Debilitating neurological symptoms have affected US officials worldwide. Former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos has been suffering since 2017 - he joins Russia expert and former CIA Station Chief John Sipher, and Dr. James Giordano to analyze Havana Syndrome.
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True Spies Episode 97: Havana Syndrome Special

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? This is True Spies Episode 97: Havana Syndrome Special.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: The room is literally spinning, I'm about to be sick. Ears were ringing, headache - but I didn't really know. 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. I understand the opioid crisis, I understand addiction now. Because it would be so easy for me to go that route to just ease the pain.

NARRATOR: Some enemies are invisible. Silent. Out of sight, but never out of mind. 

JOHN SIPHER: I don't think inside our diplomatic or intelligence community that there are many people who do not believe this is some sort of attack. It's now clear that it's doing serious damage and giving brain injuries to American citizens. And so at this point, it has to be looked at as a weapon.

NARRATOR: A weapon that could change the face of espionage and global warfare as we know it.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: These are not generalized effects that occur in individuals who may have been exposed to some device or some chemical or some toxin or some environmental agent. These individuals fit a particular profile. 

NARRATOR: It’s an attack vector that even medical experts and high-ranking military generals are struggling to fully understand.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Of course I'm concerned about the adversaries behind this, because ultimately, I believe it's an act of war.

NARRATOR: In this episode of True Spies, we’re not riding shotgun with an agent on a heroic mission. We’re on the other side of the operation; piecing together scant clues left by an unknown adversary. It’s a story that begins in Cuba. After half a century of political deadlock, in 2014, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro signed a historic agreement that revived diplomatic ties between the two nations. The new accord meant that a US embassy was re-established in Havana. The first since Eisenhower severed relations in 1961. The nondescript building sits on the northern coast of the island, where just 60 miles of ocean separate it from the southernmost tip of Florida. But in late 2016, less than two years after returning to the island nation, several US intelligence officers and diplomats started getting sick. Those afflicted didn’t have a fever or catch a virus. It was something… strange. They reported being disturbed by a grisly, grinding noise. Some described their experience as a ‘sonic attack’. One visiting official reportedly likened it to an invisible wall in their hotel room. On one side, the piercing noise. But just a few feet over: silence. The unexplained collection of symptoms the US officials experienced soon became known as Havana Syndrome.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: It did occur, as first noted, among personnel who were employed at the US embassy in Havana, Cuba. And what it consists of is a constellation, a group of objective signs and subjective symptoms. 

NARRATOR: That’s Dr. James Giordano, a professor of neurology and biochemistry and executive director of the Institute for Bio-Defense Research. He’s been a close observer of the events in Havana and those that have followed.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: So on the objective side, what we're talking about are neurological symptoms. Problems with what's called vestibular function. In other words, the balance organs appear to be disrupted. These are individuals who suffer from profound vertigo. They have a difficult time with short-term memory intermediate-term memory, processing multiple forms of information at the same time, which is called cognitive overload. Their capability to engage in executive functions and work-related tasks is severely impaired and many of the individuals who are affected in Havana are those two dozen odd individuals. These are long-standing and very durable deficits.

NARRATOR: It wasn’t long before US operatives in other locations started experiencing similar symptoms. This brought with it new questions and attracted the attention of former US spies. 

JOHN SIPHER: My name is John Sipher. I worked for 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Clandestine Service, working around the world but often mainly on issues related to counterintelligence counter-espionage and Russia.

NARRATOR: After a couple of decades recruiting foreign agents for the CIA, John knows a thing or two about targeting enemy spies. Even though he retired from service in 2014, the events that followed the Havana outbreak have become a personal focus for him.

JOHN SIPHER: Early on some of our politicians started accusing the Cubans and others. And there's a lot of domestic political issues that probably forced, that as much as there is actual information from the attack itself. But I think we've moved past that point. What I can tell from the outside is, this has grown and changed since the original Havana attacks, whereas I thought, these Havana attacks could have been, eavesdropping technology gone astray, like it has in the past, it appears now that it's hard to imagine any other reason than they are trying to hurt and damage American diplomats and American spies.

