“I reported this back in February 2013… when I was in Cuba, I said I was targeted by a laser precision ‘direct energy’ weapon of some kind… fucking drove me insane on one night, and I saw the perpetrator doing it from my balcony… about fifteen/twenty metres away?
I assumed it was the CIA, or Booze Allen… what I’m thinking is, maybe the Cubans stole whatever the device is… and are now using it on the American embassy staff 😀 … and Canadian Intelligence. I’m going with ‘microwave weapon’.
(again I had every God damn intelligence agency from CIA, NSA/Booz Allen, MI6/GCHQ, Russian FSB, local Cuban Intelligence)
But I got to dance right next to the world famous Buena Vista Social Club! 😀
(had no idea who they where at the time)
My mind is in Havana ooh na na
That’s where they drove me ooh La La La! 😀
This is Part 1 of a special series
For many Canadian diplomats with young families, it was a dream posting. Life in Havana was busy, pleasant and generally sunny.
Diplomats and their families enjoyed year-round sports — tennis, golf, swimming, snorkelling, sailing and horseback riding. Diplomatic staff played ultimate frisbee in neighbourhood parks.
There were minor complications. They had to spend part of their annual leave back home doing rounds of medical appointments and stocking up on supplies, for example. But life in the upscale Havana neighbourhood of Miramar, where many international diplomats lived — a community dotted with colonial homes, embassies and palm trees — was family friendly.
Their children attended the International School of Havana, founded by a British ex-pat in 1965. It was a progressive school that emphasized academics and sports and catered to children of the diplomatic community.
Such was the life Diplomat Allen, his wife and their two teenage sons were living in 2017, on their second posting to Cuba. They frequently socialized. Their boys went to a good school, they were involved in sports and their buddies were in and out of the house. “We had a nice house, we had a good life down there,” Allen said.
Then everything changed, in ways that, at first, the family didn’t understand.
Allen, as he is identified in legal documents, is one of 15 people, including five diplomats and their families from the Ottawa area, who are suing the federal government for $28 million in connection with mysterious health issues they suffered when they were posted to Cuba.
The suit alleges the Canadian government failed to properly inform, protect, treat and support the Canadians.
“Throughout the crisis, Canada downplayed the seriousness of the situation, hoarded and concealed critical health and safety information, and gave false, misleading and incomplete information to diplomatic staff,” the suit alleges.
During the past few years, the lawsuit contends, Canadian diplomatic families in Havana “have been targeted and injured, suffering severe and traumatic harm by means that are not clear but may be some type of sonic or microwave weapon.”
The brain injuries they’ve experienced, similar to injuries suffered by American diplomats posted to Cuba, are now known as Havana Syndrome.
The complainants’ allegations have not been tested in court.
In the wake of the lawsuit, this newspaper spoke to a number of the diplomats now home in the Ottawa area.
The spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they still fear for their security and that of their families. Many of the Canadian diplomats are struggling not only with health issues, but with anxiety and fear.
Diplomat Allen, which is the pseudonym he uses in the lawsuit, admits he is shaken by some of the negative comments people have posted on the bottom of stories about the case suggesting the symptoms are invented.
At the start of a lengthy interview, he asked this newspaper: “What did you think the first time you heard about this. Did you believe it?”
In the late winter of 2017 the previously healthy members of the Allen family began experiencing symptoms, from nosebleeds to headaches, that they couldn’t explain.
They would wake up with excruciating headaches. They experienced nausea and vision problems.
Their youngest son, 12, was getting as many as four nosebleeds a day, even passing out. Mrs. Allen began hearing high-pitched noises. The couple became uncharacteristically irritable.
“We knew there was something, but we just couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
And then, one evening in early April, there was a knock on their door. An American diplomat who lived across the street asked if Allen would go for a walk. “Living in Cuba, we understood that our houses were bugged.”
What Allen learned shook him.
