Study Links ‘Havana Syndrome’ to Radio Frequency Energy

The problems with a report from the National Academy of Sciences.

Posted Dec 07, 2020

Long-awaited findings from the National Academy of Sciences cover the origin of ‘Havana Syndrome’ – the mysterious malady that has afflicted dozens of American and Canadian embassy diplomats and their families based in Cuba since 2016.

The report claims that there was insufficient evidence to link the outbreak to mass hysteria.  As a specialist who was cited 11 times in the report as an expert on mass psychogenic illness, it is by far the most likely explanation.  Instead, they opted for pulsed radiofrequency energy.  They may as well have claimed it was caused by Bigfoot. 

For starters, how was the RF energy delivered to specific people in specific locations without affecting others nearby?  To do so would defy the laws of physics. 

The report is conspicuous for what it omits.  For instance, the NAS report refers to mysterious sounds heard during ‘attacks,’ yet inexplicably they leave out that over a dozen recordings of these incidents were later identified as the mating calls of crickets and cicadas (Baloh and Bartholomew, 2020). 

Unfortunately, people will see the name ‘National Academy of Sciences’ and assume that the conclusions are valid, when the RF explanation is in fact far-fetched. 

Chasing Shadows

I fear that this report will lead to the continued creation of imaginary enemies. The trouble is that the panel apparently did not review all the evidence. Some data was withheld due to government secrecy and privacy concerns. Significantly, they never read the only comprehensive study on this case to date: a 70,000-word report led by UCLA neurologist Robert W. Baloh, of which I was a co-author. Released in May 2020, it concludes that mass psychogenic illness is the most likely explanation – with sonic and RF energy waves among the least likely (Baloh and Bartholomew, 2020). This report even identifies historical outbreaks dating back over a century, cases that were remarkably similar to those found in Cuba, including the signature complaint: concussion without head trauma. There are numerous historical precedents to ‘Havana Syndrome’ – acoustical scares such as ‘telephone sickness,’ ‘musical illness,’ ‘The Hum,’ and ‘wind turbine syndrome’ – cases of mass psychogenic illness triggered by people who thought that sounds were making them sick. ‘Havana Syndrome’ is just the most recent example within a different social and cultural setting. 

Muddying the Waters

The NAS study is likely to engender conspiracy theories of sinister foreign actors targeting U.S. diplomats with a futuristic, sci-fi, James Bond-type device at a time when we have important domestic issues to grapple with. The result will be unnecessary anxiety, wasted resources and false accusations of nefarious activities. 

The panel has gone for the most exotic hypothesis while failing to sufficiently assess more conventional explanations. They should have heeded the old medical adage, ‘When you hear the sound of hoofbeats in the night, first think horses, not zebras.’ They wrote that there was insufficient information to ascertain the social patterning of symptoms (“the committee received no epidemiological evidence about patterns of social contacts that would permit a determination about possible social contagion”). We drew the opposite conclusion by looking at the early reports and how they spread.  

Investigations Ignored

A key observation of the report is that they could not identify the index case – the first to be affected, then the sequence of cases after that. But the early social patterning of the outbreak has been documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Golden and his partner in the investigation, Sebastian Rotella, who identified the early spread based on Embassy documents and interviews (Golden and Rotella, 2018, 2019). How could a panel charged with conducting a comprehensive review overlook our report and those of Golden? 

It may be that the panel sought to avoid a diagnosis of psychogenic illness knowing that such renderings are notoriously contentious. Such a conclusion could certainly be embarrassing to the same government officials who requested the study.  Both the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI were tasked with investigating this case. Their findings have never been released and all requests for U.S. Government Freedom of Information documents have since been denied. It is no small irony that when asked when these reports will be made public, the response has always been the same – crickets. 


Baloh, Robert W., and Bartholomew, Robert E. (2020). Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.  Cham, Switzerland: Copernicus Books.

Golden T, Rotella S. (2019). The Sound and the Fury: Inside the Mystery of the Havana Embassy. ProPublica, February 14

Golden T, Rotella S. (2018). The Strange Case of American Diplomats in Cuba: As the Mystery Deepens, so do Divisions in Washington. ProPublica, Nov 9.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. An assessment of Illness in U.S. Government employees

and their families at overseas embassies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.