Thursday, September 15, 2022

The "Havana syndrome": A special case of electrohypersensitivity?

The Moscow Signals Declassified: Microwave Diplomacy, 1967-1977

William Burr & Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive (Briefing Book #805), Sep 15, 2022

    "The history of the Moscow Signal has received renewed media attention in recent months as a potential historical precedent for the 'Havana Syndrome'—a mysterious constellation of cognitive and neurological symptoms suffered by CIA and State Department personnel in Havana and elsewhere that led to the shuttering of the CIA Station in Cuba and drastic staff reductions at the U.S. Embassy in Havana five years ago this month. Significant differences between the two phenomena notwithstanding, in interviews and articles a number of former diplomats who were exposed to the Moscow Signal have compared the two episodes. “Today’s Havana Syndrome is ‘like déjà vu all over again,’” wrote retired diplomat James Schumaker, who developed leukemia after serving in Russia in the 1970s, in an article for The Foreign Service Journal titled 'Before Havana Syndrome there was Moscow Signal.' 

     The Archive’s 'Microwave Diplomacy, 1967-1977' posting is the second of a two-part series on the Moscow Signal. Part I, 'PANDORA/BIZARRE,' was published on September 13. A related posting concerning the Soviet beaming of ionizing radiation, 'Irradiating Richard Nixon,' will be published the week of September 19...."

     "High-level U.S. efforts to press Soviet leaders to halt the radiation activity began in 1967 and continued under four administrations into the Carter era. The microwave transmissions, believed to be related to bugging devices hidden in the Embassy walls, continued for decades after they were first detected when the U.S. Chancery opened in the early 1950s...."

For more information on the Moscow Signal, see summaries of 32 recently declassified documents in addition to the original documents:


Intelligence Community Expert Panel: Executive Summary

On February 1, 2022, the executive summary from a report prepared by the IC (U.S. Intelligence Community) Expert Panel on Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs) was declassified by Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence. 

The report makes the following conclusions:

"Four 'core characteristics' were prominent among these AHIs: the acute onset of audio-vestibular sensory phenomena, sometimes including sound or pressure in only one ear or on one side of the head; other nearly simultaneous signs and symptoms such as vertigo, loss of balance, and ear pain; a strong sense of locality or directionality; and the absence of known environmental or medical conditions that could have caused the reported signs and symptoms."

"The signs and symptoms of AHIs are genuine and compelling. The panel bases this assessment on incident reports, medical data from affected individuals and interviews with their physicians, and interviews with affected individuals themselves. Some incidents have affected multiple persons in the same space, and clinical samples from a few affected individuals have shown early, transient elevations in biomarkers suggestive of cellular injury to the nervous system. The reported signs and symptoms of AHIs are diverse and may be caused by multiple mechanisms, but no case should be discounted."

"... the combination of the four core characteristics is distinctly unusual and unreported elsewhere in the medical literature, and so far have not been associated with a specific neurological abnormality. Several aspects of this unique neurosensory syndrome make it unlikely to be caused by a functional neurological disorder. The location dependence and sudden onset and offset, for example, argue for a stimulus that is spatially and temporally discrete. The perception of sound and pain within only one ear suggests the stimulation of its mechanoreceptors, a specific cranial nerve, or nuclei in the brainstem, all of which mediate hearing and balance. The lack of other symptoms also helped rule-out known medical conditions."

"Pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radiofrequency range, plausibly explains the core characteristics, although information gaps exist. There are several plausible pathways involving various forms of pulsed electromagnetic energy, each with its own requirements, limitations, and unknowns. For all the pathways, sources exist that could generate the required stimulus, are concealable, and have moderate power requirements. Using nonstandard {redacted words} antennas and techniques, the signals could be propagated with low loss through air for tens to hundreds of meters, and with some loss, through most building materials. {redacted sentence}."

"Ultrasound also plausibly explains the core characteristics, but only in close-access scenarios and with information gaps...."

"Psychosocial factors alone cannot account for the core characteristics, although they may cause some other incidents or contribute to long-term symptoms...." 

"Ionizing radiation, chemical and biological agents, infrasound, audible sound, ultrasound propagated over large distances, and bulk heating from electromagnetic energy are all implausible explanations for the core characteristics in the absence of other synergistic stimuli. These mechanisms are unlikely, on their own, to account for the required effects or are technically or practically infeasible...."

Three of the seven recommendations are completely redacted: Detectors, Biological Effects, and Devices to Aid Research. 

