Why Havana Syndrome is a 'global experiment in mass suggestion'

All in the mind? How the mysterious Havana Syndrome is a ‘global experiment in mass suggestion’ and NOT targeted attacks expert claims

  • There are cases across the world, but expert says it’s all in the mind
  • Targeting a huge hotel with soundwaves ‘defies the laws of physics’ 
  • Mass psychogenic illness documented as far back as the middle ages 
  • The Philippines government used Katy Perry songs to break up a riot  
  • Is Havana Syndrome really just a case of hearing cicadas and crickets? 
  • What has the Cold War, dog poo and mosquitos got to do with it all? 

Since Havana Syndrome emerged in late 2016, the US government has made the mysterious phenomenon an intelligence priority and spent tens of millions of dollars investigating potential microwave weapon attacks by foreign adversaries.

But medical sociology expert Dr Robert Bartholomew is so convinced it’s a case of mass delusion, he’s co-authored a book on it with Robert Baloh – Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.

The unexplained illness, which was first recorded in Cuba, has since spread to US embassies across the world (and also some Canadian), with a reported 130 cases. Symptoms include hearing loss, severe headaches, memory issues, dizziness and brain injury.

The Embassy of the United States of America in Cuba, which is where Havana Syndrome was first allegedly encountered

Dr Bartholomew doesn’t mince his words. He means what he says and says what he means. 

‘There is more evidence for Bigfoot than there is for Havana Syndrome,’ the US expatriate who is based at the University of Auckland, told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘The evidence overwhelmingly points to mass hysteria, or as it is commonly referred to by scientists – mass psychogenic illness. Havana Syndrome is a result of incompetent government officials and bad science. I would go so far as to rename it Havana Syndrome Delusion – the absurd belief, in the wake of persistent evidence to the contrary, that diplomats are being targeted with an energy weapon.’

He says it is possible to use noise as a weapon, just not in the way Havana Syndrome victims maintain it is.   

‘In the Philippines, the government blasted Katy Perry music to break up a demonstration. Other than that, it doesn’t work very well because of the laws of physics.’ 

Katy Perry’s music was blasted by the Philippines government to break up a demonstration

Dr Bartholomew says there are four theories as to what causes Havana Syndrome. 

Sonic weapon  

‘The first theory that popped up was that it’s a sonic weapon that used soundwaves to make people sick. This one is really far fetched because these people in Havana weren’t targeted in the embassy. They were targeted in their homes, and mainly in two big hotels. To target somebody in a huge hotel would defy the laws of physics – 99 per cent of the soundwaves would bounce off the outer wall. It just doesn’t work that way.’


‘The second explanation was that it was pesticides that were being sprayed to kill mosquitos that were carrying the Zika virus. The problem with that is, there’s no neurotoxin in the world that only affects American and Canadian diplomats and their families.’

Frey Effect   

‘The third explanation is this microwave stuff, the Frey Effect [an auditory phenomenon where microwave or radio frequencies generate clicking sounds inside the head]. This gained popularity after the National Academy of Sciences came out with their report and said it could be the Frey Effect. But they weren’t sure. If you look closely at the report, it was just a guess. The person that identified the mechanism in the Frey Effect is Ken Foster at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s a bio-engineer. I contacted him and he said it’s definitely not the Frey Effect.’

Mass psychogenic illness   

‘So you’re left with the only plausible explanation, which is mass psychogenic illness. The first people infected were intelligence officers on the same small station. This is a defining feature of mass psychogenic illness. It follows social networks and it usually begins in these small, cohesive groups and spreads outwards, and that’s exactly what happened. These people all belong to a common work environment. There’s a high degree of stress, they’re in a foreign country, they knew they were being surveilled 24/7. It’s a classic setup for mass hysteria.’

Dr Robert Bartholomew has written a book called Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.

Dr Bartholomew says mass psychogenic illness has been around for centuries in various forms. 

‘It used to be called mass or epidemic hysteria. In the past three or four decades it’s been called mass psychogenic illness. The phenomena has been around for millennia. There are clear cases dating back to the dancing mania of the middle ages and beyond. I have collected about 3,500 cases going back to the middle ages.  

What is ‘Havana Syndrome’?

The problem has been labelled the ‘Havana Syndrome,’ because the first cases affected personnel in 2016 at the US embassy in Cuba.

At least 130 cases across the government are now under investigation, up from several dozen last year, according to a US defence official who was not authorised to discuss details publicly. The National Security Council is leading the investigation.

People who are believed to have been affected have reported headaches, dizziness and symptoms consistent with concussions, with some requiring months of medical treatment. Some have reported hearing a loud noise before the sudden onset of symptoms.

Investigators believe there are at least four cases involving Trump White House officials.

Advocates for those affected accuse the US government of failing to take the problem seriously or provide the necessary medical care and benefits.

US senators said the government is investigating an apparent increase in the mysterious directed-energy attacks.

Symptoms include;

-hearing loss

-severe headaches 


-brain injury

‘It started in a small CIA unit in Havana, Cuba in late 2016. And that’s exactly what you would expect from mass psychogenic illness. It starts in small, close-knit groups and then spreads from there, usually to people of lower status, which is exactly what happened here. 