His neighbour told him a dozen Americans had already been evacuated from Havana after suffering from symptoms including nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, hearing and eye problems.
He told Allen the symptoms were believed to be the result of attacks with some kind of a weapon, maybe sonic.
“It just hit me, ‘Holy crap, this is going on in my house.’”
The American diplomat was upset that the U.S. government had not told the Canadians about the situation. His colleagues had been sworn to secrecy, but he hadn’t yet been “gagged,” so he took the opportunity to warn Allen, “because we lived so close and he thought we were in danger.”
The next day, Allen went to the ambassador who began high-level talks but warned Allen not to tell his Canadian colleagues, allegedly saying: “We don’t want to start mass hysteria.”
On June 1, 2017, Allen woke up around 3 a.m. to a “grinding, screeching metallic noise” that filled the bedroom of their home and lasted about 30 seconds. As it faded, the sound slowed down and became lower. He was paralyzed with nausea.
“At the low point, I thought I was going to throw up. I was nauseous like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know whether I went back to sleep or passed out.”
His son came into the bedroom upset and covered in blood from a severe nosebleed. His wife took him back to his room where she changed his bloody sheets and clothes.
Allen woke up in the morning feeling awful.
The next day, Allen went to tell the ambassador what had happened. On the way up the stairs at the embassy, a colleague jokingly asked if he was drunk because he was stumbling.
When he got to a high-security zone inside the embassy, Allen swiped his card and looked at the keypad but couldn’t remember his code. He began randomly punching numbers. “It wasn’t like me. I had never done that.” He told officials he could no longer wait for the Canadian embassy to take action.
Two days later, the family was sent to the University of Miami to undergo testing with a doctor who had examined at least 20 Americans who had been based in Havana. All four members of the Allen family were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries akin to concussions.
The physician recommended the children not return to Cuba, saying: “They need to be away from Cuba for awhile.” Allen asked the Canadian embassy if he could send his sons directly to Ottawa from Miami, but that request was denied, according to the statement of claim.
The family returned to Cuba but quickly sent the boys ahead to Ottawa to stay with relatives. Allen and his wife followed soon after for a three-week holiday.
That break left them feeling refreshed and optimistic. Their health, which had been a worry for months, seemed better after the break in Canada. Since the Canadian diplomatic staff had not been allowed to talk to each other about their experiences and they weren’t aware of any other affected Canadians, the Allens hoped maybe it was a “one-off thing” and agreed to return to Cuba. They were hopeful their lives could return to normal, but cautious. “If we heard another family was pulling out, we were gone.”
They did not return to Havana for long. By October they were back in Ottawa for good, coping with worrisome symptoms and waiting for medical assistance and information.
Meanwhile, other Canadians in Havana were suffering mysterious and debilitating symptoms.
Diplomat Davies, his wife and their two young children were having strange experiences in their nearby Havana house during the spring and summer of 2017.
Early in the year, their young daughter began having difficulty concentrating at school. She suffered from nausea, tinnitus, sensitivity to light, visual impairment, and, like the Allen children, sudden nosebleeds, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Mrs. Davies had complained about hearing high-pitched sounds. Then, during a game of ultimate Frisbee with American and Canadian diplomats in a local park, Mrs. Davies suddenly fell to the ground.
“I no longer knew where was up and where was down,” she told her concerned husband of the fall.
The Davies family was sent back to the Ottawa area in August 2017.
Mrs. Davies was diagnosed as having damage to her vestibular system — which includes parts of the inner ear and brain that processes sensory information.
She was hypersensitive to light and noise, suffered from headaches, dizziness and muscle twitching that would last for days. She often spent long parts of the day sleeping.
She now works part time, has to wear special glasses because of sensitivity to light and vestibular damage and continues to suffer from headaches and to be easily overwhelmed by light and sounds.
Their daughter had difficulty concentrating at school and had sudden nosebleeds, nausea and light sensitivity, among other symptoms. She had tinnitus and heard three distinct sounds. Those sounds were so persistent that the little girl gave each one a name.
