Havana syndrome, the bizarre malaise that has impacted over a thousand U.S. foreign service members, is still a total mystery. Indeed, even as the government attempted to explain away some of the weirdness this week, it’s pretty obvious we still have no fucking idea what this thing is.
On Wednesday, the intelligence community apparently concluded that, no, Havana syndrome is not the result of some sort of sonic weapon wielded by a foreign power. Well, sorta. A popular and ongoing theory that has sought to explain why diplomats and CIA officers all over the world have been afflicted with strange neurological disorders, the “sonic weapon” theory posits that someone—potentially a geopolitical enemy—has been using a mysterious, never-before-seen weapon to mentally injure U.S. officials. Some proponents of this theory blamed Russia as a potential culprit.
However, the latest “Intelligence Community Assessment” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which was compiled after years of investigation, concludes that it is “highly unlikely” that—for the majority of the cases—the neurological injuries are the result of sonic weaponry or that a foreign power was involved. Instead, the government has attributed what it’s now calling the “Anomalous Health Incidents,” or AHIs, to “preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors.”
Strangely, these findings seem to fly in the face of what numerous intelligence officials have previously said on the matter. In February 2022, a panel of scientific experts working for the intelligence agencies concluded that Havana Syndrome was most likely caused by “pulsed electromagnetic energy delivered by an external device”—a claim that had also been circulated by numerous government officials since the incidents first started cropping up years ago.
To make matters more confusing, the government also said Wednesday that for a small group of cases—approximately two dozen—they could not rule out “foreign involvement.” With that somewhat inscrutable information in mind, also consider that this whole situation is further complicated by the fact that it’s being reported second hand. The report, which has not been publicly released, is being fed to journalists by government insiders with knowledge of what has been said, although the exact wording the government appears to have used is somewhat vague and not altogether clear.
For obvious reasons, the sonic weapon explanation has always been deeply controversial. Aside from conjuring scoff-inducing rhetoric about “rayguns” and shadowy plots, the science behind this type of hypothetical weapon has been hotly debated. Skepticism on this front has even led some critics to accuse the government of conducting some sort of psychological operation to frame our geopolitical foes for the illnesses. Yet skeptics have never done a good job of accounting for what’s actually happened to these victims. If there were no rayguns, what the heck happened to these people’s brains?
Well, according to the intelligence community’s latest release, the answer to that question is two-fold. For a majority of the cases, the answer is: not much! But also: for a few folks...maybe a raygun?
In the same statement in which she attributed the bizarre episodes to “environmental factors” and “conventional illnesses,” Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence and head of ODNI, also oddly stated that “these findings do not call into question the very real experiences and symptoms that our colleagues and their family members have reported.”
...Except, they sorta do, right? I mean, unless I’m missing something here, the government has totally failed to explain what happened to these people. What “conventional illnesses” or “environmental factors” would have caused these symptoms to occur? Were the symptoms, as they were described, real? To be clear, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania medical school found signs of actual brain damage in 40 of the State Department victims. Is the government saying that happened as the result of a normal day at the office?
At this point, the total lack of answers is par for the course. Indeed, the sonic weapon theory is just one of a seemingly endless stream of espoused explanations that have been put forward to explain the strange illnesses. To review, in addition to a secret global raygun conspiracy, Havana syndrome has also been blamed on crickets, pesticides, “stress or emotional strain,” mass hysteria, vague “environmental and medical factors” and something called “ultrasounds.” Now, per the recently shared report, the government is also apparently blaming other benign-sounding culprits, including previously diagnosed illnesses, “malfunctioning air conditioning and ventilation systems,” and “electromagnetic waves coming from benign devices like a computer mouse.” As none of these things have much to do with one another, it just sorta sounds like folks are throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks.
I mean, seriously, what is this thing? Is it a traumatic, never-before-seen illness that is now weirdly being attributed to rather mundane causes? Is it a trumped up effort to blame Russia and China for fictitious (but weirdly unbelievable) dastardly deeds? A case of “mass hysteria” simultaneously hitting State Department officials all over the globe—people who, typically, aren’t particularly prone to hysteria? Or is it a case of droves of CIA agents reallllly needing a vacation (it’s been blamed on stress, remember?)...and then going on “60 Minutes” to earnestly explain really bizarre symptoms that have nothing to do with needing a vacation? Or is it that they all got shot with a raygun and that rayguns exist and that somebody is out there firing them off with wild abandon?
Whatever the real answer is, it sorta beg the question: what will the government blame Havana Syndrome on next? I humbly submit the following possibilities for consideration:
- Letting too much lint accumulate in your dryer vent
- Eating while laying down
- Fidel Castro’s ghost
- That thing where your computer overheats and starts whirring really loudly
- Beer before liquor
My guess is probably Tiktok or inflation, but feel free to sound off in the comment section if you have any solid ideas.