Havana syndrome: Report links mystery illness to Russian intelligence unit

File image of the US embassy in Cuba
The syndrome was first reported by diplomats at the US embassy in Cuba in 2016 [Getty Images]

A mysterious illness that has affected US diplomats in recent years has been linked to a Russian intelligence unit.

Personnel stationed around the globe with "Havana Syndrome" have reported unexplained symptoms such as dizziness.

They may have been targeted by Russian sonic weaponry, according to a joint investigation by The Insider, Der Spiegel and CBS's 60 Minutes.

Moscow has denied the accusations. US officials previously said it was unlikely a foreign power was to blame.

But in their assessment of "anomalous health incidents" (AHIs) - which was delivered last year - they did not give any alternative explanation, frustrating those who have been affected.

The American officials also acknowledged there were varying levels of confidence in the assessment between the different intelligence agencies involved.

The phenomenon gets its name from Cuba's capital Havana - where the first case was detected in 2016 - though the new report suggests the first cases may have happened in Germany two years earlier.

Other cases have been reported around the world, from Washington to China.

On Monday, the Pentagon said that a senior defence department official attending meetings at last year's Nato summit in Lithuania had experienced symptoms similar to Havana syndrome.

American personnel struck with the condition - including White House, CIA and FBI staff - have complained of dizziness, headaches, difficulty concentrating and an intense and painful sound in their ears.

More than 1,000 reports of the mysterious ailment have been made, with dozens of cases still officially considered unexplained. US lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at supporting victims.

However, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published last month said MRI scans had failed to detect evidence of brain injuries in dozens of US personnel who reported AHIs.

There has long been a suspicion that those affected have been hit by directed energy or microwaves fired from hidden devices - a possibility that was acknowledged in an earlier US intelligence report.

The fresh media investigation alleges that members of a specific Russian military intelligence unit - known as 29155 - may have targeted the brains of US diplomats with "directed energy" weapons.

It says there is evidence that places members of the unit in cities around the world at times when US personnel reported incidents.

The secretive unit undertakes foreign operations and has been linked to incidents including the attempted poisoning in the UK in 2018 of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy.

As part of the investigation, The Insider - a Russia-focused site - reported that an officer in the 29155 unit had been rewarded for their work related to the development of "non-lethal acoustic weapons".

An American military investigator examining instances of the syndrome told 60 Minutes that the common link between victims of the syndrome was a "Russia nexus".

Greg Edgreen explained: "There was some angle where they had worked against Russia, focused on Russia, and done extremely well."

He also said the official US bar of proof to show Russian involvement had been set too high, as his country did not want to "face some very hard truths".

In response to the media investigation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "No one has ever published or expressed any convincing evidence of these unfounded accusations anywhere. So, all of those are nothing more than unfounded accusations."

One victim of the syndrome - an FBI agent - told 60 Minutes about her experience of being hit by a powerful force at her home in Florida 2021.

"Bam, inside my right ear, it was like a dentist drilling on steroids," she told the programme. "That feeling when it gets too close to your eardrum? It's like that, times 10."

The woman - known as Carrie - said she ultimately passed out, and later had issues with memory and concentration.

Responding to the report, US officials told CBS News, the BBC's US partner, that they would "continue to closely examine anomalous health incidents", but repeated their position that it was "very unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible".

But they said they did "not call into question the very real experiences and symptoms that our colleagues and their family members have reported", saying their work on such incidents was a priority.

John Bolton, who served as Donald Trump's national security adviser, said the new allegations are "very concerning".

"I don't think the government, frankly, when I was there, took it seriously, enough," he told CNN. "I don't think they've taken it seriously enough since then,"

But Republican Senator JD Vance, a top Trump ally, rubbished the report, writing on X: "Feels like a lot of journalists have lost their minds".

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BBC Radio 4 - Crossing Continents: The Mystery of Havana Syndrome

BBC World Service - What in the World: What's causing Havana Syndrome?

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