Davies has since had testing that has shown he has visual impairments and “fusional facility problems,” which are associated with brain injuries and can result in blurred vision, headaches, eye fatigue, motion sickness and loss of concentration. He has had several strange episodes involving visual impairment and confusion, including one in which he could no longer see what he was writing in a notebook and another in which he experienced confusion, flashbacks and a sense of deja vu.
The Davies are among diplomats undergoing testing at Dalhousie University’s Brain Repair Centre. Some of that research, he said, has identified leakages in the groups’ blood brain barriers consistent with concussions.
The statement of claim contends that Global Affairs “actively interfered with the plaintiffs’ attempts to receive proper health care, including going so far as instructing hospitals to stop testing and treating them.”
That happened, according to the suit filed by the former diplomats, when two members of the group, frustrated with lack of information and delays, travelled on their own to the University of Pennsylvania, which had been treating affected U.S. diplomats and had developed an expertise on Havana Syndrome.
Diplomat Baker, who was posted to Havana with her two young children, began experiencing symptoms of Havana syndrome in early 2017, including tinnitus, headaches and vertigo. Her elementary school aged daughter was nauseous, had headaches and heavy nosebleeds.
Baker underwent medical testing that confirmed balance and vestibular issues and suggested the need for further investigation early in 2017, but was told follow up testing would not take place for months.
Distressed about the symptoms and lack of medical attention, Baker and Mrs. Davies went to the University of Pennsylvania at their own expense after officials there offered to assess and treat Canadians but were turned down by the federal government.
While there, the medical team confirmed Baker had a brain injury that was visible on MRI and similar to those suffered by affected American diplomats. Testing on her daughter disclosed post-concussion symptoms. Her son was cleared.
And then testing was interrupted according to the statement of claim, when Canada used diplomatic channels in the United States to instruct the University of Pennsylvania Centre for Brain Injury and Repair to “stop testing Canadians.”
But the assessments on the Canadians sparked action from the federal government, says Baker, who pushed for all the Canadian cohort of diplomats to get tested.
Shortly after the women and children returned from Pennsylvania, the Canadian government pulled diplomatic families out of Cuba and told those back in Canada suffering symptoms that they would all get assessed and treated.
Today, Baker does not work, undergoes cognitive therapy and still must live “a very cocooned life” because of ongoing symptoms and sensitivities. Her daughter, who was the first child tested at the University of Pennsylvania to show clear evidence of concussion, according to her mother, has visual impairment and other ongoing symptoms.
While the Ottawa five wait for some resolution, many of them remain anxious, even angry. Before taking legal action, they wrote to the prime minister, among others, looking for better care and support. Some have speculated that the federal government didn’t want to jeopardize its long-standing diplomatic relationship with Cuba.
“My belief, 21 months later, is that decisions were made that simply did not prioritize us, not our health, not our safety and not that of our families.
“I am angry, yes,” she says. “I am disappointed and I am sad. I am sad because there is no justification for not having considered the personal and lifelong impact this was going to have on us.”
Members of all five families, including young children, suffer from neurological symptoms. Some are still unable to work full time, many have long-term effects including cognitive vestibular and ocular motor dysfunction requiring therapy, special glasses and special accommodation. One young child had such severe tinnitus that she was hearing three distinct sounds. She gave each of them a name. One was Emile.
Allen recounts receiving a tearful phone call from his wife who had gone to the grocery store and couldn’t find her way home.
The lawsuit claims that Canada “badly mishandled” the crisis as it grew and failed to ensure the safety of the diplomats and their families.
“Despite knowing of the risks of Havana Syndrome early on, Canada continued to put its diplomats and their families in harm’s way by sending them to Havana and requiring them to stay there despite becoming aware of the high and growing risk that they would sustain the brain injuries associated with Havana Syndrome.”
