In Which I Destroy the CIA with Facts and Logic!

Recently I wrote about my Top Three Mass Hysterias happening now in 2022.[i] Top of my hysterical hit parade was Havana Syndrome, the name given to a mysterious illness among US and Canadian embassy staff in Havanna, Cuba (and later in several other cities around the world). The symptoms included hearing a strange, high-pitched noise, nausea, dizziness, changes to hearing, headaches, memory loss…. A belief grew among the staff that they were being targeted by a futuristic weapon that was zapping them through the walls of their buildings.

The weird high pitch sounds generated by this mystery ray gun were recorded by several embassy staff in Cuba and were later recognised as the mating calls of crickets.

Not those Crickets, you idiot

However, in February the CIA released a (redacted) summary of their latest investigation into the syndrome. Much of the media interpreted the report as saying that the symptoms the staff are suffering from may be caused by ‘directed energy’ (according to the BBC) or ‘pulsed energy devices’ according to the Guardian.[ii]

However, as soon as reports of these ‘attacks’ emerged in 2016, alarms bells were ringing in my ears and there were no enemy ray guns in sight. I’d been aware of so-called phantom attacker panics since researching the Halifax Slasher scare for Weird Calderdale, and I’m always alert for new episodes of this strange kind of mass hysteria. And Havana Syndrome has all the signs of mass hysteria, or as academics prefer to call it nowadays ‘mass psychogenic illness’.

Let’s take a look at what the CIA report says. There’s a link in the references below.[iii]

The Symptoms

The report says the symptoms, or ‘anomalous health incidents’ (AHIs), have four core characteristics, and we can take these as the definition of Havana Syndrome:

  1. Acute onset of ‘audio-vestibular sensory phenomena’. This includes a feeling of pressure in the head, ear pain, a strange sound often in one ear.
  2. Vertigo, loss of balance and ear pain.
  3. Sense of locality (in other words, the symptoms are associated with a certain place or are perceived as coming from a particular direction).
  4. There are no medical or environmental causes.

Here’s the thing, though. Have you ever had any of these symptoms? I mean, ringing in the ears sometimes, sudden dizziness as if you stood up too quickly? I have. They’re pretty common, and yet we don’t assume we were being zapped by a communist mind ray. But the embassy staff in Havana were no doubt under stress as they had been warned that dastardly agents would try and intimidate or gaslight them. They were told to be vigilant against threats or attacks so will have been hypervigilant, and the idea of a sonic weapon seemed plausible to them at the time.

Oddly enough, the report makes no mention of those embarrassing crickets![iv] And yet it was the weird mating call of these critters that set the hysterical ball rolling. This seems a remarkable omission.

But never mind, let’s get to the report’s findings.

The Findings

The first finding of this investigation is that the symptoms embassy staff have are genuine. Well, no one doubts this, though, remember in mass hysteria, symptoms are genuine too: hysteria is when stress and anxiety lead to physical symptoms in the absence of an organic cause. The report also notes that the symptoms are ‘diverse’ which should give us pause for thought. Can we be sure that various diverse symptoms aren’t being lumped together when in reality there is no connection between them?

But these underhand foreign ray guns have caused brain damage in the diplomats, haven’t they? No. The report says that in some individuals there are ‘transient elevations in biomarkers suggestive of cellular injury to the nervous system.’ Did they detect injury to the nervous system? No. There was (in some individuals) a temporary increase in something that might suggest injury to the nervous system. This finding is hedged to death and only applies to a small number of sufferers. It cannot be said to be a smoking (ray) gun.

The second finding is that the combination of the four core symptoms is unique in the medical literature (especially being focused on one ear) and cannot ‘easily’ be explained by medical or environmental conditions and that therefore could be caused by an ‘external source’. But is it really unique? As we have seen, some of the strange noises heard by diplomats in Havana were clearly crickets, and in later cases from other embassies where no recordings of crickets were made, one possible explanation for symptoms could be tinnitus, or more specifically transient auditory dysfunction, a very common form of temporary hearing loss or tinnitus episode that can occur in one or both ears.[v] Anxiety, stress and hypervigilance may account for other symptoms such as dizziness, loss of balance and nausea. This was even acknowledged by a previous government report.[vi]

The third finding of the report is that ‘pulsed electromagnetic energy’ could ‘plausibly’ explain the core symptoms, though there are ‘information gaps’.  This finding is the most heavily redacted of the sections, but the ‘information gap’ the authors admit to suggests one thing to me: this is bullshit.