NARRATOR: Marc Polymeropoulos is one such American Spy. We’ll get to the ‘they’ part later.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I spent 26 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. I was a senior Operations Officer, I retired from the senior intelligence service in July of 2019. I did seven overseas operational tours, primarily in the Middle East. And my last job was the acting chief of all clandestine operations in Europe and Eurasia.

NARRATOR: As a high-ranking official, Marc’s field espionage days had long been over. By the end of his career, he was more likely to be shaking hands than shaking off handlers. Which is how he found himself in Russia one fateful day.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I made a routine trip in December of 2017, to the US Embassy in Moscow, I wanted to see our ambassador, who at the time was John Huntsman. Interestingly enough, I was there to meet with my counterparts in the Russian security services, which some people think, well, wow, what is the CIA doing meeting with the FSB and the SVR, these are the successors to the KGB? But the fact of the matter is, even during the Cold War, there were meetings between the two sides, having lines of communication open is important. I was there you know, with the full knowledge of the Russian government they gave me a visa and certainly, folks at the embassy knew what I was doing there so nothing nefarious whatsoever.

NARRATOR: Marc might have been an invited guest visiting for fairly mundane meetings, but he still received the full Russian FSB “hospitality.”

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I remember going down earlier in the trip to go work out lift weights in the gym, and literally a man, I'm sure one of the surveillance teams in a black leather jacket - it's a caricature - came down to check on me.

NARRATOR: What Marc didn’t know at the time was that some heavy-handed routine surveillance would be the least of his worries.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I went to bed, probably with a little bit of jetlag, and then woke up in the middle of the night and the room was spinning. I had an incredible case of vertigo, which is pretty alarming. I had what's called tinnitus, which is ringing in my ears, a terrible headache, I felt like I was going to be sick. I joke all the time. I’m not the toughest guy in the world. But I'd spent several years by this point in Iraq and Afghanistan, been shot at a lot, certainly risked my life for my country. And this was pretty terrifying. And I will freely admit, I was scared.

NARRATOR: Marc put the experience down to something practical. Perhaps it was food poisoning combined with the usual unpleasantness of long-haul travel. The next day, a colleague from the US embassy helped him get some medicine from a Russian pharmacy and he hopped on a train to St. Petersburg to continue his meetings. He still felt a little off-color, but he made it through the day.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: But then when I came back to Moscow, maybe two days later, it all happened again. I was actually having dinner at a restaurant with some embassy officials and the vertigo just hit me, you know, like a brick, I could barely stand and I'm frankly… I made it back to my hotel at that point. And for the next several days just, you know, laid in the hotel just waiting for my flight to get back. I made it back home but really the medical journey took off in a precipitously bad way after that and so I got very sick, even more sick, when I returned to the US.

NARRATOR: With Marc still unwell, but safely back in the US, he found himself in an unusual position. He doesn’t yet know what’s wrong with him. He’s not thinking about Havana Syndrome. Meanwhile, with over 20 cases reported in Havana this is clearly something the government and the media is starting to take seriously… surely? But some of the first theories to make headlines were, well, I’ll let John explain.

JOHN SIPHER: Some early studies that suggested maybe this was some sort of mass mania, or whether it came from crickets, or some other thing.

NARRATOR: Crickets?

JOHN SIPHER: There was a report that somehow was tied to some scientific group that looked at this early on and suggested this could be crickets. Now, of course, again, I sort of dismissed that I didn't take it seriously, or read it any more deeply. But I think as time has gone by, it's shown the notion that crickets could be the problem here to be sort of crazy. 

NARRATOR: As unlikely as it sounds, soon after the original outbreak, a recording was shared by the press which some scientists claimed was proof that the “sonic attack” many reported in Havana was merely… crickets. The scientists weren’t saying that the insects were also the cause of the symptoms, just the source of the sound. 

But thanks to some catchy headlines and the fast-moving media it became a theory that would linger. So much so that Dr. Giordano had to take to dismissing it during interviews.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: Let me give you an example. Is that a cricket? It sounds like a cricket. It's not a cricket. But to say, well, you heard crickets, therefore, it's crickets that were doing this, is not necessarily patronizing - it's just fallacious. I think that the patronizing and the derogatory effects is that what it’s really suggesting, either implicitly, or in some cases explicitly, is that there's nothing wrong with these people. And there is something wrong with these people. Something happened to these people. Something physical happened to these people. And I'll go one step further, although it's rather tongue in cheek, if crickets did this, I would not want to meet those crickets.