The government has confirmed 14 cases of diplomats and their families who have been affected while in Havana. With the latest confirmed case in January of this year, staff at the Canadian mission in Havana has been reduce from 16 to eight, and families are no longer permitted as part of the posting.
Allen, meanwhile, is back to work for Global Affairs Canada, but his wife is unable to return to the kind of life she led before the mysterious attacks.
“She is not the same person who went to Cuba,” says Allen. “She used to love to read. She can’t stand reading now. She used to be a whiz with numbers, not anymore. She can’t work. She is suffering from PTSD.”
The government has confirmed 14 affected Canadian employees and relatives.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said the affected diplomats have Canada’s “utmost sympathy and support.”
Last month, the government said in a statement: “The health, safety and security of our diplomatic staff and their families remain our priority. The Canadian government continues to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms experienced by some Canadian diplomatic staff and their family members posted in Havana, Cuba. To date, no cause has been identified. … There is no evidence that Canadian travellers to Cuba are at risk.
“Canada has a positive and constructive relationship with Cuba. We have had close co-operation with the Cuban authorities since the health concerns of our employees posted in Havana first surfaced in the spring of 2017.”
Havana Syndrome, Part 2: How a dog’s brain may help solve the mystery of Canadian diplomats’ Cuban nightmare
Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community
Havana Syndrome, Part 4: What it could be and how experts will try to crack the case
Havana Syndrome, Part 2: How a dog’s brain may help solve the mystery of Canadian diplomats’ Cuban nightmare
Could a dog’s brain offer any clues to the mysterious concussion-like syndrome affecting Canadian and American diplomats who were posted to Cuba?
That is one of the many threads being pulled in an effort by researchers and scientists — and those affected — to better understand the condition referred to as Havana Syndrome, which has been blamed for debilitating some Canadian diplomats and their families.
The brains of those diplomats and their spouses are being tested at Dalhousie’s Brain Repair Centre. Officials there were unavailable for interviews, but one of the diplomats involved told this newspaper that early findings have amazed researchers.
Little is known about what could have caused the symptoms shared by some diplomats who were posted in Cuba, although U.S. investigators have ruled out sonic weapons, according to the Washington Post. A doctor who examined some of the Canadian and U.S. diplomats has suggested the damage stems from a microwave weapon.
Still others have suggested the sounds being reported were actually crickets and that the symptoms are psychosomatic or a form of mass hysteria, hypotheses that anger those living with the after-effects.
Dr. Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery at the University of Miami, who examined 25 people linked to the diplomatic community in Havana, is frustrated by suggestions that the harms done to some of the diplomats are not real. Hoffer was the lead author of a paper that found all of the diplomatic personnel complaining of dizziness, ear pain and tinnitus suffered from an otolithic abnormality (affecting inner ear organs related to balance) and cognitive dysfunction. Such injuries could result in other symptoms such as cognitive difficulties and exhaustion, he said.
“Here is the thing: These people did have an injury. I don’t know who injured them. I don’t know what injured them. But I am impatient with the fact that a lot of people are saying it was crickets or an infectious disease.
“These people did have an injury. I don’t know who injured them. I don’t know what injured them. But I am impatient with the fact that a lot of people are saying it was crickets or an infectious disease.
“Something happened to them. These findings of the inner ear disorder cannot be faked,” he said. “It is not hysteria. It is not crickets.”
The suggestion that the symptoms could be psychosomatic has added to the frustration of affected Canadian diplomats. According to documents obtained through access to information by the National Post, a federal government official suggested early on that the symptoms could be psychosomatic.
When contacted by this newspaper, one of those diplomats was wary about people questioning the syndrome. That diplomat, who uses the pseudonym Diplomat Allen, is among 15 Canadian diplomatic staff and their families suffering from Havana Syndrome. They are suing the federal government for $28 million, citing lack of support, information and treatment, among other things.