The fourth finding is that ultrasound beams could also ‘plausibly’ explain the symptoms, though this would only work in close proximity and not through building walls, but again there are ‘information gaps’. Ultrasound is inaudible, and yet several early sufferers from Havana Syndrome recorded the sound they believed was responsible. In other words, bullshit on stilts.

And speaking of bullshit on stilts, let’s get to the fourth finding: psychosocial factors cannot explain the core symptoms (though the authors grudgingly admit these factors may lengthen the duration or compound some of the symptoms). In the words of the report: ‘No known psychosocial factors explain the core characteristics, and the incidents exhibiting these characteristics do not fit the majority of criteria used to discern mass sociogenic illness.’ Well, the fact is psychosocial factors (along with crickets and pre-existing medical conditions) can explain the core symptoms. And the conditions associated with mass psychogenic illness (mass hysteria) are present: a background of stress and anxiety and a close-knit social group with symptoms that have no apparent physical cause (imaginary ray guns don’t count, I’m afraid).

The final finding was that radiation, chemical or biological attacks and acoustic weapons were implausible causes. Well, they got something right.


The CIA report makes several recommendations, including setting up a database of incidents, and identifying biomarkers (of what, we don’t know, as this part of the report is censored) and testing for them. They also suggest ‘detectors’ for something, though in this section, every word is redacted except ‘detectors’. We can only speculate what kind of detectors the CIA recommend. I would suggest a bullshit detector.

Another recommendation is a communication strategy to educate government diplomats and other staff to reduce the effect of any psychosocial factors at work. Think about this for a minute. The CIA recommends educating their staff about attacks from a mystery brain bending weapon, the evidence for which is non-existent, and this is supposed to reduce the psychosocial factors at work? However, it seems to me that accepting at face value claims associated with mass hysteria will actually exacerbate the problem.

The final recommendations made in the report are for the long term. These include better and faster clinical measurement of the symptoms. This seems to make sense, but if you search for symptoms that are already pretty common (and the symptoms of Havana Syndrome are common in the general population) then you’re sure to find them. This seems like a measure that would keep the madness churning.

The last two long term recommendations are almost totally redacted, though one is about the biological effects of something, and the other is about devices to aid research, but that’s as much as we can say.

What Goes On?

It almost seems that this report is designed to keep the hysteria going. After all, two previous reports had found no evidence of a mystery weapon.

It’s like the CIA observed a light in the sky and rather than concluding it was a plane, or a satellite, or a planet, they concluded that the Martians were attacking. Why would they do that? Well, there are several possibilities:

  1. They believe their own bullshit.
  2. It serves an international political agenda by being a stick to beat Russia and/or China.
  3. It serves as a distraction from domestic politics.
  4. Embarrassment. It would be hard to admit that all these clever people were suffering from mass psychogenic illness, even though it’s something that everyone is susceptible to. It’s a normal human reaction to stress and anxiety.
  5. Trump Derangement Syndrome. The Trump administration, including senior CIA officials and the FBI, viewed claims of attacks by a mystery weapon with scepticism.[vii] If Trump said the world is round, the Flat Earth Society’s membership would be through the roof.
  6. Perhaps it’s a combination of some of the above.

But here’s the problem. Fuelling hysteria is a dangerous and irresponsible game, whatever the motives. And for that reason, Havana Syndrome retains its place as Number One in my Top Three Mass Hysterias Happening Now in 2022.

[i] Top Three Mass Hysterias ~ Happening Now in 2022! – Paul Weatherhead



[iv] Robert Baloh and Robert Bartholomew, The Havana Syndrome (Springer, 2020)


[vi] p.92


Published by Paul Weatherhead

Author of Weird Calderdale, musician and songwriter

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