The executive summary can be downloaded:


Nov 9, 2021 (Updated Nov 26, 2021)

"Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday detailed new efforts to investigate "Havana syndrome," the mysterious health affliction affecting dozens of U.S. personnel first identified in Cuba and now including several countries."

"Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, cognitive difficulties, tinnitus, vertigo and trouble with seeing, hearing or balancing. Many officials have suffered symptoms years after reporting an incident, while some have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries."

"In an effort to learn more, Blinken confirmed Friday that the State Department has deployed new technology to U.S. missions around the world to help understand the cause.

'The details I can provide on this are limited as well, but I can say that new technology is helping us more quickly and thoroughly evaluate a variety of potential causes of these incidents, and we've distributed across posts so that we can respond rapidly to new reports,' he said."  

(Conor Finnegan and Matt Seyler, "Blinken details new efforts to investigate 'Havana syndrome," ABC News, Nov 5, 2021)

In my opinion, the "Havana syndrome" is likely caused by exposure to microwave or radio frequency radiation (RFR) resulting in the onset of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) in exposed individuals who have greater sensitivity to RFR. Moreover, as I explained to the Daily Mail in December 2017 the symptoms may be caused by exposure to low-moderate intensity microwave radiation used for surveillance:

"The finding that the attacks led to perceptible changes in their brains is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved. 

'This makes me think the victims may have developed electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) from exposure to electromagnetic fields in the embassy,' Joel Moskowitz, a community health professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Daily Mail Online. 

'This happened during the Cold War to personnel stationed in the US embassy in Moscow when the Soviets were bombarding the embassy with microwaves to monitor oral communications in the ambassador's office.'"

If my hypothesis is correct that a surveillance device is the source of exposure for the "Havana syndrome" rather than a weapon, and if only a minority of exposed individuals are susceptible to developing serious symptoms associated with EHS, then the extent of surveillance could be widespread, placing our nation's secrets at risk.

William Broad of the New York Times interviewed me for a story on the "Havana syndrome" in September 2018. He dismissed my hypothesis that the effects observed in Havana were due to EHS and that the source of the exposure may have been microwave-based surveillance technology rather than weaponry.  In his article, he did not cite me or Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a colleague from UC San Diego whom he also interviewed who had published a paper on the Havana syndrome in which she hypothesized that it was caused by pulsed microwave radiation (see abstract below).

In October 2019, following up on a referral from Allan Frey (who pioneered the research on microwave hearing and blood-brain-barrier penetration), Dr. Thaddeus Thomas from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) contacted me to learn about the science regarding health effects from RFR exposure. He informed me that the ARL was heading a joint military task force to determine whether an adversary had developed new weapon technology based on RFR. I shared with him the research on EHS. I cautioned him not to assume that the "attack" was a weapon as it could have been from microwave-based surveillance technology because health effects have been observed in many individuals who experienced relatively low levels of RFR exposure. Moreover, Russian surveillance was a prime explanation for similar incidents that occurred at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the Cold War (aka "Moscow signal").

BTW, the smallest microwave weapon I am aware of, the Silent Guardian active denial system, requires a 10,000 pound containerized system to generate a 30-kilowatt beam. The primary symptom is a burning sensation in the skin, not strange sounds.

In October 2021, pursuing the military weapon angle, Dr. Thomas and his colleagues published the following paper in the AAAS journal Science Advances. This joint U.S. Army/Air Force study found pulsed microwaves compliant with current safety standards could potentially cause traumatic brain injury.


Computational modeling investigation of pulsed high peak power microwaves and the potential for traumatic brain injury

Amy M Dagro, Justin W Wilkerson, Thaddeus P Thomas, Benjamin T Kalinosky, Jason A Payne. Computational modeling investigation of pulsed high peak power microwaves and the potential for traumatic brain injury. Sci Adv. 2021 Oct 29;7(44):eabd8405. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abd8405.

Amy Dagro and Thaddeus Thomas are with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD; Benjamin Kalinosky is with General Dynamics Information Technology, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; and Jason Payne is with U.S, Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th Human Performance Wing, Airman Systems Directorate, Bioeffects Division, Radio Frequency Bioeffects Branch, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; Justin Wilkerson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.


When considering safety standards for human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) and microwave energy, the dominant concerns pertain to a thermal effect. However, in the case of high-power pulsed RF/microwave energy, a rapid thermal expansion can lead to stress waves within the body. In this study, a computational model is used to estimate the temperature profile in the human brain resulting from exposure to various RF/microwave incident field parameters. The temperatures are subsequently used to simulate the resulting mechanical response of the brain. Our simulations show that, for certain extremely high-power microwave exposures (permissible by current safety standards), very high stresses may occur within the brain that may have implications for neuropathological effects. Although the required power densities are orders of magnitude larger than most real-world exposure conditions, they can be achieved with devices meant to emit high-power electromagnetic pulses in military and research applications.


