The Biden administration is under new pressure to answer a question that has perplexed previous administrations: Is an enemy using a microwave or radio wave device to target the brains of US negotiators, spies, and military personnel?
The number of confirmed cases of potential attack is rapidly increasing, and politicians from both parties, as well as those who think they have been harmed, are demanding answers. However, scientists and government officials are unsure who was behind the attacks, whether the effects were triggered unwittingly by surveillance devices, or whether the events were actually attacks.
Whatever the outcome of the official investigation is, it may have far-reaching implications. Confirmation that a US adversary has been carrying out damaging attacks against US personnel will prompt calls for the US to respond forcefully.
For the time being, the administration is assuring the public that it is taking the matter seriously, that it is conducting a thorough investigation, and that those affected will receive adequate medical treatment.
Since the first cases affected staff at the US Embassy in Cuba in 2016, the issue has been dubbed the “Havana Syndrome.” According to a US defence official who was not allowed to share information publicly, at least 130 cases across the government are now under investigation, up from a few dozen last year. The inquiry is being led by the National Security Council.
Headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms associated with concussions have been identified by those suspected of being affected, with some needing months of medical attention. Some people claim to have heard a loud noise prior to the onset of symptoms.
At least two possible events in the Washington area have been revealed, including one near the White House in November in which an official experienced dizziness.
The New York Times was the first to write on the increased number of potential cases. In November, CNN first reported on the incident near the White House, as well as a separate incident.
Advocates for those who have been affected accuse the US government of failing to take the issue seriously for a long time and failing to offer the requisite medical treatment and benefits.
Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who represents many people affected, said, “The government has a much greater understanding of it than it has let on.” According to documents obtained by Zaid, the National Security Agency has details dating back to the late 1990s about an unnamed “hostile country” potentially possessing a microwave device that could be used “to disrupt, threaten, or destroy an enemy over time.”
During the last months of Trump’s presidency, Chris Miller, the acting defence secretary, formed a Pentagon team to investigate the alleged attacks. That was after he encountered a soldier late last year who reported hearing a “shrieking” sound and then getting a splitting headache while serving in a country Miller wouldn’t name.
Miller told The Associated Press, “He was well-trained, highly well-trained, and he’d been in action before.” “This is an American, a Department of Defense employee. You can’t ignore it at that point.”
Officials from the Departments of Defense and Intelligence have previously stated that they would continue to advocate for answers and better treatment for those suffering from symptoms. A Defense Department spokesperson, Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, said the causes of any accidents are “areas of active investigation.” Officials have not named a suspect government, but some people who have been impacted believe Russia is involved.
CIA Director William Burns told Congress that the inquiry will be “a very high priority” to “ensure that my employees get the treatment that they deserve and that we get to the bottom of what caused these injuries and who was responsible.”
Burns is kept up to date on the investigation on a regular basis, which includes staff who have reported cases this year. He, along with other top CIA officials, has met with those who have reported injuries. The agency has sought to shorten the wait time for outpatient care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for its workers.
The CIA also replaced its chief medical officer with a doctor who was seen as more sympathetic to potential cases within the organisation.
Marc Polymeropoulos, a 26-year CIA veteran who was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury during a 2017 trip to Russia, said, “We were treated so badly in the past.” “Now they’re putting people in positions who will not only trust us, but will also fight for our health-care rights.”
The most likely culprit, according to one key study, is “guided, pulsed radio frequency energy.” A radio frequency attack could alter brain function without causing “gross structural harm,” according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in December. However, the panel was unable to reach a conclusive conclusion on how US staff could have been affected.
In response to the Havana events, a declassified 2018 State Department study cited “a lack of senior leadership, inadequate communications, and organisational disorganisation.” The cause of the injuries, according to the article, is “still unknown.” The National Security Archive at George Washington University released the text.
The CIA’s Havana station was eventually closed, a win for a possible adversary, according to the paper.
Dr. James Giordano, a Georgetown University neurology professor, advised the State Department on the Havana cases and has been briefed on recent events in the United States and abroad. In analysing the reports of those who were harmed in Havana, Giordano discovered signs of neurological injuries in many individuals, implying that they were exposed to radio waves.
He suspected two possible perpetrators: a system used to target potential victims or a monitoring technique that used guided energy waves and could have accidentally affected the people targeted. Giordano said one of the November attacks outside the White House had “substantial parallels” to the Havana events, but he couldn’t go into detail because he wasn’t allowed by the government to do so.
“Faking or misrepresenting such results to objective clinical tests is extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Giordano said. “I mean, you can’t make your nerves do or not do those things.”
Others, however, are doubtful. Dr. Robert Baloh of the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that scans of healthy people’s brains sometimes reveal mini-strokes, and that any potential weapon would be too massive or powerful to be deployed undetected.
According to Baloh, the rising number of cases labelled as guided energy attacks is actually related to a phenomenon known as “mass psychogenic disease,” in which people become ill after learning of others’ symptoms.
“A lot of people are hearing about it, and that’s how it spreads,” Baloh said.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to take this issue seriously. On Wednesday, a bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate that would improve the provision of disability insurance for traumatic brain injuries sustained in the accidents.
In a statement, Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said, “There is no greater priority than ensuring the health and safety of our citizens, and the anomalous health incidents that have plagued our workers around the world are of grave concern.” The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, said the people who reported symptoms were “apparently subject to assault.”
Former CIA officer George Polymeropoulos said he thought the US would eventually figure out what was behind the accidents and who was to blame.
“On this, actual intelligence will lead us to the truth,” he said. “If we discover that a specific enemy did this, we’ll have to make some difficult decisions.”