Havana Syndrome: Has the Kremlin Declared ‘War’ on the CIA?

Listen to Marc Polymeropoulos' True Spies podcast: Havana Syndrome Special


Unlike many of the Havana Syndrome cases now diagnosed, Marc Polymeropoulos’ story began in Moscow in 2017 when he awoke in a five-star hotel near the US Embassy. He was supposed to be meeting the ambassador and Russian officials but could barely stand up.

He described the devastating symptoms to SPYSCAPE's True Spies podcast: "The room is literally spinning. I'm about to be sick. Ears were ringing, headache... And so I just stumbled around the room, ended up making it back to the bed. And then hoping that by morning, this would wear off, but unfortunately, it did not."

Polymeropoulos, the author of Clarity in Crisis, was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, a condition with debilitating symptoms attributed to a medical condition named after the city in Cuba where the side effects first surfaced in 2016. Polymeropoulos has described Havana Syndrome as ‘an act of war’, but what or who is the enemy? 

Havana Syndrome: Has the Kremlin Declared 'War' on the CIA?


Havana Syndrome: Has the Kremlin Declared ‘War’ on the CIA?

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Caroline Byrne
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Listen to Marc Polymeropoulos' True Spies podcast: Havana Syndrome Special


Unlike many of the Havana Syndrome cases now diagnosed, Marc Polymeropoulos’ story began in Moscow in 2017 when he awoke in a five-star hotel near the US Embassy. He was supposed to be meeting the ambassador and Russian officials but could barely stand up.

He described the devastating symptoms to SPYSCAPE's True Spies podcast: "The room is literally spinning. I'm about to be sick. Ears were ringing, headache... And so I just stumbled around the room, ended up making it back to the bed. And then hoping that by morning, this would wear off, but unfortunately, it did not."

Polymeropoulos, the author of Clarity in Crisis, was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, a condition with debilitating symptoms attributed to a medical condition named after the city in Cuba where the side effects first surfaced in 2016. Polymeropoulos has described Havana Syndrome as ‘an act of war’, but what or who is the enemy? 

Havana Syndrome: Has the Kremlin Declared 'War' on the CIA?


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Havana Syndrome Special Podcast
Polymeropoulos
SPYEX consultant Marc Polymeropoulos joins True Spies Podcast: Havana Syndrome Special


Polymeropoulos isn’t alone in his suffering. Other US Embassy staff - both diplomats and spies - described similar symptoms in Cuba. By 2019, complaints about the syndrome had spread to staff in China, then to American soldiers in Syria, and later even the White House. Canadian diplomats in Havana have also made similar complaints.

Was it a sonic attack? Or were the CIA being targeted by directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy, a theory that gained credence with a 2020 US study? The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit initially decided it was a mass psychogenic illness - basically a psychological condition where a group of people think they’re suffering from a dangerous exposure at the same time - but the FBI hadn’t spoken directly to any of the victims.

No one really knows exactly what’s causing the invisible wounds.

“Many of us have said, subsequent to being injured, we wish we’d been shot. We wish there was a gunshot wound to show people,” Polymeropoulos has said.

Havana Syndrome



Polymeropoulos has fought to be taken seriously since 2017 when the number of complainants was much smaller: “I did a lot of unusual things for the CIA but I always knew that the leadership should have my back if I got jammed up, if something bad happened to me. And that just didn’t happen.”

The tide turned with the appointment of CIA Director William J. Burns in March 2021, however. Burns promised to make Havana Syndrome a priority under his watch. Yet it is still unclear who or what is causing the symptoms.

There’s a speculative case to be made against Russia - although Moscow denies any involvement - but given the number of countries involved, it might also be a coordinated effort. Or, as some medical experts have suggested, there may be a common denominator among the victims such as exposure to a neurotoxin, or another explanation entirely.

Havana Syndrome
Listen to SPYSCAPE's True Spies Podcast: Havana Syndrome Special



"I agree strongly with the experts who said this was more like a functional neurological disorder or mass psychogenic illness (MPI) than anything else," neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan writes in her book The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness. "However, even without having proof of a diagnosis, I think there is a great deal to be learned from looking at events in Havana." 

Polymeropoulos and ex-CIA officer John Sipher told SPYSCAPE's True Spies podcast they believe Havana Syndrome is the result of targeted attacks most likely coming from some form of microwave energy device.

While a new generation of CIA officers investigates, Polymeropoulos will be looking for a way to relieve the headache he’s had for years, a ‘vice clamp’ with pressure coming over the top of his head.

He’ll also keep pushing for answers to the Havana Syndrome - or in his case Moscow Syndrome: “Who feels safe to serve now overseas with this happening?”

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