Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

What is Havana Syndrome?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Havana Syndrome

Mains level : Sonic Warfare tactics

A US intelligence officer traveling with CIA director William Burns has reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome.

What is Havana Syndrome?

  • Havana Syndrome refers to a set of mental health symptoms that are said to be experienced by US intelligence and embassy officials in various countries.
  • It typically involves symptoms such as hearing certain sounds without any outside noise being present, nausea, vertigo and headaches, memory loss and issues with balance.
  • As the name suggests, it traces its roots to Cuba.
  • In late 2016, US officials in embassy began experiencing sudden bursts of pressure in their brain followed by persistent headaches, feeling of disorientation and insomnia.

How severe is it?

  • In 2018, at least three CIA officers working under diplomatic cover in Cuba had reported troubling sensations that seemed to leave serious injuries.
  • Some officers are being compulsorily retired for their inability to coherently discharge his duty and another needing a hearing aid.

Has Havana Syndrome been reported anywhere else?

  • Since the Cuban incident, American intelligence and foreign affairs officials posted in various countries have reported symptoms of the syndrome.
  • In early 2018, similar accusations began to be made by US diplomats in China.
  • The US media has reported around 130 such attacks across the world including at Moscow in Russia, Poland, Georgia, Taiwan, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Austria, among others.

What are the causes of Havana Syndrome?

  • No one is entirely sure. But it is speculated to be a “sonic attack”.
  • Medical examination of the victims began to suggest that the victims may have been subjected to high-powered microwaves that either damaged or interfered with the nervous system.
  • It was said to have built a pressure inside the brain that generated the feeling of a sound being heard.
  • Greater exposure to high-powered microwaves is said not only to interfere with the body’s sense of balance but also impact memory and cause permanent brain damage.
  • It is suspected that beams of high-powered microwaves are sent through a special gadget that Americans have begun calling “microwave weapon”.

Who is doing this in India?

  • Sources in the Indian security establishment say they are not aware of any such weapon being in the possession of an Indian agency.
  • Even if there was one, it is unlikely the government would admit to having acquired such counter-espionage technology given the sensitive nature of intelligence work.

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