National Security

Mysterious illness targeting US diplomats in China, Cuba likely the result of microwave energy: report

Mysterious neurological symptoms experienced by U.S. diplomats in China and Cuba appear to be caused by directed microwave energy, according to a new report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) obtained by The Hill.

The report cites medical evidence to back up the claim, following assertions from intelligence officials that microwave energy was behind symptoms such as dizziness, pressure in the head and hearing loud sounds.

The NAS report does not definitively conclude that the energy was delivered intentionally but also does not rule out the possibility that a weapon was used to deliver the energy.

There is also no evidence to definitively say if any foreign power was behind the microwave energy, though NBC previously reported that intelligence officials considered Russia a prime suspect.

A source familiar with the symptoms told NBC News, which was the first to report on the findings from NAS, that the CIA had determined Russian operatives who had worked on microwave weapons were in the same cities as CIA agents at the time they began experiencing the neurological symptoms.

“The committee felt that many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by [government] employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy,” the report says. “Studies published in the open literature more than a half-century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism.”

“The mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others, as if the U.S. government does not have its hands full already with naturally occurring threats,” the report adds.

The government has been probing the incidents for years, and while the State Department referred to them as attacks after they first appeared in 2017, the administration has walked back such language.

Specifically, the NAS study examined four explanations for the symptoms, including infection, chemicals, psychological factors and microwave energy.

“Overall, directed pulsed RF energy … appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases among those that the committee considered. … The committee cannot rule out other possible mechanisms and considers it likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others,” the report says. 

U.S. diplomats in Cuba began experiencing the symptoms in late 2016, reporting they were hearing strange sounds and experiencing odd physical sensations before becoming sick. Some of those symptoms disappeared, while others lingered.

Cuba has denied any knowledge of the illnesses.

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