Some scientists have backed an unlikely theory as to the source of the mysterious “Havana syndrome.”
The theory? Crickets, said researchers with JASON, an advisory group who frequently works with the State Department over scientific matters of national security. The newly declassified report, published in November 2018 and recently obtained by Buzzfeed News, found evidence that at least eight of the 21 cases of Havana syndrome were “most likely” caused by the insects.
Their findings back up previous work by university researchers unaffiliated with the US government.
The illness is marked by a sudden auditory buzzing sensation followed by neurological side effects, including pain, dizziness, nausea and brain fog, according to its victims. The victims are mostly US spies and diplomats, some of whom had been at the US Embassy in Havana in 2016, around the time the reports of the affliction first appeared, hence the name. Since then, potential cases have cropped up elsewhere, including Gradianermany, Austria, Russia and China.
Wild reports speculating the source of the “sonic attacks” have surfaced as of late. Some have suggested symptoms associated with Havana syndrome closely mirror the effects of microwave radiation. Fueling the unsettling reports, a 2019 study commissioned by the State Department showed that the brains of purported Havana syndrome patients had been altered by the disease, though it has yet to be seen whether those effects will be long-term.
The JASON advisory group was provided with audio and video recordings captured from the time the symptoms occurred. While cross-referencing the recordings with sound clips provided by various insect species, scientists determined with “high confidence” that the offending noise had come from the noisy Anurogryllis celerinictus cricket.
“No plausible single source of energy (neither radio/microwaves nor sonic) can produce both the recorded audio/video signals and the reported medical effects,” wrote authors of the JASON report, retrieved through a Freedom of Information Act request. “We believe the recorded sounds are mechanical or biological in origin, rather than electronic. The most likely source is the Indies short-tailed cricket.”
They’re not the first to blame the cacophonous critters. In 2019, an unpublished analysis of recordings made by US personnel in Cuba surfaced in the media, also pointing to Anurogryllis celerinictus. “The recording is definitively a cricket that belongs to the same group,” said University of Lincoln biology professor Fernando Montealegre-Zapata in a statement at the time of the study.
“The call of this Caribbean species is about 7 kHz, and is delivered at an unusually high rate, which gives humans the sensation of a continuous sharp trill,” Montealegre-Zapata explained.
Still, the JASON team did suggest that the alarming noise that seems to prompt Havana syndrome could have been “introduced by an adversary as deception,” misdirecting physicians and investigators while using “an entirely unrelated mode of causing illness.”
A CIA probe is currently underway to investigate the possible energy attack, helped along by the US House of Representatives, who voted 427-0 to compensate intelligence agencies for their research into Havana syndrome. Meanwhile, JASON scientists disputed the theory held by the National Academies of Science (NAS) that microwaves are the “most plausible” weapon, adding in their report that it is “highly unlikely” that sonic beams were involved in the incidents — and blamed, instead, the “psychogenic” effects of group hysteria.
The NAS has told Buzzfeed News that it had not read JASON’s review as part of its study, while the State Department thanked the JASON group for its contribution to the investigation, but made no comment as to why the results hadn’t been published.
However, an unnamed senior state official had more to say about the buried report.
“Because of the acknowledged shortcomings of previous studies, [the Biden-Harris] administration has purposefully established a new panel of experts from across the Intelligence Community, academia, and the private sector with access to the full range of information available to the government to help us determine the cause of these incidents and generate new insights that can help protect our personnel,” they said.
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