Intelligence panel finds pulsed energy is only plausible cause of ‘Havana syndrome’

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

A panel of experts established by the intelligence community last spring to identify the cause of unexplained health incidents among U.S. personnel found that a pulsed energy device is the most probable cause of the most perplexing cases.

The panel could not come up with any other plausible explanations, according to intelligence officials familiar with the panel’s work.

The phenomenon known as “Havana syndrome” came to public attention when a group of American diplomats and intelligence personnel in Cuba experienced a series of puzzling health episodes, mostly in their homes, involving the acute onset of vertigo, loss of balance and ear pain in 2016.

Since then, hundreds of other American personnel from overseas and in the Washington, D.C., area have reported similar experiences.

The CIA published an assessment last month that found many of those cases may have environmental or existing medical explanations, and said it is unlikely that a foreign power is conducting a worldwide, systemic campaign attacking U.S. personnel with a secret weapon. But it emphasized that a core subset of cases remains unexplained and under scrutiny.

McClatchy and the Miami Herald reported at the time that roughly two dozen cases are at the heart of the ongoing intelligence probe, including the original cases in Havana.

In an executive summary of the report declassified Wednesday by Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, the panel said it had considered a device to be plausible if all members agreed it was technically and practically feasible. They looked at possible devices that could be concealable, capable of targeting a specific individual and of generating a stimulus that affects the human body in the specific ways described by Havana syndrome victims.

The panel found that a core subset of cases was “genuine and compelling,” and could not be explained away alone by “psychosocial factors” — also referred to as mass hysteria.

“There are a small number of the cases we’ve looked at that have no other plausible mechanism” other than pulsed electromagnetic energy, said one of the officials familiar with the panel’s work.

“Pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radiofrequency, positively explains the core characteristics, although information gaps exist,” another official said. “Sources exist that could generate the required stimulus, concealable and have moderate power requirements.”

One official said the device was not entirely theoretical, and that there is “some level of evidence of an existing device” that informed the panel’s findings. But the official said there was still more to learn and declined to elaborate.

Pulsed electromagnetic energy could move through the air with minimal interference for tens or hundreds of meters, and through most building materials, the panel found. Several of the most challenging cases have occurred indoors.

The panel also looked at ultrasound as a potential source. While ultrasonic rays could cause the symptoms experienced by several victims, they move poorly through the air and through buildings, making this a less likely cause, its experts found.

“The panel found that a subset of AHIs (anomalous health incidents) cannot be easily explained by known environmental or medical conditions and could be explained by certain external factors,” Haines and CIA Director Bill Burns said in a joint statement.

“Moving forward, the work of the IC Experts Panel will help sharpen the work of the IC (intelligence community) and broader U.S. government as we focus on possible causes,” they said. “We will stay at it, with continued rigor, for however long it takes.”

The White House welcomed the findings. A National Security Council official said the panel’s work “will inform intensive research and investigation moving forward as we continue our government-wide effort to get to the bottom of AHI.”

“This is the first time a panel has had such wide-ranging access to both intelligence reporting and patient data, and has engaged directly with people affected by these incidents,” Dr. Eric Lander, President Joe Biden’s science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told McClatchy. “Their meticulous approach provides a road map for important work we still need to undertake.”


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