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60 Minutes Havana Syndrome Segment Was Revealing, But More Needs to be Told

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by Barry Manz, Editor, Microwave Product Digest

After seven years, we may finally have the truth about the source of the Havana Syndrome. The Havana Syndrome is a mysterious illness that has affected American diplomats, intelligence officers, and other government personnel serving abroad. The first known cases were reported in late 2016 by employees at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. The mysterious signal has caused significant health issues for employees of the U.S. and Canadian governments and eventually those of other countries as well.

As the victims were sometimes attacked in their homes, family members were often affected, too. Although most of these incidents occurred at embassies, other locations include the White House lawn and a NATO summit (Figure 1). Over the years, the cause of these effects has been called everything from hysteria to preexisting conditions and possibly the use of pulsed microwave or low-frequency acoustic energy beamed at the targets.

Figure 1: Since the first health effects were reported in Havana in 2016, occurrences have also been reported in many other countries. Source: SpyTalk.

investigators from The Insider, Der Spiegel, and CBS News have been working to determine what caused these events and what country might be behind them. A segment in the March 31 broadcast of 60 Minutes, the fourth in a series about Havana Syndrome on the program, adds new information that makes it likely that Russia was the responsible party.

The segment interviewed people who described their experience in public for the first time, as well as Army Colonel Greg Edgreen, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)’s working group investigating Havana Syndrome, as well as Insider reporter Christo Grozev, the group’s lead investigator, who was the first to uncover the names of the Russian agents who poisoned Alexey Navalny. Also featured on the show are a retired military officer and Mark Zaid, an attorney who represents more than two dozen current and former federal officials and their family members who have been afflicted with what the U.S. officially calls Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs).

Edgreen told 60 Minutes that the incidents all targeted the top 5% to 10% of “performing DIA officers” and that the victims were either experts on Russia or had otherwise worked to defend U.S. national security interests against Russia. The investigation noted that many affected personnel were assigned to roles aimed at countering Russia following the 2014 invasion of Ukraine. The investigation reported that these incidents have affected senior U.S. personnel, including a senior official in the National Security Council who served at some point between 2020 and 2024 and CIA Director Bill Burns’ then-deputy chief of staff who experienced a strange health incident in September 2021 in Delhi.

Although acoustic energy has been mentioned as a possible culprit before, it hasn’t received nearly as much attention as RF energy even though, as the people interviewed in the 60 Minutes segment make reasonably clear, it is at least as dangerous to exposed people as RF energy based on their horrifying experiences, some of which they still experience today. Many have either left their government jobs or retired.

Reports of these incidents may have been less frequent in recent years, although several former and current U.S. officials told 60 Minutes that a senior U.S. Department of Defense official was targeted as recently as July 2023, at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made appearances. Other reports have noted a proliferation of cases in Vienna in the latter half of 2021, just months before the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

It’s Happened Before

It should be no surprise that microwave energy was considered a likely source because Russia has used it before. The so-called “Moscow Signal” emitted signals from 2.5 to 4 GHz between 1953 and 1976 from the roof of a nearby apartment building into the U.S. embassy in Moscow (Figure 2). It was directed at the upper floors of the embassy because that’s where the ambassador’s office is located, and more sensitive work is carried out (Figure 3).

Figure 2: The U.S. embassy in Moscow. Source: Wikipedia.

The federal government initially stated it was probably an attempt at espionage and that there were no significant health effects on embassy staff. That conclusion was reached because the emissions were only about 5uW/cm2, a 1000th of the maximum permissible leakage from a microwave oven. However, they were 1000 times more potent than the Soviet Union’s standard at the time. After the attacks stopped occurring, they were initiated again at a higher power level, leading the U.S. to shield the building from electromagnetic radiation.

Figure 3: Depiction of the path of the Moscow Signal. Source: Associated Press, National Security Archive.

Later in the 1970s, tests were conducted to determine whether this radiation permanently affected the staff. The study’s results were never published, but the report concluded no adverse health effects had occurred. This contrasted with a Spanish study in 1978 that determined that embassy employees stationed in Moscow in 1976 had a higher cancer mortality rate than the general population and worse health than Europe’s embassy employees.

