HAVANA SYNDROME (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Sci and Tech)

News-CRUX-10     2nd April 2024        

Context: According to a joint media investigation, the mysterious so-called Havana Syndrome symptoms experienced by US diplomats have recently been linked to a Russian intelligence unit.

Havana Syndrome

  • About: It refers to a collection of mental health symptoms experienced primarily by US intelligence and embassy officials across different nations.
  • Nature of Syndrome: Contrary to a distinct medical condition, "syndrome" denotes a cluster of symptoms often occurring together, with elusive origins.
  • Common Symptoms: Typical manifestations of Havana syndrome encompass auditory hallucinations, nausea, vertigo, headaches, memory loss, and balance disturbances.
  • Causes

oInitial Suspicions: Following the Havana incident, speculation arose regarding a potential "sonic attack" carried out by Cuba, given its longstanding hostility towards the US.

oScientific Investigation: Further research by US scientists and medical examinations of victims suggested exposure to high-powered microwaves, which could damage or interfere with the nervous system.

oMechanism of Harm: High-powered microwaves were believed to build pressure inside the brain, generating the sensation of hearing a sound, while also disrupting balance, memory, and potentially causing permanent brain damage.

  • Origin: Tracing its inception to late 2016 in Cuba, notably following the normalization of US-Cuban relations and the opening of the US embassy in Havana in 2015.
  • Initial Incidents: The syndrome emerged shortly after the establishment of the US embassy, marked by sudden pressure sensations in the brain, persistent headaches, disorientation, and insomnia among embassy staff and intelligence personnel.

Havana Syndrome in India

  • Single Reported Incident: As of July 2023, the 2021 incident stands as the sole documented occurrence of the Havana Syndrome in India.
  • Official Denial of Possession: Indian security sources denied knowledge or possession of any weapon capable of causing the syndrome within Indian agencies.
  • Secrecy Surrounding Counter-Espionage Technology: Even if such technology existed within Indian agencies, it is improbable that the government would acknowledge its possession due to the secretive nature of intelligence operations.