Mysterious phenomenon of “Havana Syndrome”

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

Scientific investigations have come to the conclusion that some kind of a lethal sound weapon is responsible for creating the phenomenon dubbed as ‘Havana Syndrome’

Many nations are experimenting on inducting unique types of weapons, different from conventional weapons. When strange and unexplained occurrences take place, investigations are launched to probe and determine what happened.

‘Havana syndrome’ refers to a set of medical symptoms with unknown causes experienced by U.S. government officials and military personnel. The symptoms range in severity from pain and ringing in the ears to cognitive difficulties and were first reported in 2016 by U.S. and Canadian embassy staff in Havana, Cuba. Beginning in 2017, more people, including U.S. intelligence and military personnel and their families, reported having these symptoms in other places, such as China, and Europe. What began with a dozen complaints in Havana in 2016 rose to 130 reports by 2021?

The phenomenon of Havana syndrome has acquired mythical qualities in its telling. In late 2016 and early 2017, members of the American embassy in Havana, Cuba, started to report debilitating symptoms and strange occurrences. An incapacitating sound, often coming from a single direction, was heard by some officials, waking them up in the middle of the night. A sensation of intense pressure was felt in the ear. Vertigo and nausea were some of the early symptoms. Then came the difficulty in concentrating, memory problems, and sleep disturbances in some of the victims.

Members of the Canadian embassy also encountered similar issues, and started referring to it as an “attack.” Meticulous scientific probing and analysis came to a strange conclusion that some sort of secret sonic weapons and microwave beams could have caused these strange symptoms. Accusations were levelled at Cuba, Russia, and China, for having launched strange weapons and experimenting on Western diplomats.

Similar symptoms experienced by diplomats, began to be reported in Australia, China, Austria, and a suburb of Washington D.C. Recently, U.S. vice-president Kamala Harris’ trip from Singapore to Vietnam on August 24th 2021 was delayed by several hours due to an investigation into two suspected cases of Havana syndrome in Hanoi.

Scientific investigations have come to the conclusion that some kind of a lethal sound weapon is responsible for creating the phenomenon dubbed as ‘Havana Syndrome’

The power of sound has been well known to ancient Hindus. Hindu holy scriptures have expounded on the power of sound in great depth.

OM the powerful syllable, represents the collective sound of the Universe, the Primordial Sound. OM, therefore, is said to contain within it all the mantras, sounds, and vibrations of the Universe. Everything in the Universe is a manifestation of OM.

Sound was classified by ancient Hindus into two distinct categories:
• un-struck/un-heard sound
• Struck/heard sound. These are sounds that we hear in nature or man-made sounds, musical, and non-musical.

Un-struck sound is the vibration of ether, the upper or purer air near the celestial realm. The enlightened Hindu Yogis seek the unstruck sound called “Anahata Nada”, which they could distinctly identify, to attain Samadhi.

In the Ramayan and Mahabharat epics, there are specific references to a class of weapons called ‘Astra’ that can be activated only by uttering specific sounds in a particular manner, and known only to a single user.

The second category of weapons were the ‘Shastra’ – Physical Weapons, used by standard warrior forces.

The Astra–weapons that are activated by secret sounds or divine mantras, are the earliest examples of voice-activated weapons, of immense destructive powers, which were handled only by a single user. This is akin to our present system of using “Password”, the identity of which is known only to the user. Also, it is very similar to the modern deployment of nuclear weapons, which needs to be authorised and activated by the Prime Minister himself, by pressing the nuclear button.

The “nuclear button” is a figurative term referring to the power to use nuclear weapons. Countries having nuclear weapons have ‘nuclear briefcases’ that accompany the leader (such as the president of the United States), allowing them to launch nuclear missiles at any time. In the days to come sound activated passwords may replace the nuclear button. What would be of interest to modern security-specialists and warfare observers is that during the period of Ramayana and Mahabharata, many thousand of years ago, there are specific references to the use of sound-activated weapons.

During one of my official visits to USA, I had a chance meeting with a US scientist working in a defence laboratory, and in the course of a casual conversation he was mentioning “Good that you Indians are not teaching the Mahabharat and Ramayan, in schools and colleges, for they are full of references to strange weapons that closely resemble modern nuclear weapons and missiles.” It is a standard technique of missionaries and evangelists to vilify the holy scriptures of other religions as ‘mythology’, but the tragedy is that the Hindu intelligentsia accepted this label without any demur.

Even to this day it is mindlessly used as a prefix before any title of Hindu holy scriptures, or a pejorative term ‘Hindu mythology’ is used condescendingly. If only our politicians, educationists and thinkers, liberate themselves from this prejudiced morass, and prescribe the original Sanskrit written epics, for study in schools and colleges, young minds can open up to a new world of inspired thinking, that can make them do extraordinary things. Inspirational beliefs and events contained in Ramayan and Mahabharat can generate and inspire pathbreaking possibility thinking and innovation trajectories.