It also contradicted the fact several U.S. embassy employees had died of cancer, the most interesting of which is the case of Walter Stoessel, who arrived in 1974 as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. After hearing about what had been happening and that it had been a closely guarded secret, he threatened to resign unless all embassy staff were told.

Stoessel eventually suffered bleeding from his eyes and other symptoms and died of leukemia in 1986. In a document that was later declassified, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in a 1975 phone call to the Soviet ambassador to Washington, linked Stoessel’s illness to microwave energy, saying, “We are trying to keep the thing quiet.”

Reporters and investigators at truth-seeking organizations are remarkable in their ability to use open-source information, satellite imagery, specially tailored algorithms, and other tools to identify people worldwide, where they have been, what they did, and who they really are. These tools and intercepted Russian intelligence documents, travel logs, call metadata, and eyewitness testimony helped The Insider, CBS, and Der Spiegel track down what organization was responsible for conducting the source of the Havana Syndrome. The 60 Minutes segment points directly to Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, and, more specifically, to Unit 29155 within it. This report was the first time this unit has been widely publicized. The investigation places GRU Unit 29155 operatives at many of the locations where U.S. officials experienced Havana Syndrome, either shortly before or during each attack.

The Mysterious Unit 29155

Two agencies are dedicated to intelligence in Russia, although other smaller agencies also exist. The FSB (Federal Security Service) and the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) have distinct focuses and operational areas. The FSB is primarily a domestic security agency responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, border security, and investigating significant crimes within Russia. The GRU, on the other hand, is Russia’s military intelligence arm and focuses on gathering intelligence from foreign countries. The GRU engages in human intelligence operations, signals intelligence, and cyberattacks and has been linked to targeted operations outside of Russia.

Unit 29155 is the part of the GRU that concerns itself with foreign assassinations and other unconscionable activities aimed at destabilizing European countries, the U.S., and its allies. Among the most interesting findings revealed by 60 Minutes were that senior members of the unit received awards and political promotions for work related to the development of “non-lethal acoustic weapons” and that members of the unit have been geolocated to places around the world just before or at the time of reported incidents.

The unit is thought to have operated in secret since at least 2008, though its existence only became publicly known in 2019. Unit 29155 has been linked to numerous high-profile incidents, including an attempted coup in Montenegro and interference in European elections. Unit 29155 was also linked by the investigative organization Bellingcat to the attempted assassinations of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in April 2015 and former GRU Colonel Sergei Skripal in London in March 2018, possibly by the same agents.

The unit is also believed to be responsible for a destabilization campaign in Moldova and a failed pro-Serbian coup plot in Montenegro in 2016, including an attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Dukanović and occupy parliament by force. Andrej Babiš, the prime minister of Czechia, announced on April 17 2021 that Unit 29155 was behind ammunition warehouse explosions in 2014, for which Czechia has identified two suspects: Alexander Mishkin (aka Alexander Petrov) and Anatoliy Chepiga (aka Ruslan Boshirov). These are the same men identified by Bellingcat in the Skripal poisoning case.

Revelations

The 60 Minutes segment begins with a bodycam video showing a 2020 high-speed car chase for more than 15 miles near Key West, Fla. The driver, Vitalii Kovalev, raced ahead of police in his Mustang at speeds up to 110 mph and was stopped only because he was forced off the road by barriers in his path. While this was taking place, Kovalev could be seen talking to someone on his smartphone. Inside the Mustang, police officers found $75,000 in bank accounts, a small device that can erase a vehicle’s computer data using its GPS record, and a Russian passport.

Kovalev has an interesting history. He immigrated to the U.S. and worked for years as the executive chef of some of the East Coast’s most prestigious Russian-themed restaurants (Figure 4). However, the investigative team found that while he was employed as a chef, he also served as an undercover technical officer for the GRU.

Figure 4: Unit 29155 member Vitalii Kovalev when he was a chef. Source: 60 Minutes.

After serving 30 months in prison for evading police and reckless driving, he returned to Russia and effectively disappeared. He did this after ignoring American warnings that he was in danger because he’d spent so much time with the FBI. While he was in prison, Kovalev was interviewed for more than 80 hours by an FBI agent.

The agent, who was also interviewed on the show, said that while Kovalev was in jail, she experienced an agonizing series of health effects. “It felt like I was stuck in this state of disorientation, not able to function. Like, what is happening? And my whole body was pulsing,” the agent told 60 Minutes. A year later, she woke up to the same symptoms in the middle of the night in California.

