File picture showing a vintage US car passing in front of the US Embassy in Havana. (Getty Images)
By Amanda Erickson, Washington Post
Last week, another Canadian diplomat was diagnosed with a mysterious disease so weird it’s been referred to in some circles as “the thing.”
The illness afflicts only government employees from the United States and Canada. Sufferers report feeling pulsing or hearing a ringing in their ears. Then headaches, dizziness, trouble concentrating and struggles to remember basic words and facts.
Diplomats have been complaining about “Havana syndrome,” named for the city where nearly all the victims were based, for two years. And it certainly seems like they’ve been targeted by a hostile government or rogue officials. But, though the United States has sent CIA and FBI officials to investigate, we know very little about what’s happening or who’s behind it.
The newest case marks the 13th time a Canadian officer or family member has reported these “unusual health symptoms.” More than 20 Americans have also been affected. In light of this news, the Canadian government has said it will allow all staff posted in the Cuban Embassy to return home “if they wish.”
When was the first case reported?
On Dec. 30, 2016, a CIA agent operating in Cuba stopped by the U.S. Embassy’s health office. According to the New Yorker, the patient described “strange sensations of sound and pressure while in his home, followed by painful headaches and dizziness.” About a week later, the spy was back in the health office, complaining of another attack.
What happened next?
American officials told the New Yorker they weren’t sure how seriously to take things at first. “It’s like serial killers,” one former State Department official said. “It usually takes three or four before police conclude ‘Wait a minute, these are connected.’ ”
Soon, though, the pattern emerged. By February, two more CIA officers reported the same strange sensations. By spring, 16 people had reported symptoms. By the fall, another five Americans were afflicted. The attacks were unusual — some people reported hearing sounds; others said they felt a pulsing, followed by a severe pain. People were afflicted at home, in hotel rooms, in temporary residences several floors above the ground.
Around the same time, some Canadian officials began to report some strange symptoms. A Canadian diplomat and his wife were awakened one night by a feeling of waves of pressure. Their children had nosebleeds. Eventually, as many as 12 Canadians were afflicted by the symptoms.
Feature continues here: WaPo perspective on Cuban sonic attacks