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A Tortoise File

Havana Syndrome

American diplomats are getting sick. In embassies across the world, a mysterious illness is hampering a superpower from doing business

Havana Syndrome

First published
Monday 11 October 2021

Last updated
Sunday 10 October 2021

Why this story?

There are two competing theories about what might be causing the mysterious illness afflicting American diplomats and intelligence officers across the world. One sits in the realm of science fiction: a sophisticated weapon, using sound or microwaves, causing, in some cases, brain injury. The other, sits in the realm of the surreal: a psychogenic illness, in which the brain acts powerfully on the body and can create symptoms that spread, by the power of narrative, from person to person. Despite years of investigations, and now, a new taskforce set up by President Joe Biden, the cause remains unknown, and in the space of answers – a cocktail of suspicion, paranoia and pride. Basia Cummings, Editor


Illustration: Steven Gregor for Tortoise