The show also featured an interview with “Joy,” an American nurse and the wife of a U.S. Embassy official, who had been taking her laundry out of the dryer when she was consumed by an acute ringing sound that reminded her of what someone in a movie experiences after a bomb has exploded. “It just pierced my ears, came in my left side, felt like it came through the window, into my left ear,” Joy recalled. “I immediately felt fullness in my head and a piercing headache.” She ran out of the laundry room on the second floor of her house and into the bathroom adjoining the master bedroom, after which she vomited.

Joy called her husband and then checked the house’s security camera on the front door to see if anyone was outside. A black Mercedes SUV was parked just beyond the gate of her property, directly opposite her laundry room. Joy went outside and saw a tall man. Joy took a picture of the car and its license plate on her smartphone as it pulled away. She says she didn’t see the man again until three years later when she was shown a photograph of Albert Averyanov, a Russian operative attached to Unit 29155. Averyanov is more than simply a spy. He’s the son of the founding commander of Unit 29155, who now serves as the deputy director of the GRU.

Multiple Studies, Conflicting Results

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Havana syndrome is that it remained a mystery for so long, even though multiple health studies were conducted, all of which, at least in some way, contradicted each other. For example, in a University of Pennsylvania Study released in 2018, researchers at the University’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair examined 21 affected diplomats. They found they had sustained brain injuries with symptoms resembling concussion. The study reported that the injuries were unlike any previously documented cases of brain damage.

The Miami Concussion Clinic Study released in 2019 discusses the results found by a team of doctors at the university’s Concussion Clinic. The study evaluated 40 government officials who reported Havana Syndrome symptoms. They found that the patients displayed signs of brain injury, including cognitive deficits and balance issues, similar to those caused by concussions.

A 2020 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report, commissioned by the State Department, concluded that the reported symptoms were consistent with the effects of directed pulsed RF energy. It found that “many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by employees are consistent with the effects of pulsed RF energy.”

In 2021, researchers at the Roskamp Institute in Florida conducted brain imaging studies on Havana Syndrome patients. They found signs of brain injury, including changes in white matter microstructure and functional connectivity. The study suggested that the injuries could be consistent with directed energy exposure.

A research team at the National Institutes of Health evaluated more than 80 U.S. government employees and their adult family members who were primarily stationed abroad who had reported an AHI. It compared them to healthy people who had similar work assignments but did not report AHIs. It found no significant evidence of a brain injury in those in the first category that could be detected by using MRI.

However, Dr. Leighton Chan, chief of rehabilitation medicine and acting chief scientific officer at the NIH Clinical Center, did note that “while we did not identify significant differences in participants with AHIs, it’s important to acknowledge that these symptoms are very real, cause significant disruption in the lives of those affected and can be quite prolonged, disabling and difficult to treat.”

On March 1, 2023, five U.S. intelligence agencies announced the results of their investigation into the origin and nature of Havana Syndrome. It found that it was “highly unlikely” that the constellation of symptoms comprising the condition was caused by a sonic or microwave device or that a foreign adversary was involved. Instead, they concluded that Havana Syndrome was a socially constructed catch-all category for various preexisting health conditions, responses to environmental factors, and stress reactions that were lumped under a single label. Notably, this report’s results were released about a month before the 60 Minutes segment.

For the diplomats, FBI and CIA agents, and their families who are suffering, the information shown on 60 Minutes has been a long time in coming. They wonder why it took so long for these details to be revealed and why the government, even though it has evidence that Russia is the country behind it, continues to downplay the incidents. They have hypotheses: The first is that releasing information about Russian involvement might be too shocking to the American people that Moscow has committed an act of war against America. The second is that acknowledging Havana Syndrome is caused by a foreign adversary could reduce recruitment to the CIA and the State Department.

Still, it remains unclear why it took American officials so long to acknowledge the problem and why they still seem to have no plan to solve it. “I have spent more than a decade fighting for U.S. government employees and their families – sometimes small children and even pets – who have been victimized by AHIs overseas and domestically,” attorney Mark Zaid told 60 Minutes. “It has been so distressing to see how much effort our government has undertaken to cover up the true details of these attacks, no doubt perpetrated by a foreign adversary.”

