Speed Reads

havana syndrome

What Havana syndrome is like for 3 victims who are still seeking answers

Three foreign service officials spoke with NBC News about what it's like to be struck with Havana syndrome, how it has affected their lives in recent years, and what they want skeptics to know.

Havana syndrome is a mysterious affliction that researchers have yet to figure out, but has affected as many as 200 U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers, reports NBC. Victims have reported symptoms like vertigo and severe headaches, but the cognitive effects have varied, making the phenomenon even more "confounding." Officials hypothesize that the cases are related to some sort of directed energy, but have so far struggled to prove initial theories that Russia is behind potential microwave energy attacks.

Because of all the unanswered questions, victims have reportedly faced skepticism, even from some CIA officials in the Trump administration. "People don't understand what this kind of brain damage can do to you," said Tina Onufer, a career foreign service officer who came down with Havana syndrome in 2017. "So it's very easy for people to be dismissive and say, 'But you look fine.' But the reality is, I'm not. And I don't think very many of us are."

Onufer described feeling "like I was being struck with something" while washing dishes one night in Havana. "Pain that I have never felt before in my life" came on suddenly, she said, "mostly in my head and in my eyes. … It was as if I had been seized by some invisible hand and I couldn't move."

Meanwhile, State Department employees Kate Husband and Doug Ferguson described a "piercing" sound at their home in Havana before Husband was diagnosed with a brain injury that has left her with "multi-layered" cognitive issues. NBC News writes that Husband wants to "push back against the critics who believe their illnesses are the result of mass hysteria," saying, "I mean, I have verified physical injuries." Onufer similarly said to skeptics: "it's very real."

The Biden administration is reportedly ramping up efforts to investigate Havana syndrome, including the possibility that directed energy may be a "weaponized" version of intelligence collection efforts by adversaries. President Biden recently signed the Havana Act to provide more medical care to victims. Read more at NBC News.