"The bulk of scientific literature uses continuous waves and moderate field strengths (typical of real-life scenarios), with less emphasis on pulsed fields of very high peak strength that may occur with ultrawideband pulse generators or EM pulse simulators (4). It is worth investigating whether extremely high peak power sources applied with a slow repetition frequency, or low duty cycle, can induce injurious effects without thermal buildup greater than a few degrees Celsius."

"With the exception of low intracranial absorption at 1400 MHz, the highest ratio of peak average intracranial SAR* to peak average skin SAR* occurs between 1 to 1.8 GHz."

"The MAE, also referred to as “microwave hearing” or the “Frey effect” due to its discovery by Allan Frey in 1961 (7, 8), was initially observed when subjects standing up to hundreds of feet away from a radar transponder could hear an audible tonal noise (e.g., chirping, buzzing, or clicking). The scientific underpinnings of the MAE were controversial for the first several years (9–11). After more than a decade of investigations, it became generally accepted that the perceived sound is due to the cochlea detecting stress waves that result from a rapid temperature rise in tissues within the head due to pulsed RF/microwave exposure (11, 12)."

"Typically, relatively low-average powers and small temperature changes (10−6°C) are required to elicit the MAE (12). Although adverse health effects from the MAE have not been previously established, one study on rodents suggests that very high–peak power pulsed microwaves can result in cognitive deficits (13)."

"This study uses a two-simulation approach to investigate whether an HPM source could theoretically induce adverse mechanical responses within the brain."

"This study has shown that, by applying a small temperature increase (<0.0005°C) in a very short amount of time (less than several microseconds), potentially injurious stress waves are created."

"For frequencies between 400 MHz to 2 GHz, the IEEE C95.1 RF exposure guidelines limit the exposure reference limit (ERL) to fmhz/200 (W/m2) over an averaging time of 30 min. For 1-GHz exposures, the IEEE C95.1 ERL of 5 W/m2 over 30 min would equate to an average energy density of 9000 J/m2. Our computational model shows that, for sufficiently high incident power densities, a single pulse could potentially result in biologically meaningful pressures. For example, large pressures may occur following 1-GHz frequency, a pulse duration of 5 μs, and incident power densities of at least 1.5 × 107 W/m2. The energy density associated with such a pulse would be equal to PIN×τd or 75 J/m2 (significantly less than the ERL standard)."

"Note that the proposed HPM power densities in this study are extremely large and several orders of magnitude larger than power densities typically experienced by the public. As an illustrative example, at around 200 feet from a cell phone base station, a person will be exposed to a power density of only 0.001 mW/cm2 or less (36). This study establishes a testable hypothesis between potential neurocognitive effects and the thermoelastic mechanism from HPM systems. To date, however, adverse effects from HPM systems have not been established in the scientific literature."


New Report Assesses Illnesses Among U.S. Government Personnel and Their Families at Overseas Embassies

News Release, National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, December 5, 2020

WASHINGTON — Government personnel and their families at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016, and later at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, began suffering from a range of unusual — and in some cases suddenly occurring — symptoms such as a perceived loud noise, ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties, and many still continue to experience these or other health problems.  As part of its effort to ascertain potential causes of the illnesses, inform government employees more effectively about health risks at posts abroad, and determine best medical practices for screening, prevention, and treatment for both short- and long-term health problems, the U.S. Department of State asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide advice.  After undergoing a security review, the National Academies’ report is now available.

In examining plausible causes of these illnesses, the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report considered the possibilities of directed, pulsed radio frequency energy, chemical exposures, infectious diseases such as Zika, and psychological issues.  An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies says that among the mechanisms the committee considered, directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases, especially in individuals with the distinct early symptoms.  Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) — a functional (not psychiatric) vestibular disorder that may be triggered by vestibular, neurologic, or other medical and psychological conditions — is a secondary reinforcing mechanism, as well as the possible additive effects of psychological conditions.

The committee could not rule out other possible mechanisms and found it is likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others.  In particular, it could not be certain that the individuals with only the chronic set of signs and symptoms suffered from the same causes and mechanisms as those who reported the initial, sudden onset set of signs and symptoms.  The committee noted that it faced several challenges in its assessment, related to the extreme variability in the clinical cases as well as lack of access to specific health or personal information on the affected individuals.

