US President Joe Biden is facing fresh pressure to resolve the mystery of whether a hostile country is using a microwave weapon to attack the brains of US diplomats, spies and military personnel
The number of reported cases of possible attacks is sharply growing and politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as those believed to be affected, are demanding answers. But scientists and government officials are not yet certain about who might have been behind any attacks, if the symptoms could have been caused inadvertently by surveillance equipment — or if the incidents were actually attacks.
Mr Biden’s administration has insisted it takes the matter seriously, is investigating aggressively and will make sure those affected have good medical care.
The problem has been labelled the “Havana Syndrome”, because the first cases affected personnel in 2016 at the US Embassy in Cuba. At least 130 cases across the government are now under investigation, up from several dozen last year, according to a US defence official
People who are believed to have been affected have reported headaches, dizziness and symptoms consistent with concussions, with some requiring months of medical treatment. Some have reported hearing a loud noise before the sudden onset of symptoms.
Particularly alarming are revelations of at least two possible incidents in the Washington area, including one case near the White House in November in which an official reported dizziness.
“The government has a much better understanding of it than it has let on,” said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who represents several people affected. Mr Zaid has obtained National Security Agency documents noting it has information dating to the late 1990s about an unidentified “hostile country” possibly having a microwave weapon “to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time”.
Chris Miller, the acting defence secretary during the last months of the Trump administration, created a Pentagon team to investigate the suspected attacks. That was after he met a soldier late last year who described how, while serving in a country Mr Miller would not identify, he had heard a “shrieking” sound and then had a splitting headache.
“He was well-trained, extremely well-trained, and he’d been in combat before,” Mr Miller said.
“This is an American, a member of the Department of Defence. At that point, you can’t ignore that.”
Defence and intelligence officials have publicly promised to push for answers and better care for victims.