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US embassy staff in Colombia hit with Havanna syndrome ahead of Blinken visit: 5 families sickened


Members of least five families linked to the US Embassy in Colombia have been stricken with suspected Havana Syndrome just days ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The incident – which includes a child victim – is just the latest example of the mysterious neurological illness, that causes headaches, nausea, dizziness and other issues. 

There have been 200 reported cases of the yet-unexplained illness at US embassies and government buildings around the globe. 

Numerous explanations have been put forward, from a sonic or microwave attack from an enemy, to mass hysteria.

Blinken is slated to meet with Colombia Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez on October 20 in Bogota.

Concerns about the mystery illness amplified after a family was recently evacuated from Colombia for medical care, The Wall Street Journal reported.

‘There was definitely a family, including a minor hit,’ a source told the outlet.

‘Adults sign up for what they sign up for and the risks that come with it… Targeting or even incidentally hitting kids should be a hard line.’

The latest Havana Syndrome scare mirrored an ‘anomalous health incident’ in Vietnam in August that delayed Vice President Kamala Harris’ departure by more than three hours. 

Several Americans with ties the US Embassy in Colombia were affected by Havana Syndrome

The cases were reported ahead of a scheduled visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The cases were reported ahead of a scheduled visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken

In that case, at least two U.S. personnel in Hanoi were reportedly airlifted out of the country after suffering from the Havana Syndrome.

Hours before Harris arrived in Hanoi – her next stop on an Asia trip – American personnel in Vietnam were informed that the incidents involved odd noises, a trademark characteristic of Havana Syndrome. 

In Bogota, some of the effected families are staying in hotels while officials test their apartments, the Journal said.

Those working at the embassy flagged an ‘unexplained health incident’ last month, and in an October email said security officials were investigating ‘additional anomalous health incidents,’ governmental jargon for the Havana Syndrome.

Ambassador Philip Goldberg said in an email obtained by the Journal that the State Department would respond to the situation ‘seriously, with objectivity, and with sensitivity.’

Vice President Kamala Harris' departure from Singapore was delayed by nearly three hours because of an 'anomalous health incident in Hanoi,' which was the next stop in her Asia trip

Vice President Kamala Harris’ departure from Singapore was delayed by nearly three hours because of an ‘anomalous health incident in Hanoi,’ which was the next stop in her Asia trip

What is ‘Havana Syndrome’? The mysterious illness that started in the US embassy in Cuba and causes memory and hearing loss  

The problem has been labeled the ‘Havana Syndrome,’ because the first cases affected personnel in 2016 at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. 

At least 130 cases across the government are now under investigation, up from several dozen last year, according to a U.S. defense official who was not authorized to discuss details publicly. The National Security Council is leading the investigation.

A case was reported as recently as last week in Berlin. 

People who are believed to have been affected have reported headaches, dizziness and symptoms consistent with concussions, with some requiring months of medical treatment. Some have reported hearing a loud noise before the sudden onset of symptoms.

Investigators believe there are at least four cases involving Trump White House officials.

Advocates for those affected accuse the U.S. government of long failing to take the problem seriously or provide the necessary medical care and benefits. 

US senators said last month that the government is investigating an apparent increase in the mysterious directed-energy attacks.

Generally speaking, those affected by Havana Syndrome have reported symptoms consistent with concussions, with some requiring months of medical treatment.

Some sufferers said they heard a loud noise before symptoms took hold.

What’s causing Havana Syndrome remains a mystery. 

Some theorize that the symptoms are caused inadvertently by surveillance equipment; while others believe incidents are caused by a mysterious sonic weapon.  

If it was a hostile attack, the chief suspects in the unsolved mystery are Russia and China, possibly employing microwave devices in an attempt to gather data from mobile devices remotely. Both countries deny involvement. 

Dr. James Giordano, a Georgetown University professor of neurology who is advising the U.S. government on the issue told The Wall Street Journal that cause could be some form of ultrasonic or acoustic device; a rapidly-pulsed microwave; or a laser-based system. 

He told the newspaper that the intent is unclear but it could be employing an electronic surveillance system with unusual side effects, or ‘a discrete form of disruptive instrument,. 

‘That’s a nice way of saying this is a weapon,’ he said. 

But Dr Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociology expert at the university of Auckland, claims that the syndrome is an example of mass hysteria – where any unexplained illness is blamed on Havana Syndrome rather than an accurate medical diagnosis.

He said: ‘The evidence overwhelmingly points to mass hysteria, or as it is commonly referred to by scientists – mass psychogenic illness.’ 

Following the original cluster of cases in Cuba, US diplomats and spies around the world have been struck by the strange affliction, which is characterized by the sudden onset of headaches, nausea, and vertigo, sometimes followed by lingering symptoms and documented brain injury.  

A recent report commissioned by the State Department and published by a National Academies of Sciences found that microwaves were the ‘most plausible’ cause of the symptoms of Havana Syndrome. 

