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Newly Declassified Report on ‘Havana Syndrome’ Used the Wrong Criteria!

The panel which claimed “pulsed microwave radiation” likely zapped U.S. diplomats botched their investigation. The findings of a newly declassified study that concluded ‘Havana Syndrome’ was likely caused by “pulsed electromagnetic energy” and that a foreign adversary was likely to blame — botched their investigation. Mark Zaid, the man fighting for compensation for victims of ‘Havana Syndrome,’ recently announced that he had obtained the contents of a previously classified report on the condition under the Freedom of Information Act.1 In doing so, Zaid asserted that the report, which is at odds with the recent findings of five separate U.S. intelligence agencies including the C.I.A. and F.B.I., is proof that the government “is covering up evidence” about the supposedly mysterious condition that has afflicted American diplomats and intelligence officers since late 2016.2

The report, which was headed by Stanford Microbiologist David Relman, was finalized in September 2022, and was created by a panel of so-called experts who concluded that the condition is real and represents a serious threat. Zaid points out that the findings differ from “previous statements from the intelligence community” and is adamant that ‘Havana Syndrome’ was “perpetrated either by foreign actors, or it is an experiment gone horribly wrong.”3 Since the report’s release on March 28th, some people have viewed it as a major new development in this longstanding saga.

It is nothing of the sort. It is an example of junk science.

In March 2023, five different intelligence agencies concluded that ‘Havana Syndrome’ was a myth — an imaginary condition consisting of an array of pre-existing health conditions and anxiety reactions — and was not caused by a secret weapon or an inadvertent exposure of an energy source from a foreign adversary.4 The problem with Zaid’s claims is that each of these intelligence agencies would have reviewed this report — and rejected it, and with good reason.

All one has to do is look at the part of the report that dealt with the possible involvement of mass psychology. It is difficult to believe that a panel of scientific experts could get such basic information wrong.

The report concluded that mass psychogenic illness did not play a significant role in the outbreak as there was “No evidence that affected individuals were experiencing extraordinary anxiety relative to their normal work duties.”5 This is inaccurate. Prior to leaving for Cuba, each of the diplomats and intelligence officers were told that they would likely be under 24-hour surveillance. Then, soon after arriving, they were informed that they may be the targets of a sonic weapon — and were asked to take the extraordinary step of not standing or sleeping near windows to reduce the possibility of being attacked.6

The panel also rejected the role of psychogenic illness because the symptoms are mild and temporary, yet “many have had symptoms that have persisted and had serious effects.” This shows a lack of understanding of the literature. This is Mass Psychogenic Illness 101. There are two main types of mass psychogenic illness: anxiety-based and motor based. The panel clearly used the criteria for an anxiety-based outbreak in Cuba when they should have used the motor-based one. Anxiety-based outbreaks typically involve the sudden exposure to what is perceived to be a threatening agent, most commonly an unfamiliar odor, in an atmosphere that is devoid of pre-existing group tension. The victims typically experience short-lived symptoms such as headache, nausea, and dizziness, and usually make a rapid recovery within a few hours. In rare instances where the perceived agent is believed to persist, outbreaks can endure for weeks or months.7

The second most common type of mass psychogenic illness is consistent with what was reported in Cuba — the motor-based outbreak. It is incubated in an atmosphere of prolonged stress and is often accompanied by the brain anomalies that are induced by anxiety. A 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found brain anomalies in a small cohort of American patients who had served in Havana.8 While this was widely reported in the media as brain damage, they are not the equivalent. In fact, the anomalies were so minor even the authors admitted that they could have resulted from individual variation. The anomalies in the Cuban patients were consistent with the brain scans of people who had been exposed to long-term stress — the exact situation in Cuba.

Another reason for the panel rejecting the influence of psychogenic illness was that it “usually occurs in a segregated group,” and in Cuba those affected “served different organizations in a number of diverse locations and roles.” Outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness commonly begin in small, cohesive groups and spread outward, starting with people of higher status. The first people affected were CIA agents from a small unit in Havana. This is a defining feature of mass psychogenic illness — it follows social networks. Those affected belonged to a common work environment and the same social network that was under a high degree of stress as they were in a foreign country with a history of difficult relations — and to top it off, they had been primed to expect an attack.

With release of the newly declassified report on ‘Havana Syndrome’ and speculation surrounding it, we should never lose sight of one maxim that has stood the test of time: when in doubt — follow the mainstream science. In this instance, the report got the basic science of psychogenic illness wrong. If there are to be any future investigations into ‘Havana Syndrome,’ they should focus not on the existence of this mythical condition, but how a panel of scientific experts could have reached such flawed conclusions. 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 has written numerous books on the margins of science covering UFOs, haunted houses, Bigfoot, lake monsters—all from a perspective of mainstream science. He has lived with the Malay people in Malaysia, and Aborigines in Central Australia. He is the co-author of two seminal books: Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior with Hilary Evans, and Havana Syndrome with Robert Baloh.

  1. Declassified United States Government commissioned report. Anomalous Health Incidents: Analysis of Potential Causal Mechanisms IC Experts Panel, September, 2022.
  2. Karem, Brian (2023). “Exclusive: Declassified Report suggests “Havana Syndrome” could result from Energy Weapon.” Salon, March 29, accessed at:
  3. Karem, 2023, op cit.
  4. Unclassified: National Intelligence Council Updated Assessment on Anomalous Health Incidents, March 1, 2023 (ICA 2023-02286-B).
  5. Declassified United States Government commissioned report. 2022, op cit., p. 35.
  6. Baloh, Robert W., and Bartholomew, Robert E. (2020). Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy and Hysteria. Cham, Switzerland: Copernicus Books, p. 38.
  7. Bartholomew, Robert E. and Wessely, Simon. (2002). “Protean Nature of Mass Sociogenic Illness: From Possessed Nuns to Chemical and Biological Terrorism Fears.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 180:300-306; Bartholomew, Robert E., and Sirois, Francois (2000). “Occupational Mass Psychogenic Illness: A Transcultural Perspective.” Transcultural Psychiatry 37(4):495-524 (December); Bartholomew, Robert E., and Sirois, Francois (1996). “Epidemic Hysteria in Schools: An International and Historical Overview.” Educational Studies 22(3):285-311.
  8. Ragini, Verma, Swanson, Randel, Parker, Drew, Ismail, Abdol, Shinohara, Russell, and Alappatt, Jacob, et al. (2019). “Neuroimaging findings in US government personnel with possible exposure to directional phenomena in Havana, Cuba.” Journal of the American Medical Association 322(4):336–47 (July 23).

This article was published on March 31, 2023.

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