Sound can kill in multiple ways. Within the human hearing frequency range (between 20 and 20,000 Hz), high-intensity sounds above 150 decibels can burst the eardrums, while sounds above 185 decibels can impact the inner organs and cause death.

Many nations are experimenting on Sonic and Ultrasonic weapons (USW) that use sound to injure or incapacitate an opponent. Sonic weapons are designed to make a focused beam of sound or an ultrasound. Other weapons are on the anvil that can produce an area field of sound. As of 2021 a select few military and police forces make some limited use of sonic weapons.

The New York Police use a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a sound cannon that emits dangerously loud, high-pitched frequencies. The device, which is fired on crowds rather than individuals, is very powerful, causing intense pain, migraines, and lasting hearing damage. The device projects concentrated sound waves across a 30- to 45-degree radius, prompting those in its range to cover their ears or flee.

Infrasound, meaning sound waves below the threshold of what humans can hear, typically below 20 Hertz while at the other end of the spectrum, above the human hearing threshold of 20,000 Hz, there are Ultrasound, are being explored to create a new class of weapons.

Sonic and ultrasonic weapons (USW) use sound to inflict causalities on human targets. Havana Syndrome victims may have been exposed to a high-intensity burst of energy or sound waves or high-intensity microwaves. An assessment of Havana embassy victims by the National Academies of Science in 2020 said “directed, pulsed Radio Frequency energy” was the “most plausible” primary source of those injuries. Extremely high-power sound waves can disrupt and/or destroy the eardrums of a target and cause severe pain or disorientation. This is usually sufficient to incapacitate a person. Less powerful sound waves can cause humans to experience nausea or discomfort. The use of these frequencies to incapacitate persons has occurred both in counter-terrorist and crowd control settings.

However, there is also speculation that the sound waves could have come from a light wave, specifically a microwave. Microwaves are lower in frequency than visible light and infrared, but above radio waves on the light spectrum. Yet a strange phenomenon tied to microwaves has baffled investigators. In 1962, Allan H. Frey published a paper in which he described a situation in which microwaves, which are not sound waves, were heard by humans. His participants could hear these waves as coming from within or right behind their own head. The sound was described as being a buzz, clicking, hiss, or knocking. There is a possibility that Havana syndrome victims might have been zapped by a secret microwave weapon and the strange sound they heard was the buzzing noise of the Frey Effect.

In another incident that occurred in January 2021, four US diplomats working in Geneva and Paris fell ill with symptoms typical of “Havana syndrome. The possibility of ‘Microwave Weapons’ having been used on the diplomats is being scientifically studied and evaluated.

The Chinese PLA are suspected to have used ‘Microwave Weapons’ against Indian Soldiers in Ladakh in the ongoing conflict. The Chinese military is suspected to have used “high-energy electromagnetic radiation” technology to effectively turn “two strategic hilltops that had been occupied by Indian soldiers into a microwave oven”. The attack, it is claimed, left the Indian troops “vomiting” and unable to stand within 15 minutes, enabling the People’s Liberation Army to “retake two strategically important hilltops in the Himalayas without any exchange of live fire”, according to Jin Canrong, a professor of International Relations at China’s Renmin University. The academic told attendees at a recent lecture that China didn’t publicise the victory, in late August, “because we solved the problem beautifully”. “They [India] didn’t publicise it, either, because they lost so miserably,” he added.

The Indian Ministry of Defense in its year-end review of 2020 has mentioned the use of “unorthodox weapons” by the People’s Liberation Army along the LAC, where the two militaries are locked in a standoff.
Grey zone warfare, in which conflict remains just under the level of shooting war, is a new feature of the 21st century.

The Chinese by using “unorthodox weapons”, may be having an edge in this type of innovative warfare. According to media reports, several countries have developed microwave weapons. China had displayed its microwave weapon Poly WB-1 public in 2014 during an air show. The US has also developed a similar weapon called Active Denial System (ADS) which is a non-lethal directed-energy weapon designed for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control. Informally, the weapon is also called the heat ray since it works by heating the surface of targets, such as the skin of targeted human beings.

These types of new and “unorthodox” weapons open a new dimension not only in warfare but also in internal security. India is plagued by internal dissensions, which are funded and coordinated by foreign intelligence and religious agencies. Advent of “unorthodox weapons” will be an immense new challenge for security agencies. The nation recently witnessed the sorry spectacle of the Prime Minister stranded helplessly on a flyover in the sensitive State of Punjab. The security agencies were totally flummoxed and at a loss as to what to do. Imagine, if not an assassination bid, an attempt using “unorthodox weapons” would have caused utter chaos and violent mayhem. Sensitive elections are coming up in five States next month. These types of “unorthodox weapons” can disrupt any election meeting, disrupt any leader’s election speeches. Security agencies need to upgrade their counter strategies and defensive measures to successfully thwart any mischief maker.

The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is

  • Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
  • Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
  • Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA 
  • Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
  • AOTS Scholar, Japan

Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at

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