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Recently two officers of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported experiencing the ‘Havana Syndrome’ when they were in India and ever since the internet has been talking about it. This angered the director of the CIA and it may have an impact on the countries’ diplomatic relations. If you are curious about what the Havana Syndrome is and want to learn through a quick 5-min read, you are in the right place. 

What is the Havana Syndrome?

The Havana Syndrome is a mental health condition that causes the officers of the US embassy and intelligence agencies to hear different sounds without any outside noise being present, nausea, vertigo, dizziness, headache, issues with balance and loss of memory. 

Imagine having all of that when you are on a diplomatic or a vital secret mission. It would directly hinder your ability to be at your best — having an international, bilateral impact. 

The syndrome first started back in 2016 when a few officers stationed in the US embassy in Cuba started feeling disoriented and had persistent headaches.

When the brains of the victims were studied, it was noticed they had concussions like those soldiers who had been struck in the Iraq and Afghanistan bombings — but without any signs of impact. 

One officer had to compulsorily retire after this while another one needed a hearing aid. Similar incidents were reported over the last few years by officials stationed in China, Taiwan, Moscow, Poland, Austria, Colombia, Uzbekistan and other places. Now, recently, similar incidents have been reported in India.

What Causes the Syndrome?

No one knows for sure. When it happened in Cuba, it was presumed that there were some who did not want the US-Cuba relations to grow. The theory was that these concussions were caused by a sonic attack.

An article in The Indian Express states, “…further study by scientists in the US and medical examination of the victims began to suggest that the victims may have been subjected to high-powered microwaves that either damaged or interfered with the nervous system. It was said to have built a pressure inside the brain that generated the feeling of a sound being heard. Greater exposure to high-powered microwaves is said not only to interfere with the body’s sense of balance but also impact memory and cause permanent brain damage.It is suspected that beams of high-powered microwaves are sent through a special gadget that Americans have begun calling ‘microwave weapon’.”

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Using microwaves for counter-intelligence is not new and was used in the Cold War too. Has it been weaponised and is being used against US officials across the globe? Physical warfare was not what most countries were content with, is this a new form that we should be careful about. If the officials experienced this in India, this could strain the US-India diplomatic relationship.

Audrey Lee, a Foreign Service Officer who was one of the victims in Cuba, told The New Yorker, “We just didn’t know who was going to get hit, when, or why,” she said. At the same time, she was bothered by the implications of the decision: “If this really was a weapon that someone had used against us, how sad it was that we were kind of letting them win.”

The medical mystery of the Havana Syndrome continues…puzzling experts around the globe.

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