navy breathing difficulty attack in San Diego in 1988, which led to evacuating 600 men from barracks. Other instances of mass hypochondriacal lunacy include the supposed poisoning of thousands of Kosovans by toxic gases in 1990, Pokemon shock, wherein thousands of Japanese children allegedly had seizures while watching Pokemon in 1997 and fever, nausea and walking difficulty for over 500 female adolescents in Mexico City in 2006. And one of the most unforgettable – an outbreak of twitching, headaches and dizziness at a Virginia high school in 2007. Twitching was a new and rather disturbing addition to the collection of odd psychologically-induced symptoms. The thought of a large group of high-schoolers, twitching uncontrollably, is not one you want to contemplate for long.

So Havana Syndrome has a long and illustrious pedigree in the annals of hypochondriacal phantasmagoria. As such, I predict we’re not done with it yet. CIA agents who believe the heirs to Fidel Castro focused death rays at their skulls and believe it with such conviction that they suffered vertigo, nausea and felt they were going to die and then rise from the dead to eat other government officials, will not willingly let go of their peculiar and addled pensees. To the extent that Havana Syndrome is projection, one has to wonder what our spooks have been up to – have THEY been testing sonic beams or microwaves that induce nausea in the floridly paranoid? We’ll never know. But given the outlandish CIA experiments on the human body and psyche down the years, it’s a good bet they have.

And of course, some experts say never say die. “Dr. David Relman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford…argued in an editorial…” CNN reported March 18, that while brain scans “appear to show that ‘nothing or nothing serious’ happened with these cases, coming to this conclusion ‘would be ill-advised.’ Earlier work found evidence of abnormalities, he said, and the same is true for the study that did a wider variety of tests.” Relman argues we need better medical tests that can detect “more specific blood markers of different forms of cellular injury.” And tests, I would like to add, to screen potential zombies out of the foreign service.

CNN rather unhelpfully adds that we still lack a clear definition of this syndrome (thus throwing fuel on the lunatic fire) – “or what the government terms ‘anomalous health incidents.’” It even cites an intelligence panel saying in 2022 that in some instances, the symptoms could “plausibly” have come from external “pulsed electromagnetic energy.” That nitwit conclusion’s not conspiratorial, is it? But hey, if you were in the intelligence community, you’d likely figure, well what would you do if you could, if the shoe was on the other foot? You’d aim a death-ray at the heads of diplomats from countries you didn’t like and then skedaddle before they dined on you, that’s what you’d do.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.