CIA's 'Havana Syndrome' conspiracy implodes: Here are media's worst fake news stories
The CIA admitted US spies/diplomats aren't being attacked by foreign adversaries. "Havana Syndrome" is mass hysteria. Here are the top corporate media outlets that spread this bogus conspiracy theory.
For five years, major corporate media outlets have cited anonymous US government officials to baselessly accuse Russia, China, and/or Cuba of attacking Washington’s spies and diplomats with “pulsed microwave weapons,” “directed-energy arms,” or other exotic technologies that might as well have been lifted from a B science fiction movie.
There was never an iota of evidence for this ridiculous conspiracy theory, which has now totally collapsed, but it spread like wildfire through the mainstream press.
As recently as November 2021, the Washington Post — one of the US intelligence community’s most reliable media partners — broadcast an extraordinary threat to the world: “CIA director warns Russian spies of ‘consequences’ if they are behind ‘Havana Syndrome’ incidents.”
A year before that, in December 2020, the New York Times promoted a bizarre conspiracy theory: “Report Points to Microwave ‘Attack’ as Likely Source of Mystery Illnesses That Hit Diplomats and Spies.”
The US newspaper-of-record quoted an official report, commissioned by the State Department and conducted by the United States’ brightest scientific minds, that concluded that a group of North American spies and diplomats allegedly suffering from “dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and loss of hearing, memory and balance” had been targeted by “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy” weapons.
This January, however, natsec reporters’ favorite conspiracy theory hit a curb at 90 miles an hour, flipped over, and exploded.
“CIA says 'Havana Syndrome' not result of sustained campaign by hostile power,” NBC News reported on January 19. In an internal assessment, the spy agency admitted that there was no evidence of foreign attacks, and it ruled out the possibility, saying there were other medical explanations for the symptoms.
It is clear that top US intelligence officials approved the leak of this story, because the article was co-authored by Ken Dilanian, a veritable CIA roadie who was once disowned by his former employer the LA Times for doing unethical propaganda on behalf of the spy agency.
The CIA officially conceding that Russia, China, and Cuba are not attacking its spooks with scary ray guns should put in the nail in the coffin of an outlandish conspiracy theory that, over five years, has been promoted by basically every major English-language media outlet, including the most respected newspapers in both the United States and Britain.
I reviewed this onslaught of fake news coverage and found that “Havana Syndrome” conspiracies were eagerly promoted by the following establishment networks:
New York Times
and many, many more.
I have assembled a collection of some of their most outrageous fake news stories below.
Medical expert: Havana Syndrome ‘is a case of bad journalism, bad government, and bad science’
I discussed this scandal with Dr. Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist and leading expert on mass hysteria and social panics, who correctly predicted all of this in his 2020 scholarly book “Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria.”
“I can summarize the book in one sentence,” he told me: “When you hear the sound of hoof beats in the night, first think horses, not zebras.”
“The doctors at the American State Department went for the most exotic, far out, far-fetched explanations early on. They went on a search for unicorns when they should have stuck to mundane explanations,” Bartholomew said.
“My first career was as a journalist,” he continued. “And this is a case of bad journalism, bad government, and bad science.”
Bartholomew cautioned that the Havana Syndrome scandal is an example of the problem of politics mixing with science.
“When you break it down and you start analyzing the studies that were done, it's like, whoa, it's actually a really methodologically flawed study, and probably never should have been published in the first place,” he explained.
Corporate media goes wild blaming US Official Enemies for bogus ‘Havana Syndrome’ conspiracy
It’s quite instructive to review how top media outlets enthusiastically promoted this bogus story. It shows how the most respected newspapers in the United States and United Kingdom are more than willing to publish harebrained conspiracy theories when it does political damage to NATO’s adversaries.
All of these scoops were fed to reporters in the corporate media by their handlers in the CIA and Pentagon. These stenographers never exercised a shred of skepticism, mindlessly attributing the outlandish accusations to anonymous officials.
Fox News declared in June 2021 that Russia was suspected of targeting US diplomats “in ‘Havana Syndrome’ attacks” not only abroad, but even in Washington, DC.
MSNBC followed up with a ludicrous video in August 2021 titled “Sen. Shaheen: Russia 'at the top of suspect list' for directed energy attacks on Americans.”
Back in August 2017, Time magazine stated unequivocally that “U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Were Injured by a 'Sonic Weapon.'” This is objectively false.
Some reports were careful to add qualifiers that there was no solid proof that Russia, China, or Cuba were behind these so-called “attacks,” but it was always presumed that they were exactly that: attacks.
The idea that Havana Syndrome was the result of a foreign power intentionally seeking to harm North Americans was indisputable to the press. It was holy dogma, and simply could not be challenged.
The question on the minds of the CIA/Pentagon water boys (and girls) in the corporate media was not whether or not US spies and diplomats are being attacked, but rather by whom? Which villainous US adversary?
The mainstream press didn’t stop to question if this was an attack; instead it immediately went to the question: What weapon is responsible? Exotic microwave weapons? Directed energy? Ray guns wielded by fur hat-wearing Russian communist bears wrapped in tin foil?
In May 2018, CNN gave credibility to the neo-McCarthyite conspiracy with a report titled “What we know about the possible 'sonic attacks' in Cuba and now China.”
This massive fake news campaign was then given a stamp of approval from the New York Times, with a September 2018 article titled, “Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers.”