‘And so you have these CIA officers walking around near their houses, noticing that there are these strange sounds at night. And then one day, one of them felt unwell, felt they had dizziness, ear pain and they went to the clinic at the embassy and the guy made an observation that “You know, it was almost like somebody was pointing a device at my head”.’ 

This should have set off alarm bells in the medical community, but didn’t. 

‘After that emerged, they heard from two other officers from the same unit, that they had heard these strange sounds as well. Then a theory emerged that they were being harassed with some secret weapon.’  

It turns out there’s a long history of Cuban agents harassing American diplomats in Havana that went back decades. 

‘All of the diplomats that were sent to the new embassy in Havana that opened in 2015 (after diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba were reinstated under President Barack Obama) had been briefed about it. 

“Because during the Cold War, Cuban agents were notorious for harassing diplomats. They would sneak into their houses at night while they slept and throw dog poo on the floor, open up all the windows so you get mosquitos, all sorts of things.

‘So when they went over there they were paranoid. They were on the lookout for this stuff and they know they are being surveilled 24-7, so you’ve got this sense of anxiety already.’

Dr Bartholomew says belief in Havana Syndrome amounts to a ‘global experiment in mass suggestion’. 

‘What’s happened is the (US) State Department issued a warning to their embassies all over the world, to diplomats and intelligence officers to be on the lookout for “anomalous health incidents” that may or may not be accompanied by strange sounds. 

Alleged Havana Syndrome attacks on American spies and diplomats continue to grow across the world

A Pentagon memo asks 2.9 million military service members to report symptoms of Havana Syndrome

‘What do you think is going to happen? Now people all over the world are on alert for anything unusual in terms of health. People have mysterious health incidents all the time, or just health incidents in general. 

‘So now it gets redefined as “Oh, it must be Havana Syndrome”.

Dr Bartholomew is fired up and passionate in his criticism of Havana Syndrome as a non-existent condition. 

‘It’s a big waste of money, it’s an international wild goose chase that has wasted tens of millions of dollars by the US government, gotten people needlessly upset, wasted valuable time and resources during the pandemic and during a time in the world when we’re fighting global warming and this money could be used better elsewhere,’ he says. 

‘All they had to do was follow the facts. The didn’t follow the facts. You can summarise this case in one sentence – When you hear the sounds of hoofbeats in the night, first think horses, not zebras.  

‘The State Department looked for unicorns. They were going for the most exotic hypothesis, which was some kind of sonic weapon. Why in the world would you think you were being targeted by some kind of sonic weapon? Yes, some people heard noises, but the noises weren’t the same. There were high-pitched noises, there were low-pitched noises, they were all over the place.  

‘They were all having ear pain. Well, it’s not uncommon to have hear noises and have popping sounds in your ear.’

But why is the US government wasting time, money and resources on Havana Syndrome? Part of the answer lies in an FBI report into the issue that has not been made public, but part of which has been leaked.

‘Honestly, I think they’ve figured it out,’ says Dr Bartholomew. 

‘We know recently, from the leaked FBI report that they concluded that it was mass psychogenic illness. And I think intelligence agencies have figured this out. They know it’s mass hysteria. 

‘But it’s embarrassing that over the last five years, under the Trump and now Biden administration, you’ve got the same individuals in these agencies who concluded that the sounds of crickets and cicadas were actually a secret weapon. It’s ridiculous and it’s embarrassing. 

‘When this comes out, now it’s like “What are we going to do here?” They’ve painted themselves into a corner. Now after five years, to come out and say “Sorry, we misinterpreted insect sounds for some kind of secret foreign weapon, it’s going to be hugely embarrassing and it highlights their incompetence.’ 

‘The first theory that popped up was that it’s a sonic weapon that used soundwaves to make people sick. This one is really far fetched,’ says Dr Bartholomew. Pictured: The energy weapon that other experts have said ‘could cause Havana syndrome’ is said to be a smaller version of this 1990s Soviet microwave generator, which is kept at the University of New Mexico

The effects on white matter tract in the brain is one of the symptoms claimed for alleged victims of Havana Syndrome, but Dr Bartholomew says there is a far more benign explanation. 

‘In December 2017 information was leaked to the media that doctors examining a number of Havana Syndrome patients had discovered significant white matter tract changes in their brain,’ he says. 

But when the full report came out, the facts did not back up the very selective leak. 

‘Of 21 patients. three had white matter tract changes. Two were mild and one was moderate. If you walk down the streets of Sydney or Melbourne today and randomly pick 21 people, that’s exactly what you would expect to find, because white matter tract changes are common in everything from migraine to depression, to normal ageing. So the claims of white matter tract changes are a myth, but they were out there for nearly a year before the study came out.  

Despite not believing in Havana Syndrome, Dr Bartholomew has great sympathy for the people who are being treated for it. 

‘It’s not that they’re making it up. They’re having real symptoms, but they’re caused by their lives. They’re psychological.’

The cover of Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, by Robert Baloh and Robert Bartholomew, which is out now

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