NARRATOR: Crickets might have made for some juicy headlines, but the most common theory from those who weren’t yet convinced was that this was simply some form of mass hysteria. A psychogenic condition, created in the mind.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I'll just throw one thing out there. There's always this allegation that those of us who have been affected by this there's some group-think or it's psychogenic that somehow, this mass hysteria has led to this. Well, in my case, I didn't, when, when I came down with this, I wasn't thinking of Havana syndrome. I mean, what I tell people and I tell it very clearly as I got sick, something happened to me.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: I think that it is important to understand psychogenic and sociogenic effects. The idea there is, is it possible that this may have represented a form of, quote, “mass hysteria” in that something situational, then induced commonalities of thought, and the profundity of that thought literally lead to some mind-body type of event that is referred to as a functional neurological disorder.

NARRATOR: Otherwise known as a psychosomatic disorder. A phantom illness.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: Well, there are a number of points that would mitigate that possibility in those individuals who were affected in Havana, and in those 100 odd individuals subsequently, whose cases have been verified and validated to fall within the parameters of this syndrome.

NARRATOR: Crickets might be safely off the table, but psychogenic conditions are a real thing, which makes it an easier candidate to pin this on without having to consider that it might be a terrorist organization or an enemy nation state. Not only are mass hysteria “conditions” known to happen, the world of espionage might actually be particularly apt for them.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: The most famous of them being something referred to as the 'Moscow Eye' among individuals who were stationed at the US Embassy in Moscow, who then developed this eye twitch. And at first it was thought, oh, perhaps something is being done to them where they're being exposed to some form of cryptic weapons. Not at all. They were nervous, they were upset, they were worried about being on station. And as a consequence, what they were seeing was every little white van parked across the street or everyone walking down the street, who looked suspicious and made them nervous, and as a consequence, they developed this Moscow twitch… they would get hives. That's not this. 

NARRATOR: As Marc’s grueling experience in Russia demonstrates, Havana Syndrome is much more than just a twitchy eye. It’s a debilitating, career-endingly bad collection of ailments. And as Dr. Giordano points out, with it now reaching far beyond its Cuban origins, the psychogenic theory just doesn’t add up. 

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: These were individuals in Cuba who'd been on the job for decades. These are individuals who were used to being in risk or harm's way. These were individuals who had no secondary gain involved. They did not want to leave this posting. They certainly did not want to be relieved of their duty for medical causes, for other postings, and they had long histories of being on the job and performing effectively.

NARRATOR: In other words, unlike in the Moscow Eye case, they were neither stressed nor unhappy in their postings. For Marc specifically, there’s an extra frustration. He’s living this. He’s had a headache every day for the last four years and been forced out of a career he loves.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Those individuals who claim it's psychogenic, or others, first of all, they've never talked to any of us, any of the victims. But number two that they're not part of this community, that I believe in this medical community who actually has seen and treated us and knows that something happened. 

NARRATOR: Thankfully, clinical findings in 2018 have shown that many of the Havana cases display indications of damage to the brain that are consistent with mild traumatic brain injury. The doctors behind the study even went as far to say that these findings “cannot be faked.”

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: These individuals appear to have suffered a head injury, but there was nothing in their reported medical history to suggest that they had a prior head injury or a recent head injury. And hence, this initial syndrome was referred to as the “immaculate concussion.” But it isn't really like a concussion. What we're seeing more of at least in those initial individuals from Havana, is that it seemed to be more representative of what's called type two decompression sickness. 

NARRATOR: So if it’s not psychogenic, and it’s clearly not crickets, what exactly could be going on here? A quick history lesson from John might yield some clues.

JOHN SIPHER: The Russian security services, for example, were known during the Cold War to flood the US Embassy, in Moscow, with electromagnetic radiation and they concentrated microwaves and electronic pulses against the embassy in an attempt to eavesdrop against US typewriters, computers, and conversations. And, for example, you can send a beam against a window and trace the vibrations on that window to try to pick up sound or you can use a focused bit of radiation or whatever microwaves to try to turn on or turn off listening devices that might be in somebody's home. This type of thing has been going on for a long period of time. And my initial assumption was maybe they were doing one of these things that in the past had some health effects. But that point was for intelligence purposes not as a weapon to hurt people. But I think we've now moved past that.

