Havana Syndrome

Havana Syndrome

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “Havana Syndrome ”. The topic “Havana Syndrome ” has relevance in the “Science and Technology” section of the UPSC CSE exam.

For Prelims:

What is Havana Syndrome? 

For Mains:

GS3:  Science and Technology

Why in the news?

The Karnataka High Court was informed by the Central government that it will investigate the issue of ‘Havana Syndrome’ in India following a petition from a resident of Bengaluru. 

Havana Syndrome

Havana Syndrome refers to a collection of mental health symptoms reportedly encountered by U.S. intelligence and embassy personnel in different countries.

  • The term ‘syndrome’ denotes a group of symptoms and doesn’t indicate a distinct medical condition. It signifies a cluster of symptoms commonly experienced together, often with challenging origins.

Havana Syndrome Symptoms:

  • Hearing certain sounds even in the absence of external noise.
  • Nausea, dizziness, and headaches.
  • Memory loss and issues with balance.


Origin and Cuba Connection:

  • The name “Havana Syndrome” is derived from its beginnings in Cuba around late 2016.
  • The phenomenon emerged roughly a year after the U.S. reestablished its embassy in Havana, following the normalization of relations in 2015.
  • Some U.S. embassy staff and intelligence officials reported sudden brain pressure episodes followed by persistent headaches, disorientation, and insomnia.

Havana Syndrome Reports Worldwide:

Following the Cuban incident, American intelligence and foreign affairs officials stationed in multiple countries have documented symptoms related to the syndrome.

  • From early 2018, similar allegations emerged from U.S. diplomats in China.
  • The initial report came from the Guangzhou consulate in April 2018, with an employee citing symptoms since late 2017.
  • Another instance was previously disclosed in September 2017 by a USAID staff member at the US Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
  • In 2019 and 2020, occurrences of the syndrome were reported within the United States, notably in Washington DC.
  • An incident was even documented at The Ellipse, an expanse of grass adjacent to the White House.
  • U.S. officials have documented over 130 instances worldwide, spanning locations such as Moscow in Russia, Poland, Georgia, Taiwan, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Austria.
  • In 2021, a New York Times report indicated that U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris experienced a three-hour delay before her flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, due to a U.S. official in Vietnam reporting symptoms.
  • In India, the first known case occurred in the same year, involving a U.S. intelligence officer traveling to New Delhi with CIA director William Burns, who reported Havana Syndrome symptoms.


Causes of Havana Syndrome:

  • Initially, during the Cuban incidents, suspicion fell on Cuban intelligence or elements opposing normalised US-Cuba relations.
  • Early theories suggested a “sonic attack” due to the long-standing hostility between the countries.
  • Later investigation pointed to high-powered microwaves damaging or interfering with victims’ nervous systems.
  • Some suspected these microwaves were emitted via a “microwave weapon.”


Microwave Weapon Theory 

  • Both Russia and the US have explored microwave use as a counter-intelligence tactic since the Cold War.
  • Reports date back to the 1970s of US embassy officials in Moscow facing mental health issues from suspected microwave exposure.
  • Despite years of study, experiments, and medical evaluations, conclusive evidence for the “microwave weapon” remains absent.
  • The mechanism and targeting specificity of this supposed weapon are still unknown.
  • Certain US medical experts challenge the theory, attributing the syndrome to psychological factors amplified by fear.

Despite research, uncertainty persists, and the syndrome’s origin and mechanism remain unclear.


About Microwave Weapon: 

  • “Microwave weapons” fall under direct energy weaponry.
  • They concentrate energy like sonic, laser, or microwaves onto a target.
  • High-frequency electromagnetic radiation is used in these weapons to heat water in a target’s skin, causing discomfort.


Countries with Microwave Weapons:

  • Several countries possess these weapons for targeting humans and electronic systems.
  • China exhibited the “Poly WB-1” microwave weapon in 2014.
  • The U.S. developed the “Active Denial System,” a non-lethal directed-energy weapon with an extended range.
  • The U.S. “Active Denial System” is a prototype microwave-style weapon.
  • It’s recognized as the first non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system with a greater range than existing non-lethal weapons.
  • The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of India announced plans in 2020 to develop directed energy weapons (DEWs) that will employ high-energy lasers and microwaves.


Sources: Centre to look into ‘Havana Syndrome’: What it means and the term’s history | Explained News – The Indian Express

Yojna daily current affairs eng med 11th August 2023

Q1. With reference Havana Syndrome, consider the following statements: 

  1. The origin of the term “Havana Syndrome” is linked to the incidents that occurred in Cuba after the reestablishment of the U.S. embassy in Havana in 2015.
  2. Havana Syndrome is a well-defined medical condition with clear diagnostic criteria and treatment options.
  3. The Havana Syndrome is exclusively characterized by memory loss and balance issues, without any other associated symptoms.

Which of the statements given above is/are NOT correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 3 only 

(d) None 

Answer: (b) 


Q2. Consider the following countries: 

  1. United States
  2. Bahamas
  3. Mexico
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. Canada 
  6. Brazil

How many of the above mentioned countries are neighbours of Cuba ?

(a) Only Two

(b) Only Three

(c) Only Four

(d) Only Five

Answer: (c)

Q3. Analyse the phenomenon known as “Havana Syndrome,” and its global implications on geopolitical relations. 

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