To date, there have been 200 reported cases of the yet-unexplained illness, which the State Department officials terms ‘Anomalous Health Incidents’. 

Roughly half of the cases involved CIA officers or their relatives, nearly 60 have been linked to Department of Defense workers or relatives, and about 50 involved State Department personnel. 

As of August, the illness had reportedly affected American personnel stationed on every continent excluding Antarctica, including a baby in one case. 

There have been 200 reported cases of the yet-unexplained illness, which has been colloquially named for its first reported case in 2016 at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, and affected American personnel on nearly every continent except Antarctica

There have been 200 reported cases of the yet-unexplained illness, which has been colloquially named for its first reported case in 2016 at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, and affected American personnel on nearly every continent except Antarctica

On September 15, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo to DoD employees to report any symptoms of the so-called Havana Syndrome in an effort to get to the bottom of the mysterious illness. 

The White House recently issued a new warning regarding Havana Syndrome to policy staff at the Pentagon- immediately flee the area and report any experience of pressure, sound or heat in the head.

And last Friday, President Joe Biden  signed into law the Havana Act, a bill that would bolster support for US officials suffering from the mysterious neurological syndrome known as ‘Havana Syndrome.’

‘Civil servants, intelligence officers, diplomats, and military personnel all around the world have been affected by anomalous health incidents,’ Biden said in a statement after signing the bill. ‘Some are struggling with debilitating brain injuries that have curtailed their careers of service to our nation’

Earlier this year, a CIA agent fell ill with suspected Havana syndrome while on a work trip to India with CIA Director William Burns, and another agent experienced the same symptoms about a month ago in Vietnam. 

In May reports emerged that some US officials suspect Russia’s infamous foreign intelligence agency – the GRU – could be the culprit.

A U.S. military officer based in a country with a large Russian presence also said he felt like his head was going to explode during one incident when he was near a GRU vehicle.

And Politico reported that government investigators are examining a suspected attack on US personnel in Miami last year.

Earlier in July, former CIA officer and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Marc Polymeropolous claimed that he was zapped by one of the attacks while visiting a Moscow hotel room in 2017 and blamed it for destroying his career, as well as debilitating headaches that he continues to get.

In October 2020, a story emerged of diplomat Mark Lenzi, 45, who was stationed in Guangzhou, China, in 2017, when he developed unexplained symptoms, including headaches, memory loss and trouble sleeping.

His neighbor Catherine Werner also fell ill and fellow US official Robyn Garfield was evacuated from Shanghai with his family in June 2018.

The incidents in China cast doubt on theories that Russia was behind the attacks, since it is a country where Russian intelligence would have trouble operating. 

However, some believed that the attack made China a less likely suspect, questioning whether Beijing’s intelligence service would strike on its own turf. 


Sonic weapons or mass hysteria?  Medical sociology expert says there are four possible explanations for ‘Havana Syndrome’

Since Havana Syndrome emerged in late 2016, the US government has made the mysterious phenomenon an intelligence priority and spent tens of millions of dollars investigating potential microwave weapon attacks by foreign adversaries.

But medical sociology expert Dr Robert Bartholomew is so convinced it’s a case of mass delusion, he’s co-authored a book on it with Robert Baloh – Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.

Dr Bartholomew – a US expatriate who is based at the University of Auckland – told there are four theories as to what causes Havana Syndrome:

Sonic weapon

‘The first theory that popped up was that it’s a sonic weapon that used soundwaves to make people sick. This one is really far fetched because these people in Havana weren’t targeted in the embassy. They were targeted in their homes, and mainly in two big hotels. To target somebody in a huge hotel would defy the laws of physics – 99 per cent of the soundwaves would bounce off the outer wall. It just doesn’t work that way.’


‘The second explanation was that it was pesticides that were being sprayed to kill mosquitos that were carrying the Zika virus. The problem with that is, there’s no neurotoxin in the world that only affects American and Canadian diplomats and their families.’

Frey Effect

‘The third explanation is this microwave stuff, the Frey Effect [an auditory phenomenon where microwave or radio frequencies generate clicking sounds inside the head]. This gained popularity after the National Academy of Sciences came out with their report and said it could be the Frey Effect. But they weren’t sure. If you look closely at the report, it was just a guess. The person that identified the mechanism in the Frey Effect is Ken Foster at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s a bio-engineer. I contacted him and he said it’s definitely not the Frey Effect.’

Mass psychogenic illness

‘So you’re left with the only plausible explanation, which is mass psychogenic illness. The first people infected were intelligence officers on the same small station. This is a defining feature of mass psychogenic illness. It follows social networks and it usually begins in these small, cohesive groups and spreads outwards, and that’s exactly what happened. These people all belong to a common work environment. There’s a high degree of stress, they’re in a foreign country, they knew they were being surveilled 24/7. It’s a classic setup for mass hysteria.’


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