The CIA, ‘Havana Syndrome’ and the Nocebo Effect


The CIA believes it is unlikely that Russia or another U.S. adversary would use microwaves or other forms of directed energy to attack hundreds of U.S. diplomats and spies stationed overseas.

These mysterious symptoms, associated with brain damage, were first reported in 2016 at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, hence the name “Havana syndrome.” The unusual ailment manifests as hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, as well as balance and sleep problems.

About 40 Canadian diplomats and their families posted in Havana have also experienced these symptoms. Only American and Canadian diplomats were affected. No one else, diplomats from other countries or Cuban citizens, reported such health problems.

One scientist explained that to produce a beam of ultrasound powerful enough to carry out this kind of attack, it would require a huge vehicle with a giant sonic cannon on top. If placed near the American embassy, the entire neighborhood would have witnessed the attacks.

The most bizarre and hilarious explanation was that the strange sounds heard by the victims were the song of a Jamaican cricket. But why, then, were these mosquitoes only attacking Canadian and American diplomats?

The initial cases in Cuba were joined by other reports of American diplomats and spies in China, Vienna, Vietnam, India and Moscow. Suspicions that Russia, China or Cuba was responsible for these attacks were never supported by any evidence.

The CIA’s tentative conclusions are that they can be attributed to a pre-existing medical condition, environmental factors and stress. An FBI report had already concluded that Havana syndrome was a stress-induced psychosomatic illness. The described “ailments” are classical manifestations of psychosomatic effects — physical disorders caused or aggravated by psychic factors.

Probably to avoid humiliating the “victims” and embarrassing them, the United States and Canada have never mentioned the possibility that these ailments are caused by the “nocebo effect,” which, instead of improving a person’s health by the force of suggestion, deteriorates it. It is the opposite of the placebo effect.

I was already arguing in February 2019 that the “nocebo effect” was the most rational and obvious explanation for this strange phenomenon, given the extraordinary scientific and technical investigative resources deployed, without success, to discover the origin of these ailments.

The CIA study suggests that after the first cases were reported, hundreds of employees of American embassies and intelligence services began to wonder if the ailments they were experiencing could have the same origin. And the U.S. government amplified the problem by asking anyone affected by such ailments, health problems or unexplained symptoms to report them to their superiors. This has resulted in thousands of reports, making it even more difficult for investigators to do their job and more unlikely that these are real attacks.

A lawyer representing more than 15 CIA agents who have suffered these “attacks” revealed that the agency is facing a serious personnel management problem because of Havana syndrome; many of its employees are refusing foreign assignments for fear of suffering these strange phenomena.

Not surprisingly, the CIA report was immediately criticized by the victims of these attacks who accuse the government of trivializing their suffering.

A victim support group said the report should be considered the assessment of a single agency, the CIA, and should await the conclusion of the Department of Defense and the independent panel conducting their own investigations.

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About Mollie Lippett 49 Articles
I am a British freelance translator and subtitler based in the UK. I have a MA in Translation Studies from the Univerity of Nottingham. I work as a professional translator and subtitler working from both French and Spanish into English.

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