This blockbuster story was on the front page of the Gray Lady, and had the subtitle, “Doctors and scientists say microwave strikes may have caused sonic delusions and very real brain damage among embassy staff and family members.”
The article is filed online under the Times’ science vertical.
The fact that these outlandish accusations were published in the US newspaper-of-record gave other media outlets the green light to run with the conspiracy theory. And they went wild.
In October 2020, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a close ally of the CIA, published a column titled “Russia is an obvious suspect in Havana Syndrome, but the evidence is inconclusive.”
Then in December 2020, NBC News published a similar article titled “‘Havana Syndrome’ likely caused by pulsed microwave energy, government study finds.”
One of the co-authors of this story was Ken Dilanian, the CIA whisperer who published the article this January suddenly admitting that Havana Syndrome was not caused by attacks.
The UK government-backed BBC mindlessly echoed the conspiracy: “'Havana syndrome' likely caused by directed microwaves - US report.”
This latest episode in widespread mainstream fake news — like the Russiagate hysteria or WMDs conspiracy — shows how Western corporate media outlets don’t require a single shred of evidence to make extraordinary, outlandish accusations against Washington’s Official Enemies.
If a US government official intimates something about Beijing, Moscow, or La Habana being involved in some supposed evil-doing, the bellicose stenographers in the press will find 200 reasons why we should instantly believe the politically motivated accusations — and anyone who doubts such baseless claims is branded a “conspiracy theorist” or “Kremlin shill.”
In April 2021, CNN went so far as to claim that “Havana Syndrome” attacks were taking place in the heart of Washington.
“US investigating possible mysterious directed energy attack near White House,” CNN reported.
Then in May, CNN followed up the story with an equally preposterous part two: “US investigates second suspected case of mystery 'syndrome' near White House.”
A few days later, perhaps the most respected media outlet in the United States, if not the world, the Associated Press, joined in the fake news hysteria.
“Growing mystery of suspected energy attacks draws US concern,” the AP reported.
Politico took the conspiracy theory even further that same month, pointing the finger at Moscow in a story titled “Russian spy unit suspected of directed-energy attacks on U.S. personnel.”
This “exclusive” scoop was attributed exclusively to anonymous US government officials, naturally.
Across the pond in June 2021, The Guardian ran a story titled “Microwave weapons that could cause Havana Syndrome exist, experts say.”
It was written by the leading UK newspaper’s world affairs editor, Julian Borger, a hardline hawk who is also quite friendly with Western intelligence agencies.
In September 2021, British newspaper The Independent ran the ridiculous clickbait article “What is the ‘Havana syndrome’? Inside the creepy ‘directed energy’ attacks on US diplomats.”
What is really creepy is how hordes of Western reporters will obediently regurgitate the same fake news without a scintilla of skepticism.
But the conspiracy theory just wouldn’t die — it was too politically useful.
In October 2021, Politico declared, “U.S. investigators increasingly confident directed-energy attacks behind Havana Syndrome.”
The liberal magazine Slate pondered, “Are Russians Using Microwaves to Attack Americans?”
On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK’s Sunday Times declared, “US diplomats hit by new Havana Syndrome attack.”
Then in November 2021, the Washington Post published its risible report, “CIA director warns Russian spies of ‘consequences’ if they are behind ‘Havana Syndrome’ incidents.”
This story was echoed by many other media outlets, including Washington’s most respectable pro-Trump website, The Hill, which declared, “CIA director says there will be consequences if Russia is behind ‘Havana Syndrome’ attacks.”
And it wasn’t just media outlets; academia joined in as well.
In September 2021, respected academic website The Conversation ran a ridiculous story called “Scientists suggest US embassies were hit with high-power microwaves – here’s how the weapons work.”
The article was written by Edl Schamiloglu, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean for research and innovation at the University of New Mexico’s School of Engineering.
The website published a Brobdingnagian disclosure statement: “Edl Schamiloglu receives funding from AFOSR, DARPA, and ONR to perform basic research on the development of high power microwave sources. He also receives support from industry (Verus Research, General Atomics Electromagnetic System Division). He serves as Chair of IEC SC77C which develops civilian standards to protect equipment and infrastructure from IEMI.”
In September 2021, The Conversation followed up with another article titled “Directed energy weapons shoot painful but non-lethal beams – are similar weapons behind the Havana syndrome?”
It was written by Iain Boyd, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, who disclosed that he “receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, Lockheed-Martin Corporation, Northrop-Grumman Corporation, L3-Harris Corporation.”
The weapons industry-backed website Defense One re-published the same article with the title “Are Directed-Energy Weapons Behind the Havana Syndrome?”
This headline was indirectly answered by the sub-head: “As an aerospace engineer and former Vice Chair of the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, I can attest to the effectiveness of such weapons.”
With “experts” like these…
The list of fake news stories goes on and on.
Virtually every major English-language media outlet did its part in helping to spread this conspiracy theory on behalf of the US government — as they did with the Russiagate racket at the exact same time.
Now that the CIA has admitted there are no Russian ray guns or Chinese microwave weapons involved, will anything change? Will anyone or any institution be held accountable?
Well, if the total impunity for the fervent promoters of the “Putin controls Trump” conspiracy is any indication, it is very unlikely that there will be any consequences. Mindlessly regurgitated the claims of anonymous spooks to feed baseless conspiracy theories that help advance US foreign-policy interests is, in reality, the job description for mainstream “national security” reporters.
If we had the glasses from John Carpenter’s classic “They Live,” that’s exactly what New York Times job listings would say.