Dec 5, 2020 - World

Microwave energy likely behind illnesses of American diplomats in Cuba and China

Personnel gather at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba on September 29, 2017 in Havana, Cuba.

Personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in Havana in 2017. Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

A radio frequency energy of radiation that includes microwaves likely caused American diplomats in China and Cuba to fall ill with neurological symptoms over the past four years, a report published Saturday finds.

Why it matters: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's report does not attribute blame for the suspected attacks, but it notes there "was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures."

  • It also states that military personnel in "Eurasian communist countries" were exposed to non-thermal radiation.

Driving the news: The State Department commissioned the report after government personnel and their families began falling ill at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, in early 2017.

  • There were reports of 40 State Department staff experiencing symptoms including ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties.
  • "Many still continue to experience these or other health problems," the study authors note in a statement.
  • Canada's government has confirmed 14 of its citizens also fell ill in Cuba's capital, in what became known as "Havana syndrome," the Ottawa Citizen notes.

Of note: The report, first obtained by NBC News, recommends that the State Department act promptly to establish plans and protocols to enable future investigations if required.

  • "The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad," the report states.
  • "The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly."

For the record: Russia has denied it's behind the suspected attack, and CIA director Gina Haspel "has not concluded the Kremlin was responsible," but some Russia experts at the agency noted to the New York Times it fits with Moscow's "long history of experimenting with the technology."

  • Mark Lenzi, a diplomatic security officer who fell ill with the symptoms when he was working in Guangzhou, China, in 2018, has filed a lawsuit against the State Department for disability discrimination.
  • "My government looked the other way when they knew I and my family were injured,” he told the NYT. "This report is just the beginning and when the American people know the full extent of this administration’s cover-up of the radiofrequency attacks in China in particular they will be outraged."
  • The Office of Special Counsel has launched two investigations into the State Department over the matter.

What they're saying: The State Department said in an emailed statement, "We are pleased this report is now out and can add to the data and analyses that may help us come to an eventual conclusion as to what transpired."

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, who led bipartisan calls for the report to be released, said in a statement: "The health effects from these mysterious injuries have tormented those afflicted. Their illnesses and suffering are real and demand a response from Congress."
"American public servants and their families — who have been targeted — have requested that Congress receive and review this report, so I’m glad the State Department heeded our bipartisan call so we can get to work."

Read the report, via DocumentCloud:

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