He and his family began experiencing mysterious symptoms now associated with the syndrome when they were living in Havana in 2017.
Allen and his family left Havana in the fall of 2017 after a series of unexplained events, including a screeching metallic sound in the middle of the night that left them with a variety of symptoms including nausea, uncontrolled nosebleeds, headaches and cognitive difficulties.
During the summer of 2017, before the family returned to Ottawa, their three Shih Tzu dogs were behaving strangely, said Allen. Almost every night, the dogs would run to the corner of their yard backing on to a house where American diplomatic staff lived and bark frantically, for no apparent reason. “There was nothing there.”
The dogs were shipped back to Ottawa after the family returned. One of them, a seven-year-old, subsequently began behaving strangely — suddenly biting at non-existent flies, arching its back and lying on its back and putting its feet in the air. A veterinarian diagnosed seizures and told the family there was something wrong with the dog’s brain. The vet recommended the dog be euthanized.
Allen passed the information to a medical official at Global Affairs who asked if they could arrange for a necropsy on the dog. The necropsy (similar to an autopsy but performed on an animal) was conducted in Kemptville, where the University of Guelph has a campus.
Later, Allen and his wife, along with other Canadian diplomats from Havana, travelled to Halifax where they are being assessed and studied at Dalhousie University’s Brain Repair Centre. Doctors there obtained a sample of the dog’s brain, said Allen.
In December, researchers at Dalhousie told Allen they had found “something significant” in the dog’s brain and needed more samples. “It could be related,” Allen was told.
Any links may help fill in the many blanks surrounding the mysterious syndrome.
Researchers at Dalhousie are continuing to study the Canadian diplomats and spouses. Allen said he has been told “they were amazed” at what they found through MRIs of the diplomats’ brains and other tests.
“All of us have brain bleeds that we shouldn’t have — and our thought processes are slower than people our age,” he said. MRIs show bleeds coming from small capillaries in their brains, he said, which are completely different from the control group. “For us, this is the concrete evidence we needed that this was real.”
Canadian diplomats and families have also been diagnosed with vestibular and vision disorders, cognitive disorders and other issues.
There is a small sense of relief at seeing some concrete evidence, but for Allen and others, that does little to allay fears about the future. Those with young children are particularly worried about how they might be affected in the long term.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the affected diplomats have Canada’s “utmost sympathy and support.”
Meanwhile, there are more questions than answers about how and why the damage occurred.
Were Canadians collateral damage or targets? What kind of weapons were used? And why?
Daniel Livermore, a former foreign service officer who is a senior fellow at uOttawa’s department of public and international affairs, said there is little more than speculation about the source of the mysterious injuries to diplomats — one is that Havana Syndrome resulted from some sort of eavesdropping device gone awry, another is that the injuries are the result of targeted weapons.
The Havana Syndrome Part 1: Why Canadian diplomats have accused their government of abandoning them
Cuba, which has always had good international relations with Canada, is not considered to be behind the attacks, if that is what they were. Russia and China are both considered possible suspects if there were attacks with weapons.
As to what kind of weapons, there are still more questions.
“I don’t know how this is being weaponized,” Livermore said of speculation that the damage was done with microwave weapons. “I don’t even know what the motivation would be. I don’t see a motive,” he said.
The Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community
Hardship and danger are nothing new for the Canadian foreign service (WHAT!). Its members have served through wars, diplomatic crises and acts of terrorism — but what happened in Havana is different than anything they’ve seen before.
And despite the fact that risk is generally accepted as part of the job, this newspaper interviewed several diplomatic insiders who charged that the mysterious injuries suffered by Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba have shaken a community that isn’t easily rattled.
As Pamela Isfeld, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, puts it, Havana Syndrome “struck a nerve.”
In part, she said, this is due to the fact it remains so mysterious. More than a dozen Canadians, including children, suffered brain and other injuries of unknown origin while on diplomatic posting in Havana.