NARRATOR: We’ve come a long way since the Cold War in terms of surveillance and weapons technology of course. But then this raises the question of not only what, but who might be behind this? What is the goal? Who even has the resources and motivation to do such a thing? Officially, the US government isn’t ready to eliminate all theories and confirm that this is an attack, although it’s becoming the prevailing theory. US diplomats were certainly worried enough when one of Vice President Harris’ entourage reported similar symptoms on a trip to Vietnam in late 2021. Concerned enough to delay the visit to investigate. And just one month later, in September, the CIA Director himself, Bill Burns, was reported to be “fuming” after one of his team also reported symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome. He’s also alleged to have shown impatience with diplomacy and directly referred to these incidents as “attacks,” avoiding any euphemisms. Marc and John are even less vague with their own theories.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I think it's an adversary who's doing this, I think the Russians are the likely culprit. They've bathed the US Embassy in Moscow with microwave radiation. For decades, there's been a long line of US embassy officials in Moscow who have become sick, some gravely, some with rare cancers. And so if this is, this is a hostile intelligence service that really did a lot of bad things to our officers over the years.

JOHN SIPHER: So we've now seen this happen around the world, oftentimes to US CIA officers, oftentimes people who've been working on Russian issues specifically. And you know, it's almost quite focused. 

NARRATOR: I should remind you that, as of this episode, there have been no formal accusations. No admissions of guilt. No evidence has been found and no clear motive identified. These are just opinions based on their own professional experience. But it’s certainly curious that, as far as we know, this is almost entirely only happening to US agents. There have been some reports from Canadian diplomats during the original outbreak in Havana, but beyond that, it appears to be exclusively affecting American spies and officials. And that itself is starting to make it much harder to ignore that these could be targeted attacks. 

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: These were specific individuals who were doing a specific job on station. There was no collateral insult. It was not collateral injury. The majority of those cases that had been verified subsequently fall into a very similar pattern: Key individuals doing a specific task that has some relatively important role that they play.

NARRATOR: What Dr. Giordano is suggesting here is that not only do some of the victims happen to be in roles that might be considered a nuisance to certain nations. By incapacitating these people, there’s a secondary benefit - a ripple of disruption that’s far more insipid than simply erasing someone. Fear and uncertainty go a long way. As for Marc, despite his attack happening in Russia and his long career of convincing foreign agents to betray their country, he’s too humble to suggest he was deliberately targeted.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I think I'd be a little presumptuous to think that they would choose me I mean, I was a, I had a successful career at the CIA and I was a senior member of the operational directorate, but other people have been hit who have been much more junior. I think it is a matter of opportunity. And then, and let's not discount that this thing could have evolved. You know, what happened in Havana in 2016. Me in 2017. And the recent spate of attacks in 2019, 20, and 21 might all be different. 

NARRATOR: You may remember that right from the very first incident, victims had described this as being a “sonic” attack. The same suspicion that inspired the idea of evil crickets. The current best theory has evolved. And it’s not good news, especially for victims like Marc. In December 2020, scientists at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identified “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy” as the most likely cause of injuries. Also known as high-powered, directional microwaves. The scientists went on to tell reporters that the symptoms were “unlike any disorder in the neurological or general medical literature.”

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: If you step back a little bit, there is an explosion in directed energy technology right now. And so primarily, it's being used by the US military, and in private sector companies, for anti-drone technology. And so, that is literally how we can knock a drone out of the sky, it is with a directed energy shot at them. And it's a narrow beam, and it's very narrowly focused. And so I think that if you extrapolate a little bit of that, on that you can understand what this is coming from.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: When it comes to microwave devices, this is where there has been some debate and I must tell you that originally in 2016, and 2017, speculation in terms of the most probabilistic of the causes was leaning more towards a sonic device, a hypersonic device that may or may not have some acoustic signature, but based upon information that was subsequently provided as meta information metadata about the relative sophistication of technologies that were available not only in the United States but worldwide, it became somewhat more apparent that the viability of utilizing some form of directable shieldable rapidly pulsed microwave was in fact, a reality. 

