The new report does rule out radiation, poison, audible and subsonic noises, and heat as possible explanations for the injuries. In re-introducing ultrasound as an explanation for Havana Syndrome however, the expert report complicated, rather than simplified, explanations for the cases. A National Academies of Sciences report had found that pulsed microwaves, which are capable of causing faint sounds in the ear at certain settings, were the most plausible (again rather than likely) explanation, followed by mass psychology. Experts had largely ruled out ultrasound in 2017, but the new report suggests that concealed ultrasound sources close to victims might cause injuries.
In an email, University of Illinois biomedical engineer James Lin said the ultrasound finding left him “puzzled.”
“To have any effect, the source needs to be very strong (powerful and bulky equipment) or very close to the target or subject,” said Lin, a proponent of pulsed microwaves. “Ultrasound propagates very poorly in air. It is quickly attenuated.”
University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Ken Foster wasn’t as skeptical.
“I had been a skeptic, but after my recent study, I am convinced that it is possible to cause a frightening but harmless experience to someone using pulsed microwaves,” he said in an email. “The challenge is to make such attacks ‘stealthy’ (not observed), but I think that is possible also. I do not know whether such weapons exist, and the government is not telling us. But if some actor wanted to frighten the entire State Department and CIA by hitting a few individuals, they succeeded admirably.”
In ruling out audible noises for playing a role in Havana Syndrome, the expert panel echoes a similar declassified State Department report first reported last year by BuzzFeed News that found recorded Havana Syndrome “attack” noises were likely from crickets and weren’t caused by microwaves. A central contradiction in reports of Havana Syndrome incidents are that the incident recordings of audible noises don’t comport with explanations like microwaves or ultrasound that don’t cause them.
The unnamed experts who authored the new report were provided more than 1,000 classified documents, including the findings of “Top Secret” programs, and met with people with injuries to reach their findings. Such classified information was not provided to a 2019 CDC panel report, also first reported last year by BuzzFeed News. Nevertheless, the new report finds “a dearth of systematic research” on microwaves hurting people, and “information gaps” regarding ultrasound injuries, despite its access.
“Today’s findings underscore the need to continue investigating the source of these symptoms, and prioritizing access to care for those suffering from these medical conditions,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in a statement.
“I’d really like to see national security reporters start asking why the intelligence agencies are releasing these Havana Syndrome reports now,” media scholar Nolan Higdon, author of The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Education, told BuzzFeed News. He called rapid switch in recent weeks in news reports going from breathlessly reporting a Russian attack campaign on hundreds of US diplomats, to instead reporting a few dozen confusing injuries, disappointing.
Similar to past reports, the expert panel expressed sympathy for people with injuries, calling them real and requiring treatment, and assistance was mandated last year by Congress in overwhelming votes. They echoed Burns, who in a recent year-end message to CIA retirees, said, “Our officers have reported very real experiences and suffered very real symptoms — and it is profoundly wrong, and profoundly harmful, to suggest otherwise.”