“Nobody knows what this is, you don’t know how to mitigate it, you don’t know how to protect against it, you don’t know how to treat the people who have it, you don’t know where it comes from, so it could really happen to any of us at any time, and that kind of thing definitely has people on edge.”
The association pegs the size of Canada’s foreign service at about 1,400 members. Isfeld said her office has received questions from diplomats who might be eligible for a posting in Cuba, asking whether, if asked by their employer, they would have to agree to go. Technically the answer is yes, Isfeld said — their conditions of employment require diplomats to serve wherever they are needed — but in practice, Global Affairs Canada isn’t forcing anyone to go to a specific location, and since the extent of the injuries suffered in Havana has come to light, has been open to allowing those serving in Cuba to leave, even if they weren’t directly affected. Still, said Isfeld “It’s something on people’s minds.”
One long-serving diplomat — with whom this newspaper spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisal — pointed to another factor that makes Havana stand out in the foreign service community’s collective memory.
They cited the 2013 death of Annemarie Desloges, a Canadian diplomat in Nairobi who was killed when terrorists attacked a local mall.
“When Annemarie died, that was tragic and shocking, but that’s really far out of the norm … and it’s one person, and one incident,” they said. “This time you see a pattern. There’s so many people affected, so many children. … And they’re still around to tell their story.
“These are the people who have come back and are now working in the cubicle or the office next to you, or your friends you were posted with in other countries. So I think it’s kind of hit a lot more people closer to home,” the diplomat said.
Hélène Laverdière, the federal New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs critic and herself a former diplomat, said the Havana injuries are particularly troubling for the foreign service community because of the fact that so many dependents were involved.
“When you’re abroad, it’s your job; you can cope with the long hours, sometimes difficult conditions, but you know you’re imposing it on your family also.”
The diplomat interviewed by this newspaper agreed. “What if I had made that decision? Cuba’s always been considered a fairly safe place to take your family.”
Rather than fear, the diplomat suggested the overriding response in the foreign service has been disappointment in the government’s response to those injured in Havana. A group of 15 people — including five diplomats and their families from the Ottawa area — are suing the federal government for $28 million, alleging that it failed in its duty to protect, inform and support them.
“Diplomats don’t want to sue their employer. We’re all super cautious about saying the wrong thing, about posting the wrong tweet, about getting in trouble, so to speak,” said the diplomat interviewed for this story. “When someone has gone this far, you know it’s bad.”
Both Laverdière and Isfeld agreed — more should have been done, and sooner, they said. The government should never have turned down the University of Pennsylvania’s offer to treat the injured Canadians, nor left them to travel to the university on their own dime for assessment, the pair say.
Contacted by this newspaper for comment, Global Affairs Canada provided a written response attributed to spokesman Richard Walker.
“Canada’s foremost concern is the health and safety of our diplomats and their families. Serving Canada is a privilege, but it is also a difficult job.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has met with many of the affected diplomats, he said, “and they have our unwavering support.”
“In addition, Canada has taken security measures and reduced our diplomatic footprint in Havana.”
According to Isfeld, Global Affairs Canada has taken some steps in the right direction since the fallout from Havana Syndrome, including the appointment of a task force and a medical officer to help those injured.
What happened in Cuba was unprecedented, the diplomat interviewed also acknowledged. Pair that with the seemingly inherent slowness of bureaucracy, and the Canadian government’s response is more disheartening than surprising, they said.
But they also added that this is an opportunity for improvement based on lessons learned, and at the end of the day, “It doesn’t make you think ‘Oh, well, I’m not going to go to Vietnam, because if anything happened I can’t trust the government to have my back.’ I don’t see that happening.
“It’s a mystery. We’re not pleased with the way it was necessarily handled, but life goes on and we have a job to do and we do it and we hope for the best and support those that weren’t so lucky.”
Eric Arts was a university student in the 1980s when the world was struggling to understand the illness we now know as AIDS, and he recalls the sense of bewilderment among those looking for its cause.
