“We learned a lot,” an intelligence official familiar with the panel’s work told reporters, speaking anonymously under conditions set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “While we don’t have the specific mechanism for each case, we do know that if you get medical care quickly and quickly, most people get better.”
The finding largely corroborates a late 2020 report by the National Academies of Science that found “targeted, pulsed radiofrequency energy” “the most plausible mechanism for explaining these cases” but also stopped making a firm decision.
The so-called expert panel consists of medical, scientific and technical specialists who have access to classified information about the incidents. Officials stressed that her work focused only on uncovering the potential mechanism behind what the government calls “abnormal health incidents” and did not explore who, if anyone, could be responsible.
Cases ‘real and convincing’
The scientific panel emphasized that the cases it studied were “genuine and convincing”, noting that some incidents affected multiple people in the same room and that clinical samples from some victims showed signs of “cellular nervous system injury”.
A summary of the panel’s work provided new details about how the government is categorizing cases as possible Havana syndrome, a clinically nebulous disease that has long frustrated a firm diagnosis because victims suffered from such a diverse array of symptoms.
While officials declined to say how many cases the panel examined as part of its investigation, they said they were studying cases that met four “core characteristics”: the acute onset of noises or pressure, sometimes in just one ear or on one side of the head. ; concomitant symptoms of dizziness, loss of balance and ear pain; “a strong sense of locality or direction”; and the absence of known environmental or medical conditions that could have caused the other symptoms.
Victims have reported being affected by this confluence of symptoms in embassies and personal residences around the world, and in at least one case at open-air traffic lights in a foreign country.
Both pulsed electromagnetic energy, “especially in the radio-frequency range,” and ultrasonic arrays could potentially trigger the four core symptoms, the panel found. Both could come from “a concealable source.” But ultrasound cannot travel through walls, the panel found, “limiting its applicability to scenarios where the source is near the target.”
On the other hand, sources of radiofrequency energy are known to exist, “could generate the required stimulus, be concealable and have a moderate power requirement,” the panel said. “Using non-standard antennas and techniques, the signals could be spread through the air with little loss over tens to hundreds of meters, and with some loss, through most building materials.”
But intelligence officials familiar with the panel’s work stressed that important information gaps remained that prevented them from drawing firmer conclusions.
“It’s frustrating, but we are just as persistent in helping to understand and clarify what is happening,” an official said.
Part of the challenge, this person said, is that not only do cases vary, but the combination of the four core features is unique in the medical literature.
“If we focus on the core features, it’s just a unique combination that we don’t have a lot of experience with in the medical and clinical fields,” the official said.
And for ethical reasons, there has been limited research on the impact of radiofrequency energy or ultrasound on the human body. The expert panel was limited to the reports of people who had been “accidentally” exposed to either one and were willing to describe their symptoms.
“There is a lack of systematic research into the effects of the relevant electromagnetic signals on humans,” the report’s executive summary said.
Victory for the victim’s lawyers
In a victory for victims’ lawyers, the expert panel also ruled out one cause for those four characteristics: the so-called psychosocial factors. Some victims have long complained that in the past the CIA had not taken their reported symptoms seriously, dismissing the cases as a psychosomatic episode or mass hysteria.
Those four core traits could not be explained “only” by psychosocial factors, the report found — although an intelligence official explained that in some cases a victim’s symptoms can be “aggravated” by a stress response or other psychosocial response.
The panel also excluded “ionizing radiation, chemical and biological agents, infrasound, audible sound, long-range ultrasound, and bulk heating by electromagnetic energy.”
The panel made seven recommendations, including developing better biomarkers that are “more specific and sensitive to diagnosis and triage” of cases. It also recommended using “detectors” and obtaining “devices to aid investigations”. Details on those recommendations were heavily redacted in the panel’s summary.
Finally, officials urged prompt action from medical officials when a case is reported, stressing that individuals treated immediately after an event have gotten better.
“I think something the employee can do to help themselves is to immediately report it and get medical care,” the intelligence officer said.
Officials stressed that the intelligence community will continue the investigation.
“We will continue to make additional efforts to get to the bottom of abnormal health incidents and provide those affected with access to world-class care,” Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence and CIA director Bill Burns, said in a joint statement. “We are making progress on both fronts.”