That said, the government has never denied that “something” was happening to these people but was still criticized for its handling of the incidents and a perceived lack of support. So, in 2021, the Biden administration launched an effort to investigate the incidents at agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and State Department. In 2021, Congress passed the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act. That marked a critical shift in how the government addresses Havana Syndrome, officially recognizing it as real, and providing compensation and medical support for government personnel and their families who have been affected. The HAVANA Act mandates improved coordination among various federal agencies to investigate and respond to potential future incidents.

Summary

Even though the 60 Minutes episode was more revealing than most of the other media reports since the Havana Syndrome saga began, there is undoubtedly much more about it that needs to be told. Unfortunately, it will probably take many years, if not decades, before more government documents are declassified. For example, emerging evidence suggests, which has not been widely reported, that what is now called the Havana Syndrome may have afflicted victims several years before. According to this information, a U.S. government employee stationed at the consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, suffered a debilitating attack as early as 2014.

The victim was incapacitated by what was described as a powerful energy beam, resulting in loss of consciousness and subsequent diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury. Notably, this Frankfurt incident occurred within months after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, lending credence to theories of Russian involvement. The victim was able to identify a member of Russia’s notorious Unit 29155, a clandestine unit based in Geneva, as potentially connected to the attack. This earlier case suggests the affliction had already been weaponized years before.

References

1. The Washington Post, “NIH probe of ‘Havana syndrome’ finds no sign of brain injuries,” March 18, 2024.

 NIH probe of ‘Havana syndrome’ finds no sign of brain injuries – The Washington Post

2. The Insider, “Unraveling Havana Syndrome: New evidence links the GRU’s assassination Unit 29155 to mysterious attacks on U.S. officials and their families”, March 21, 2024.

https://theins.ru/en/politics/270425

3. CBS News, “Russian nexus revealed during 60 Minutes Havana Syndrome investigation into potential attacks on U.S. officials,” March 31, 2024.

Russian nexus revealed during 60 Minutes Havana Syndrome investigation into potential attacks on U.S. officials – CBS News

4.. CBS News, 60 Minutes, “Havana Syndrome,” March 31, 2024, YouTube.

“Havana Syndrome” | 60 Minutes Full Episodes – YouTube

5. Neuroimaging Findings in U.S. Government Personnel With Possible Exposure to Directional Phenomena in Havana, Cuba, Ragini Verma, Randel L. Swanson, Drew Parker, et al.; Journal of the American Medical Association, July 30, 2019.

Neuroimaging Findings in U.S. Government Personnel With Possible Exposure to Directional Phenomena in Havana, Cuba | Neurology | JAMA | JAMA Network

6. Institute for the Study of War, April 1, 2024.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 1, 2024 | Institute for the Study of War (understandingwar.org)

7. BBC, “Havana syndrome” and the mystery of the microwaves, September 8, 2021.

‘Havana syndrome ’ and the mystery of the microwaves (bbc.com)

8. National Security Archive, “The Moscow Signals Declassified, Microwave Mysteries: Projects PANDORA and BIZARRE, September 13, 2022.

The Moscow Signals Declassified Microwave Mysteries: Projects PANDORA and BIZARRE | National Security Archive (gwu.edu)

9. SpyTalk, Jeff Stein, “UPDATE: More Evidence Ties Russia to Havana Syndrome Attacks”, March 29, 2024.

UPDATE: More Evidence Ties Russia to Havana Syndrome Attacks (spytalk.co)

10. Wikipedia, “GRU Unit 29155”.

GRU Unit 29155 – Wikipedia

11. Wikipedia, “Havana syndrome.”

Havana syndrome – Wikipedia

12. Al Jazeera, “Pentagon reveals senior official reported symptoms of ‘Havana Syndrome’, April 1, 2024.

Pentagon reveals senior official reported symptoms of ‘Havana Syndrome’ | Health News | Al Jazeera

13. “Havana Syndrome”: A postmortem, Robert E Bartholomew, Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, and Robert W Baloh, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“Havana Syndrome”: A postmortem (sagepub.com)

14. Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, Robert W. Baloh and Robert E. Bartholomew, Copernicus Books, 2020.

Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria | SpringerLink

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