NARRATOR: That’s a highly directed, long-distance “microwave” weapon to you and me. Both Dr. Giordano and John speculate that directed energy source weapons are something that’s been in covert development, at least by the “big three” - the US, Russia, and China - for some time now. The theory goes that, with a legitimate industrial need for such tools, it’s viable to develop a weapon almost in plain sight and then repurpose the technology for nefarious means. 

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: And there's a number of different ways to do that through electronic circuitry and or through the use of lasers that create a very, very rapid time pulse to then produce a microwave that does not have a significant heat signature, but is certainly working within the electromagnetic frequency range to have a disruptive effect, particularly upon any form of substance or tissue that is electromagnetic in its function, as we know, nerve is.

JOHN SIPHER: What is this? Again, I'm using the term weapon, what is this weapon that's being used against us? What are its parameters? How does it work? And where has it been deployed, it's going to take some time to put all that data together, and hopefully, our services are doing that right now.

NARRATOR: Our three experts believe that Havana Syndrome is the result of targeted attacks. Most likely coming from some form of microwave energy device. And, according to our trio at least, it could have Russian origins. But that still leaves another big question: Why?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: If you look at it, it would fit into the playbook of this, is taking US officials, particularly intelligence officers off the battlefield, off the pitch of the playing field. And so it's almost an ingenious weapon, frankly, and it would fit right into the Russian active measures campaign.

NARRATOR: Active Measures is a name given to a type of political warfare pioneered by the Soviet Union since the first world war. It centers around deception, disinformation, and destabilization. Something that many consider to be a hallmark of Russian espionage to this day.

JOHN SIPHER: If you don't pay attention to Vladimir Putin, he's going to find ways to force you to pay attention. And my guess is, this is another means of pushing in a certain direction to a point where we are forced to engage with him. And we are forced to, in order to make something like this stop, have a discussion, figure out a way for this to back down, everybody determines it's a win, because we didn't go the final mile to shoot at each other.

NARRATOR: Or, as Dr. Giordano believes, these attacks, or “engagements” as he prefers to call them, are all about fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Poisoning the proverbial political well.

DR. JAMES GIORDANO: These types of engagements. Not just what happened in Havana, but previously where you see the use of some agent, whether it's a chemical agent or a biological agent, or some form of Intel propaganda, seek to be engagements of disruption, not necessarily destruction. The disruptive effect, like any terrorism type of effect, literally affects a few initially to engage a rippling effect. If you produce some ambiguities, if you produce some confusion, what's real and what's not, at very, very least, it's going to be costly in terms of time, resources, effort, and perhaps finances, to be able to sift through each and all of those cases that come forward and report that they have something that they believe may be representative of the syndrome, so as to discern what is and what is not.

NARRATOR: It’s been over five years since the initial outbreak in Havana. Marc’s case is far from the only one to happen outside of Cuba. There have now been reported cases in China, Russia, Vietnam, Serbia, India and most recently Austria. It no longer seems to be just affecting government employees, either. Some reports even claim the children of officials in Vienna have been affected. Perhaps the bigger questions now are: How to eliminate and respond to this, and how to help those that are dealing with the aftermath.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: It's a tale of two stories. It's a tale of two administrations, and it's a tale of two CIA directors. And so without getting negative and focusing on the past, I will say that when Bill Burns, the new CIA director, or the currency director, better to say, took office with the new Biden administration there was a sea change in thinking on this. 

NARRATOR: Bill Burns is on record as taking Havana Syndrome much more seriously than the CIA director he replaced - Gina Haspel. Haspel did eventually start formalizing what would become a task force to focus on all the reported incidents. She also urged any potential, yet unreported victims to come forward. But Burns has been much more hands-on, meeting almost all the victims of Havana Syndrome personally. In late 2021 Burns also put together a new task force, one with the specific goal of finding out what is causing these health incidents. He then later appointed a top-ranking “spy” to lead the group. One who remains anonymous, but is reported to have been instrumental in the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

JOHN SIPHER: My guess is there is friction inside our services now, between people who believe they have enough pattern analysis and sort of data to say, “This is what's happening,” and others who are saying, “Well, we don't have the absolute proof,” And and most importantly, is, once we figure out what's going on here is how do we respond so that it makes it clear that this can never happen? We're going to have to find a way to respond here that is quite aggressive and quite clear, and maybe even uncomfortable to our policymakers.

