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Screenshot from CBS News 60-Minutes segment on Havana Syndrome, aired March 31, 2024

It’s The Russians!
The Latest 60 Minutes Episode on Havana Syndrome Engages in Tabloid Journalism

In a special double segment that is reminiscent of The National Enquirer in its heyday, 60 Minutes has aired another dramatic story on Havana Syndrome. If it had been a sporting event, the score would have been 8-0: eight people interviewed and not a single skeptic.

Billed by CBS News as a “breakthrough” in their five-year-long investigation, the episode that aired Sunday night, March 31, 2024, raises many important questions—not about the existence of Havana Syndrome, but the present state of journalistic integrity. As someone who has followed this saga from the beginning, the new 60 Minutes report was a case study in fearmongering and selective omission. The program was filled with misleading statements and circumstantial evidence that were used to gin up a story that is on life support after the U.S. intelligence community concluded last year that “Havana Syndrome” is likely a condition that never existed.

In the leadup to the broadcast, CBS News teased the segment with the headlines “Targeting Americans” and “Breakthrough in Havana Syndrome Investigation.” Yet in the report it was described as “a possible breakthrough” and there was no conclusive proof that Americans, or anyone else, have been targeted.1

60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley featured an interview with Gregory Edgreen, a former American military intelligence officer who oversaw the Pentagon investigation into “Havana Syndrome.” He told Pelley that the present situation is dire for American security as “the intelligence officers and our diplomats working abroad are being removed from their posts with traumatic brain injuries—they’re being neutralized.”2

Edgreen disagreed with last year’s intelligence community consensus, left his position and has founded Advanced Echelon, a company devoted to caring for “Havana Syndrome survivors.”3 His interview is reminiscent of recent attempts by some media outlets to support the unfound claim the U.S. Government is covering up information on the existence of recovered alien bodies and crashed saucers. This is the opinion of one man who was involved in an investigation, yet he does not represent the intelligence community, which has deemed the purported attacks to be “highly unlikely” and the existence of the condition itself as dubious.

Enter David Relman

Predictably, Stanford microbiologist David Relman made an appearance and told Pelley that his panel found “clear evidence of an injury to the auditory and vestibular system of the brain.” This is not supported by the evidence. Relman failed to mention that not only have recent studies found no such damage, many Havana Syndrome patients have been diagnosed with psychosomatic disorders that are commonly triggered by stress.

Pelley also claimed that a senior Department of Defense official was attacked during last year’s NATO Summit in Lithuania. His source: multiple unnamed people. He said that the official involved—also unnamed—“was struck by the symptoms and sought medical treatment.” We are told nothing more. The trouble with this claim is that Havana Syndrome has been associated with a laundry list of common health complaints ranging from fatigue and forgetfulness to nausea, nosebleeds, headache, tinnitus, ear pain and difficulty sleeping. Throughout the broadcast there were also assertions that victims were suffering from brain injury—something that has never been demonstrated. These symptoms are also features of countless other medical conditions.

Also interviewed was an FBI agent identified only as “Carrie,” who said she had been attacked by a directed energy weapon and while she had been given permission to discuss her condition by her employer, “she wasn’t allowed to discuss the cases she was on when she was hit.” Appearing in disguise to protect her identity she described how one day in 2021 at her Florida home she felt “pressure and pain” in her head that radiated down her jaw and neck and into her chest before she passed out. Since then, she says she has experienced problems with long and short-term memory and difficulty with sensing spatial awareness: “If I turn too fast, my gyroscope is off… it’s like I’m a step behind where I’m supposed to be, so I’ll turn too fast and I will literally walk right into the wall.”

Pelley then claimed that “other sources”—anonymous of course—told 60 Minutes that one of the cases involved a suspected Russian spy who was caught speeding on a Florida highway in 2020. The man had apparently been interviewed by Carrie on several occasions. He was identified as a former Russian military officer with an electrical engineering background. While serving a sentence for reckless driving and evading police, “Carrie” said she was hit two more times—about a year apart—once in Florida, once in California. The “attacks” left her disoriented and a feeling that her body was pulsating.

