Legal, financial fights mount as ‘Havana Syndrome’ goes unsolved
A former U.S. intelligence official sued the Defense Department on Wednesday related to an overseas incident decades ago that he believes is part of the same mystery.
Five years after U.S. diplomats and spies in Cuba started hearing unexplained sounds and getting sick, frustration over the mystery known as “Havana Syndrome” is giving way to a growing number of legal and financial battles as potential incidents spread around the globe.
In the U.S., a diplomat who reported having been injured in China is suing the State Department alleging disability discrimination. In Canada, 27 diplomats, military police and family members are suing their government for $40 million over incidents in Cuba.
Now, a former U.S. intelligence official is suing the Defense Department in connection with an overseas incident decades ago that he believes is part of the same mystery, court records obtained by NBC News show.
As the number of suspected cases grows well above 200, dozens of current and former U.S. officials are tussling with various government agencies over benefits, treatment, lost wages or formal recognition of their injuries, diplomats and other officials said in interviews.
Meanwhile, a law President Joe Biden signed in October is about to force the U.S. government to do something that’s been difficult in the past: adjudicate who among its ranks is a legitimate victim of a phenomenon — possibly a deliberate attack — that it still can’t explain.
“I would not have retired if I had not been injured,” said Cheryl Cruise, a 20-year veteran of the State Department, who said the government is still not meeting workers’ health care needs. “It’s depressing, and it’s aggravating, and I’m not the only one.”
Cruise, who was the acting ambassador’s assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when the incidents there came to light in 2017, is speaking publicly for the first time as part of a new NBC News digital documentary, “Fighting an Invisible Enemy: The Voices of Havana Syndrome.”
The digital documentary explores the evolving U.S. response to unexplained incidents in which government employees serving in more than a dozen countries have reported a range of symptoms including balance and memory problems, hearing and vision changes, and concussions — sometimes following inexplicable sounds or physical sensations.
Despite years of investigation, the U.S. says it hasn’t determined a cause or a culprit, although officials from multiple U.S. national security agencies have told NBC News they suspect the incidents could be attacks using a microwave weapon, possibly by Russia.
In 2017, the State Department described the incidents as “targeted attacks,” but it now refers to them as “anomalous health incidents.” A National Academies of Science report last year found the injuries consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy.
“We know that Russia is one of the nation-states that has the technology. There are some others,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has repeatedly pressed the government to take “Havana Syndrome” more seriously.
Russia and Cuba have consistently denied any involvement. Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed allegations as “absurd” and “paranoid,” saying: “We have repeatedly stated that Russia has nothing to do with this.”