NARRATOR: In the meantime, what are the prospects for people like Marc who have to live with this every day?

Despite his lengthy career at the CIA, his own journey toward receiving healthcare has been far from smooth sailing.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: It was fairly controversial, when I came out with this story in October of last year, because I was, in essence, begging for healthcare. Nobody inside the CIA was surprised. I mean, they knew how I had been injured. And I was suffering, walking out the door. Retiring was something that I had to just dedicate myself to, at that point, to try to find a way to receive treatment and feel better.

NARRATOR: Marc gave over 25 years of his life to the CIA. It was a job he loved and one he didn’t want to quit. Not only was he forced to leave his career, but his symptoms also show no sign of abating.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Every day is a struggle to try to feel better, I have limited bandwidth, I do have bandwidth I can, I've got two or three hours a day of work in me. But after that, my head starts to hurt and I have to, or starts to hurt more. And so I have to every day is a bit of a struggle, I've learned to, unfortunately, live with this.

NARRATOR: But true to type, someone that’s been avoiding bullets and convincing agents to betray their country for a quarter of a century doesn’t take retirement lying down.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I wrote a book on leadership. It's called Clarity and Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA, which was a really cathartic experience for me. It has nothing to do with this issue, which is great. Certainly, my doctors and psychologists, psychiatrists, are part of it because I don't want to be a professional victim, frankly.

NARRATOR: There is some light at the end of the tunnel though. Marc is finally getting the treatment he’s been asking for at the prestigious Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. And if you’re wondering how does one treat a condition for which there is no known source or easily identifiable cause?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: What has been helpful to me and many others are the softer side, frankly, of healing, whether it's meditation or therapy, or deep breathing exercises, I mean, I mean, seriously if you went over to Walter Reed to see myself and some Navy SEALs sitting around you know, doing yoga, and I'm not kidding, it's pretty incredible how that has, for me, been a lifesaver. In sessions at Walter Reed, we do something called art therapy, and a colleague of mine made a painting, it's a big black canvas with a splotch of red on it. And he called it ‘The Gunshot’. And that's the idea that those who have been affected by this wish we had been shot and I can attest to you because that's something that could be fixed. That's something that's visible. But instead, this is an invisible wound.

NARRATOR: What Marc doesn’t know is whether he can ever fully recover or simply adapt to his new normal. Medical experts aren’t able to tell him if there's a recovery scenario or if he’s looking at a lifetime of palliative care.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: But it's time to move on. 

NARRATOR: As an avid listener of True Spies, you may have become accustomed to our covert heroes demonstrating vigilance, restraint and unrivaled bravery. But for every superhuman, there’s a very human family behind them. If Havana Syndrome has taught its victims anything, it’s that vigilance and bravery can also be found right there at home. With a little help from Art Therapy, of course.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: It's a mask of Superman. So it's the Superman colors. It is what I thought my kids always thought of me. Because they saw that every conflict basically the United States was involved in over the last nearly three decades dad was there. And so I was their Superman and, and I didn't have that anymore. Both my kids are in college now, university. I thought they saw me as someone who was a real tough guy and then has turned into someone who's really not, who's very vulnerable. I remember one of my kids texted me and said Dad, you're still my Superman. And so I get emotional now thinking about it, but it's been really hard on the family seeing me degenerate a little bit. I don't think I would have made it through without my family.

NARRATOR: There’s a postscript. During the production of this episode, the New York Times reported on a CIA investigation stating that the majority of Havana Syndrome cases were not the result of hostile action by a foreign adversary. However, this interim report also concluded that several cases were still unexplained and that investigations to uncover their cause are still underway. Marc Polymeropoulos was quoted in the story as welcoming the ongoing investigations. I’m Vanessa Kirby. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

Marc Polymeropoulos (pictured) is an expert in counterterrorism, covert action, and human intelligence collection who retired from the CIA in 2019 after 26 years.

John Sipher is a foreign policy and intelligence expert who retired in 2014 after a 28-year career in the CIA's National Clandestine Service.

Dr. James Giordano, PhD, MPhil, is a professor in the Departments of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

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