The Russians Are Coming!

Who is behind these attacks? The Russians, of course. Pelley casts suspicion for the “attacks” on a Russian military unit known as 29155. He also claims to have found the smoking gun—a document sourced online showing that one the unit’s officers had been paid for working on “nonlethal acoustic weapons.” This is not the dramatic find that it is made out to be. Acoustic weapons are in common use by governments around the world. The use of sound cannons—commonly known as Long-Range Acoustic Devices—have long been employed to control crowds. Beyond this they have shown little practical value as the waves rapidly disperse.

It was then claimed that unit 29155 may have been in the city of Tbilisi in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, when several Americans experienced mysterious health incidents there. An unnamed 40-year-old wife of a Justice Department official told Pelley that she was struck by an energy weapon when her husband was working at the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi in October 2021. She said she was suddenly overcome by a piercing sound in her left ear, felt “a fullness” in her head, developed a headache, and began vomiting. What happened next reads like a spy novel. She looked outside and spotted a car near the front gate and a man nearby. Pelley then showed her a photo of a member of unit 29155 who was thought to have been in the city at the time of the “attack.” When asked if it looked like the man in the photo, she unhesitatingly pronounced, “it absolutely does.” Shortly after, however, she grew hesitant: “I cannot absolutely say for certain that it is this man…” But after a few more seconds elapsed she proclaimed: “I can absolutely say that this looks like the man….” This is not exactly an icon-clad identification.

The woman says she continues to suffer balance problems, headaches and “brain fog,” the latter term being a common description of people experiencing anxiety. She also said that her symptoms typically worsen at night. These are common features of vestibular dysfunction. Pelley dramatically noted that the woman has also been treated for “holes in her inner ear canals.” While this could have been from a mysterious weapon, there is a more mundane explanation: perilymphatic fistula that can be caused by barotrauma from changes in air or water pressure, such as from flying or scuba diving. Strenuous physical exercise can also trigger the condition, as well as head trauma.

A Story with Nine Lives

Havana Syndrome has become a cottage industry for podcasters, bloggers, and the news media because it’s a dramatic story that reads like a spy novel and is guaranteed to get clicks and views. It has also turned into the ultimate game of whack-a-mole. Like the cat with nine lives, it just won’t die. I cannot help but think that when enough people become aware of the full story—where key facts have not been omitted, Havana Syndrome will finally fade from the headlines. If I had watched this story with only a superficial knowledge of Havana Syndrome, I probably would have finished watching the episode convinced that there really have been Russian attacks on Americans using a secret weapon. But the facts point to a far more mundane explanation.

What happened to journalistic integrity? For years many journalists have reported that American citizens have been hit with a mysterious energy weapon. Scott Pelley has filed no less than three such reports for 60 Minutes.4 At the very least, viewers are entitled to hear from prominent skeptics whose voices were silenced. A news program that interviews eight believers and no skeptics isn’t a news program—it’s propaganda. END

About the Author

Robert E. Bartholomew is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the co-author of Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria (Copernicus, 2020) with neurologist Robert Baloh.

  1. Costa, Robert (2024). The CBS Evening News, March 29, 2024, at 10:00 sec. and accessed at:; See also
  2. Pelley, Scott (2024). “Foreign adversaries may be involved in Havana Syndrome, sources say.” 60 Minutes (CBS News, NY). March 31.
  3. See the Advanced Echelon homepage at:
  4. See also: Pelley, Scott (2022). “Havana Syndrome: High-level national security officials stricken with unexplained illness on White House grounds.” 60 Minutes (CBS News, NY). February 20, accessed at:; Pelley, Scott (2019). “Brain damage suffered by U.S. diplomats abroad could be work of hostile foreign government.” 60 Minutes (CBS News, NY). March 17.

This article was published on April 2, 2024.

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