“The committee found these cases quite concerning, in part because of the plausible role of directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy as a mechanism, but also because of the significant suffering and debility that has occurred in some of these individuals,” said committee chair David Relman, Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in Medicine, professor of microbiology and immunology, and senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  “We as a nation need to address these specific cases as well as the possibility of future cases with a concerted, coordinated, and comprehensive approach.”

The report includes a number of recommendations for rehabilitation and actions the State Department should take to enhance responses to future threats to the well-being of its personnel and their families.

The study — undertaken by the Standing Committee to Advise the U.S. Department of State on Unexplained Health Effects on U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies — was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Consensus Study Report: An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies

In late 2016, U.S. Embassy personnel in Havana, Cuba, began to report the development of an unusual set of symptoms and clinical signs. For some of these patients, their case began with the sudden onset of a loud noise, perceived to have directional features, and accompanied by pain in one or both ears or across a broad region of the head, and in some cases, a sensation of head pressure or vibration, dizziness, followed in some cases by tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo, and cognitive difficulties. Other personnel attached to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, reported similar symptoms and signs to varying degrees, beginning in the following year. As of June 2020, many of these personnel continue to suffer from these and/or other health problems. Multiple hypotheses and mechanisms have been proposed to explain these clinical cases, but evidence has been lacking, no hypothesis has been proven, and the circumstances remain unclear.

The Department of State asked the National Academies to review the cases, their clinical features and management, epidemiologic investigations, and scientific evidence in support of possible causes, and advise on approaches for the investigation of potential future cases. In An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies, the committee identifies distinctive clinical features, considers possible causes, evaluates plausible mechanisms and rehabilitation efforts, and offers recommendations for future planning and responses.


Diplomats' Mystery Illness and Pulsed Radiofrequency/ Microwave Radiation

Beatrice Alexandra Golomb. Diplomats' Mystery Illness and Pulsed Radiofrequency/ Microwave Radiation. Neural Computation. November 2018. 30(11):2882-2985. doi: 10.1162/neco_a_01133.

UC San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, CA.



A mystery illness striking U.S. and Canadian diplomats to Cuba (and now China) “has confounded the FBI, the State Department and US intelligence agencies” (Lederman, Weissenstein, & Lee, 2017). Sonic explanations for the so-called health attacks have long dominated media reports, propelled by peculiar sounds heard and auditory symptoms experienced. Sonic mediation was justly rejected by experts. We assessed whether pulsed radiofrequency/microwave radiation (RF/MW) exposure can accommodate reported facts in diplomats, including unusual ones.


(1) Noises: Many diplomats heard chirping, ringing or grinding noises at night during episodes reportedly triggering health problems. Some reported that noises were localized with laser-like precision or said the sounds seemed to follow them (within the territory in which they were perceived). Pulsed RF/MW engenders just these apparent “sounds” via the Frey effect. Perceived “sounds” differ by head dimensions and pulse characteristics and can be perceived as located behind in or above the head. Ability to hear the “sounds” depends on high-frequency hearing and low ambient noise. 

(2) Signs/symptoms: Hearing loss and tinnitus are prominent in affected diplomats and in RF/MW-affected individuals. Each of the protean symptoms that diplomats report also affect persons reporting symptoms from RF/MW: sleep problems, headaches, and cognitive problems dominate in both groups. Sensations of pressure or vibration figure in each. Both encompass vision, balance, and speech problems and nosebleeds. Brain injury and brain swelling are reported in both. 

(3) Mechanisms: Oxidative stress provides a documented mechanism of RF/MW injury compatible with reported signs and symptoms; sequelae of endothelial dysfunction (yielding blood flow compromise), membrane damage, blood-brain barrier disruption, mitochondrial injury, apoptosis, and autoimmune triggering afford downstream mechanisms, of varying persistence, that merit investigation. 

(4) Of note, microwaving of the U.S. embassy in Moscow is historically documented.

Conclusions and relevance:  

Reported facts appear consistent with pulsed RF/MW as the source of injury in affected diplomats. Nondiplomats citing symptoms from RF/MW, often with an inciting pulsed-RF/MW exposure, report compatible health conditions. Under the RF/MW hypothesis, lessons learned for diplomats and for RF/MW-affected civilians may each aid the other.


The "Moscow signal" epidemiological study, 40 years on

Martínez JA. The "Moscow signal" epidemiological study, 40 years on. Rev Environ Health. 2019 Mar 26;34(1):13-24. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2018-0061.