It’s an enigma he compares to the current mystery of Canadian and American diplomats who became sick while serving in Havana, and who have suffered from pain, memory loss, dizziness and brain damage.
“Sorting out HIV and how it was transmitted, and the disease it caused, took a long time. It wasn’t something that happened overnight,” said Arts, who is now chair of the microbiology and immunology department at Western University’s medical school.
It took a major effort just to establish that it was an infection, “but then it took a couple of years to find what the causative agent was.” And even that discovery was debated, he said.
Arts says the hardest but most important step in solving the puzzle of the sick diplomats is getting past the starting point — figuring out what general category this new medical condition fits into.
Once the scientists know what ballpark the issue is in, it becomes a matter of narrowing down the precise details.
But first they have to take that crucial first step, which has not happened yet. Could it be some kind of virus? Or a bacterium? Or contaminated drinking water? A planned assault with sound waves? All these and more have been mentioned in a wide-ranging list of possibilities that even includes the sound of crickets chirping.
Health scientists, he said, will likely start by looking for patterns. “They do contact tracing to see who has been in contact with who, and who has had these symptoms,” he said.
“It usually takes an organization like the WHO in an international situation,” he said. This has worked for Ebola and other mysterious outbreaks of disease. “You need rapid deployment on the ground.”
“Until you find the origin and how it’s spreading, there’s not a lot you can do — if it is an infectious disease.”
And if Cuba were hiding what it knows, as some have alleged, “It would make it much more difficult” because this kind of research can’t be done from a distance.
Here are some of the causes that have been speculated about, offered here in no particular order:
• Sonic attack, largely because many victims report suddenly hearing a harsh, high-pitched sound. Humans can hear sounds ranging from about 20 waves per second, or hertz, (very low sounds) to 20,000 hertz. Above that sound waves still exist even though we cannot hear them.
On the other hand, the effects of sounds too low to hear are also controversial. Some of the opposition to wind turbines in Ontario comes from neighbours of the turbines who believe this “infrasound” causes health problems. Infrasound has also been suggested in the Havana mystery;
• Crickets. Yes, crickets. After some of the diplomats reported buzzing and “piercing squeals” — and produced an audio recording of this — a British and Australian team identified the Indies short-tailed cricket, Anurogryllus celerinictus as a possible source. They reported last month that the cricket’s sound, recorded here, matched the recording “in nuanced detail … in duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse.” The Jamaican field cricket, which is native to Cuba, has also been blamed;
• Electronic attack, using a powerful and focused beam of microwave energy that can cause pain or debilitation. Microwaves can cause the brain to perceive sound where there is no sound, a phenomenon called the Frey effect that some feel fits with the sound perceived by victims of Havana Syndrome;
Some Americans, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have directly accused Cuba of causing an attack of some type, but Cuba has hotly denied this;
• A chemical spill or other environmental contaminant in air, soil or water. This could also include contaminants in buildings. A substance called urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) became popular in Canada in the 1970s, but was banned because it emitted gases that caused headaches, fatigue, a general sick feeling and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.
Arts says the Cuban problem suggests an an environmental toxin more than an infectious disease. And he said that exposure to such a contaminant can be hard to trace as time goes by because it may break down.
“With something in the water system, you would need to get samples, test the water, test the soil, test the environment. … You just have a very limited window of time when you can do that.”
• “Mass hysteria,” the term for symptoms that spread by the power of suggestion.
• Disease spread human-to-human. Arts has studied tropical and neo-tropical diseases, especially in Africa, and feels the Cuban situation “would be unique” if it does turn out to be a disease. If it is an infectious disease, “That would be resolved relatively quickly” once Western governments decide to focus on the problem;
• Disease spread by non-human contact, such as viruses or parasites carried by animals. “For instance hantavirus is spread by the deer mouse,” Arts said. This would make it difficult to identify by examining patients only after they return to Canada.