IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Havana Syndrome

9th August, 2023 Health

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Context: The Central govt has told the Karnataka High Court that it will look into the matter of ‘Havana Syndrome’ in India, in response to a Bengaluru resident’s recent petition

What is Havana Syndrome?

  • It is a set of mental health symptoms that are said to be experienced by United States intelligence and embassy officials in various countries.
  • The word ‘syndrome’ means a set of symptoms. So, Havana syndrome does not mean a unique medical condition, but a set of symptoms that are usually experienced together.
  • Its origins may be difficult to confirm.


  • The syndrome typically involves symptoms such as hearing certain sounds without any outside noise, nausea, vertigo and headaches, memory loss and balance issues.


  • It traces its roots to Cuba in late 2016.
  • A year after the US opened its embassy in the capital city of Havana after ties between the two countries were normalized in 2015.
  • Some US intelligence officials and members of the staff at the embassy began experiencing sudden bursts of pressure in their brains followed by persistent headaches, feelings of disorientation and insomnia.

Where else has Havana syndrome been reported?

  • Since the Cuban incident, American intelligence and foreign affairs officials posted in various countries have reported symptoms of the syndrome.
  • In early 2018, similar accusations began to be made by US diplomats in China. Another incident had previously been reported by a USAID employee at the US Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in September 2017.
  • According to US media reports, in the past few years, its officials have reported more than 130 such experiences across the world.
  • The first such case in India was reported in 2017 when a US intelligence officer travelling to New Delhi with CIA director William Burns reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome.

What are the causes of Havana Syndrome?

  • The causes of the syndrome have not been found yet.
  • However, Cuba being a country that had been hostile to the US for over five decades, the suspicion was on Cuban intelligence or a section within the Cuban establishment that did not want US-Cuba relations to normalise.
  • It was then speculated to be a “sonic attack”.
  • However, further studies suggest that they may have been subjected to high-powered microwaves that either damaged or interfered with the nervous system.

Microwave weapon

  • Greater exposure to high-powered microwaves not only interferes with the body’s sense of balance but also impacts memory and causes permanent brain damage.
  • Low levels of microwaves are also emitted from mobile phones but they are not targeted.
  • It was suspected that beams of high-powered microwaves were sent through a special gadget that Americans then called a “microwave weapon”.
  • It was said to have built pressure inside the brain that generated the feeling of a sound being heard.
  • The use of microwaves as a counter-intelligence tactic has been experimented with since the Cold War and both Russia and the US have made attempts to weaponize it.
  • Issues with microwave weapons and the syndrome
  • No one has an idea of the mechanics of this weapon and how it functions.
  • There is also no evidence on how the weapon is able to specifically target individuals and not affect all the people in its range.
  • Some medical experts in the US have outrightly debunked this theory, calling the syndrome a psychological illness amplified by widespread fear of being targeted.

Havana Syndrome in India

  • As of July 2023, the 2021 incident was the only reported occurrence of the syndrome in India.
  • Indian security establishment claims that they were not aware of any weapon with such capacities being in the possession of an Indian agency.
  • Indian officials have said there is no reason to use Havana syndrome as a weapon against the US by India.


Q. Diplomats and embassies across the world face various threats due to hostilities among countries. Critically evaluate in the light of recent incidents of Havana Syndrome across the world. (250 words)