Readily available energy technology could be behind Havana Syndrome, declassified report says

A newly declassified report by a panel of experts convened by U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that commercially available devices known as directional loudspeakers or acoustic lasers are the most plausible technology behind the unexplained health incidents causing what has become known as Havana Syndrome.

This new information adds to the confusion regarding the incidents, becoming public just weeks after the U.S. intelligence community released an assessment concluding Havana Syndrome was not caused by an energy weapon or device used by a foreign adversary.

The experts panel — convened by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA — authored a study titled “Anomalous Health Incidents. Analysis of Potential Causal Mechanisms.” The report says the devices that may have been used to target U.S. personnel in Havana and other places could use commercial off-the-shelf technology, are easily portable and concealable, and can be powered by electricity or batteries.

“Parametric acoustic arrays — also referred to as directional loudspeakers or acoustic lasers — are the most plausible technology, although other ultrasound technology may be at play,” the experts wrote.

The panel said some of these technologies could cause the Havana Syndrome effects without generating much heat and without a clear line of sight of the victims, two major objections that others have cited to refute the energy weapon theory.

The experts, whose identities were not released, had security clearances to access classified information and represented a variety of fields, including biochemistry, physics, ionizing radiation and acoustics. They said they interviewed a large group of people affected by the incidents.

A summary of the panel’s findings was released in February 2022, also stating that pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radiofrequency range, and ultrasound could cause the brain injuries and inner-ear disorders seen in many of those affected, although information gaps exist.

The full report, first obtained by Salon, is dated September 2022 and became public for the first time Wednesday after it was received by the James Madison Project, a nonprofit promoting government accountability that had requested it under the Freedom for Information Act.

Since the first instances in Havana in late 2016, cases of Havana Syndrome affecting U.S. personnel — and some Canadian officials — abroad have been reported in several other countries, including Russia and China.

The Biden administration set in motion several investigations to understand the incidents and what could cause them. But different government agencies and several experts involved in the effort have at times reached opposing conclusions.

The experts panel’s findings appear to contradict a U.S. Intelligence Community assessment released earlier this month stating that “there is no credible evidence that a foreign adversary has a weapon or collection device that is causing” Havana Syndrome.

The experts panel believes that electromagnetic energy, particularly pulsed signals in the radiofrequency range, or ultrasound, “plausibly explains” the core characteristics of the incidents, which include sounds or pressure sometimes only in one ear or one side of the head that come from a specific direction, and other symptoms such as vertigo, loss of balance and ear pain.

The incidents and the associated symptoms also share another thing in common: They cannot be explained by known environmental factors or medical conditions, the report concludes.

Even if there are different ways electromagnetic waves could be used to trigger the symptoms in humans, in each case, the experts said, there is known technology that “could generate the required stimuli, are concealable, and have moderate power requirements. Using nonstandard ... antennas and techniques, the signals could be propagated with low loss through air for tens to hundreds of meters, and, with some loss, through most building materials.”

In the case of ultrasound, they said, the device must be in close range to cause the effects. “The required energy can be generated by ultrasonic arrays that are portable, and produce a tight beam,” the report states.

It is unclear whether the unnamed U.S. intelligence agencies that issued the early March assessment excluded parametric acoustic arrays from their analysis because the commercial devices using that technology are not considered weapons or collection devices.

The experts panel and a National Academies of Sciences study commissioned by the State Department reached similar conclusions that the Havana Syndrome symptoms, described as a new disorder, were consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy. The two expert groups were not asked to consider who was responsible for the attacks.

But the Intelligence Community assessment released earlier in March concludes that, because the intelligence agencies could not find evidence of a foreign actor targeting American officials, the “symptoms reported by U.S. personnel were probably the result of factors that did not involve a foreign adversary, such as preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors,” National Intelligence Director Avril D. Haines said in a statement after the assessment’s release.

A U.S. government official said the experts panel looked at “plausibility” and contributed to the intelligence community assessment.

“The March 1, 2023, Intelligence Community Assessment is the result of rigorous investigations that pulled together the expertise of the entire U.S. government, including outside experts and members of the Intelligence Community Experts Panel,” a U.S. intelligence official said.

Intelligence officials at the time portrayed that assessment as the most authoritative analysis so far. But a closer view reveals that some of the agencies involved in that effort disagree on key aspects of it.

For example, of the seven agencies that put together the assessment, three had “moderate” confidence “that deliberate causal mechanisms are unlikely to have caused” Havana Syndrome and two had “low” confidence in this conclusion “because they judge that radiofrequency energy is a plausible cause for [Havana Syndrome] based in part on the findings of the I.C. Expert Panel and the results of research by some U.S. laboratories.”

“All agencies acknowledge the value of additional research on potential adversary capabilities in the [radiofrequency] field,” the assessment adds, “in part because there continues to be a scientific debate on whether this could result in a weapon that could produce the symptoms seen in some of the reported ... cases.”

Which analysis is correct remains in question, since much of the information remains classified.

The March 1 assessment has a larger, classified version not available to the general public.

Likewise, the experts panel report contains several redactions, including paragraphs about “detection devices,” technical details of the directed energy devices that could cause Havana Syndrome and most of the section addressing potential causal mechanisms.

Also not available are other sections related to Defense Department research programs and responses to CIA Director William Burns and Haines regarding the range needed to affect a target with these devices as well as other technical questions about how a building’s materials could shield an individual from the effects.

Several expert panel recommendations also remain classified.