Why the ‘Havana Syndrome’ happened

US Embassy in Havana, Credit: R. Douglas Fields

I was invited to write a commentary, “Why the Havana Syndrome Happened,” which was just published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.  This syndrome refers to brain injury allegedly caused by a clandestine energy beam weapon employed by unknown agents who are hostile to the United States and its allies.


The saga began with the shocking announcement by the US State Department that since November 2016, a clandestine sonic weapon was causing US embassy personnel in Havana, Cuba to suffer permanent traumatic brain injury.  The government shut down the Havana embassy and evacuated US personnel for their protection against a terrifying threat, the likes of which the world had never seen.  Alarm spread around the world, fueling intense speculation, but few facts.


As a US citizen, I was deeply concerned by the alleged attacks, and as a neuroscientist I was intrigued.  I knew of no sonic device of the type reportedly trained on embassy personnel that could cause traumatic brain injury.


I decided to go to Havana myself in 2017 and 2018 to search for answers.  My investigation, reported in Scientific American, found no credible evidence of a weapon, brain injury, nor any scientific basis for any of the wide-ranging hypothetical weapons that were being spun out in the sensational news media.  As the original sonic weapon claim was found to be incompatible with physics and biology, it was replaced by a series of different hypothetical clandestine weapons that might be responsible for the reported brain damage, but every one failed scientific credibility.


I continued to investigate since then, consulting with scientific experts in the US and Cuba, and with people in Havana who were directly involved.  Viewing the facts, as a scientist must in making decisions, I concluded that there had been no such attack, no brain injury, and that no weapon of any kind was responsible.  Reason failed to counter fear, and the saga continues unabated.


Incredibly, fear and controversy persist about the ‘Havana Syndrome’ today, nearly 7 years after the first announcement of the alleged attack.  This motivated the journal to publish a scientific review article and three expert commentaries concluding that there is no basis for the fear driving mass hysteria.  In my invited opinion article, I offer my analysis of why the ‘Havana Syndrome’ happened, why the fear persists, and why the outlook for the future looks disheartening.


  1. Tamara Roitbak on April 1, 2024 at 12:42 pm

    Dear Dr. Fields,
    I read your recent articles on this topic. I am glad that your initial findings and conclusions are supported by so many other investigators. It is interesting that this topic is still discussed in the media, even in today’s Georgia (Tbilisi) news.
    Hope you are doing well,
    Best wishes,

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