Federal investigators are looking into two mysterious attacks on American soil, including one near the White House last November, that have the hallmarks of a peculiar neurological disorder known as “Havana syndrome.”
Defense officials briefed lawmakers on the issue earlier this month, and on the incident at the White House, on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
While the Pentagon and other authorities investigating the incident have come to no definitive conclusions about what transpired, several sources familiar with the situation say that the fact that such an attack may have occurred so close to the White House is especially concerning.
According to several current and former US officials and sources acquainted with the matter, the incident, which happened near the Ellipse, the vast oval lawn on the south side of the White House, sickened one National Security Council official.
A White House official confirmed a similar assault while walking her dog in a Virginia suburb just outside of Washington in a separate 2019 episode, according to GQ last year.
Many who were sickened reported signs that were similar to those experienced by CIA and State Department staff who had been affected abroad, prompting authorities to investigate the incident as a potential “Havana syndrome” attack.
That name refers to unexplained symptoms that US personnel in Cuba began experiencing in late 2016 — a varying set of complaints that includes ear popping, vertigo, pounding headaches and nausea, sometimes accompanied by an unidentified “piercing directional noise.”
Related cases within the United States have long been rumored in Washington.
Although the latest events in and around Washington tend to be close to past alleged assaults on US diplomats, CIA agents, and other US staff working in Cuba, Russia, and China, authorities have yet to ascertain if the strange incidents at home are linked to those that have happened abroad or who could be behind them.
Defense officials briefing senators said it was possible that Russia was responsible for the attacks, but they didn’t have enough evidence to tell for sure. China, according to another former US official involved in the case at the time, was also one of the perpetrators.
Since 2016, when diplomatic and intelligence staff in Cuba first started experiencing suspicious signs that seemed to come out of nowhere, the US has struggled to grasp these attacks.
Intelligence and defense agencies have been unable to comment out about the strange events, and some of those who have been affected have openly argued that the CIA did not take the matter seriously enough, at least at first.
Under Trump’s leadership, the attacks resulted in a significant reduction in personnel at the outpost in Havana. Related, unidentified accidents were registered by personnel in Russia and China.
Though there’s no consensus as to what causes the symptoms, one State Department-sponsored study found they likely were the result of microwave energy attacks.
“Overall, directed pulsed RF (radio frequency) energy, especially in those with the distinct early manifestations, appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases among those that the committee considered,” the report said.
The study went on to say that chronic postural-perceptual dizziness was a potential secondary problem in some of those affected, and that this was a contributing factor.
While the study does not say that guided microwave energy was used in these instances on intent, it does state that such activity may be used for malicious purposes.
Another enigma surrounding “Havana syndrome” is how the US government is dealing with it. The CIA, the State Department, and the Defense Department are among those looking into the enigmatic series of potential attacks.
Due to apparent anger that other departments were not doing more to resolve the problem at the end of the Trump presidency, the Pentagon sought to take the lead.
“I knew the CIA and the Department of State were not taking this shit seriously, and we wanted to shame them into it by creating our task force,” says the leader of the task force. At the moment, Chris Miller was the acting Defense Secretary.
The task force was established by Pentagon officials to monitor accounts of such symptoms affecting Defense Department staff abroad, an initiative Miller described as a “bureaucratic power play” to force the CIA and State Department to take the issue more seriously among their own personnel.
Since questioning a suspected survivor with considerable military experience in December, Miller said he started to see accounts of these unexplained signs as a higher priority.
“When this officer came in and I knew his background and he explained in an extraordinarily detailed but more military style that I could understand, I was like this is actually for real,” Miller stated. “This kid had been in combat a bunch and he knew.”
The CIA launched its task force in December 2020, and it has since increased its activities under new Director William Burns, who pledged during his confirmation hearings to look into the facts surrounding the long-publicized suspected attacks on CIA employees overseas.
In March, the State Department appointed a senior official to lead the response to the “Havana syndrome” attacks.
The Pentagon’s initiative is considered to be one of the most thorough, which may justify why a defense official, rather than the intelligence community or the FBI, briefed senators on the Ellipse attack, despite the fact that it occurred on US soil.
Griffin Decker, a career civil servant from the US Special Operations Command, was chosen by Miller to lead the campaign.
Decker would monitor and evaluate accounts of “Havana syndrome” in the military.
Griffin would “every couple of weeks” report a new case to Miller, but he warned that they were on the lookout for false reporting, psychosomatic episodes, or hypochondria.
Miller said that some of the situations they were following included the children and dependents of Defense Department employees stationed abroad.
Marines on a remote base in Syria experienced flu-like symptoms soon after a Russian helicopter flew over the base, prompting urgent fears that it might be one of these strange attacks, according to one investigation.
Officials really don’t know if the unknown adversary is doing what it’s doing because the signs vary too much. Investigators haven’t fully ruled out the idea that the effects are triggered by a spontaneously occurring occurrence rather than a weapon, according to at least one former US official with knowledge of the situation.
Some personnel have been seriously injured from the alleged attacks, with at least one career CIA officer forced to retire last year and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
A White House spokesperson said in a statement, “The White House is working closely with departments and agencies to address unexplained health incidents and ensure the safety and security of Americans serving around the world. Given that we are still evaluating reported incidents and that we need to protect the privacy of individuals reporting incidents, we cannot provide or confirm specific details at this time.”