Between 1953 and 1979, the USSR irradiated the United States embassy in Moscow with microwaves. This episode, a classic Cold War affair, has acquired enormous importance in the discussions on the effect of non-ionizing radiation on people's health. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as being a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B), but the results of recent laboratory and epidemiological studies have led some researchers to conclude that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields should be reclassified as a human carcinogen instead of merely a possible human carcinogen. In 1978, the "Moscow signal" case was officially closed after the publication of the epidemiological study of (Lilienfeld AM, Tonascia J, Tonascia S, Libauer CA, Cauthen GM. Foreign Service health status study. Evaluation of health status of foreign service and other employees from selected Eastern European posts. Report on Foreign Service Health Status Study, U.S. Department of State 6025-619073, 1978.), showing no apparent evidence of increased mortality rates and limited evidence regarding general health status. However, several loose ends still remain with respect to this epidemiological study, as well as the affair as a whole. In this paper, we summarize the available evidence concerning this case, paying special attention to the epidemiological study of Lilienfeld et al. After reviewing the available literature (including declassified documents), and after some additional statistical analyses, we provide new insights which do not complete the puzzle, but which may help to better understand it.


The Soviet objective

To activate listening devices on the walls? This may well have been, as we have just indicated, one of the explanations given by the Americans, but serious doubts had, by this time, been cast on American institutional credibility. After all, the State Department had, for more than 15 years, hidden from its own employees the fact that that they were being irradiated, had lied to them about the purpose of the blood tests, and had categorically denied that some of the results were of concern to their health. For example, the State Department had reported that Ambassador Walter Stoessel was in good health and that blood tests showing high levels of white blood cells were unrelated to leukemia (13). Nevertheless, Stoessel died of leukemia on December 9, 1986, aged 66 (27).

The mind control hypothesis was also considered by the American government (28). The Americans themselves had been experimenting on mind control as part of the MK ULTRA project, and suspected that the Soviets might be doing the same.

The former CIA agent Victor Marchetti claimed that the microwave bombardment had nothing to do with a threat to health, but with a strategy of confusion in order to waste the time of the American government while it studied and analyzed what it believed might be taking place (13). Whether this is true or not, the reality is that the American government had indeed devoted huge resources and efforts to analyzing what had happened, especially with the epidemiological study of Lilienfeld et al. (1).

The Soviets, on the other hand, finally admitted at the beginning of 1976 to the use of microwaves, after denying it for 15 years. The official version until then had been that the radiation detected by the Americans at the embassy was caused by the industrial activity of a large city such as Moscow. When they finally came clean, they indicated that the purpose of the bombardment had not been to damage the health of the American personnel, but to interfere in the communications of the embassy (11).

In the end, both official versions concurred, which, given the history of lies and deceit by the two sides involved, may be equally suspect....

Four decades on, the “Moscow signal” case has transmuted into “the Thing” or “the Havana syndrome” (45). From December, 2016, to August, 2017, some State Department personnel and other CIA employees began to suffer a series of neurological symptoms, including headaches, dizziness and sleep abnormalities, while working at the Cuban embassy, or staying at other places in Havana, such as the Capri and Nacional hotels.

Because of the political nature of this affair, many details remain undisclosed, such as the names of the CIA employees affected, who exactly was responsible for the attack (the Cuban government continues to deny all knowledge), or the specific “weapon” employed (some scientists suspect a microwave attack). However, the preliminary results of the study of Swanson et al. (7) on 21 individuals identified by the US Department of State as having possibly been exposed, showed persistent cognitive, vestibular, and oculomotor dysfunction, as well as sleep impairment and headaches, along with reports of directional audible and/or sensory phenomena of unclear origin. As Swanson et al. (7) concluded, these individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.

Therefore, there exist clear similitudes with the Moscow embassy case; a (hypothesized) directional weapon that produces several identifiable neurocognitive symptoms and that leaves no detectable traces, contextualized in a framework of secrecy and political tension. The main difference is that, in the Cuban case, there is still no confirmation of the use of microwaves....

Power densities measured at the Moscow embassy were higher than the average levels typically found nowadays in homes, schools and urban areas, and were of the same order of magnitude as the more extreme case of living just a few meters from a base station (see (19)) This means that exposure at the embassy could have been high in terms of today’s typical levels of exposure. Nevertheless, the exposure was several orders of magnitude lower than those suggested by the ICNRIP guidelines, adopted by many countries as legal limits. As Hardell et al. (19) indicated, the BioInitiative Report (49) with updated references defined the scientific benchmark for possible health risks as 0.000003–0.000006 mW/cm2. Consequently, the exposure at the Moscow embassy was from 3 to 4 orders of magnitude higher than this safety benchmark, but 3 orders of magnitude lower than the legal limits of many countries.