60 Minutes Blames Russia for Cuba 'Sonic Attacks' Under Trump with Anonymous Source and Vague Intel

CBS News’ 60 Minutes ran a segment on Sunday that sought to blame the “Havana Syndrome” illnesses, which largely occurred during the Trump administration, on Russian espionage, possibly involving sonic weapons.

The clear implication of the segment, largely based on anonymous accounts and vaguely sourced intelligence, was that the Trump administration failed to protect Americans overseas and sought to cover up Russia’s involvement. 

The report that concluded the “Havana Syndrome” was probably not due to malicious foreign action was published in 2023, and the Biden administration insists it has thoroughly investigated the strange illnesses. This insistence was repeated in the rather snippy White House and FBI responses to the 60 Minutes segment.

The “Havana Syndrome” remains a lingering mystery in many minds, despite the unclassified U.S. intelligence review published last year that concluded it was “very unlikely” to be the result of hostile foreign action.

The first known instances of the strange neurological disorder were reported by American government employees in Cuba in 2017, which led to the moniker “Havana Syndrome,” although some of the roughly 1,000 cases claimed since then occurred in other locations, including China.

Those who suffered from Havana Syndrome complained of headaches, dizziness, and some more serious neurological disorders. Some of the patients claimed they heard high-pitched noises, comparable to a subsonic whine or crickets chirping, and felt pressure in their heads before they became ill. Those symptoms led to theories that the syndrome might be caused by sonic weapons.

A former Cuban political prisoner named Luis Zúñiga told Breitbart News in October 2017 that he was subjected to acoustic torture during his 19 years in captivity and the sounds reported by Havana Syndrome patients were similar to the sounds he was tormented with.

“It would emit very high high-pitched sounds and very sharp low sounds, so it penetrates your ear, your timpanum, and it creates a state of desperation in the person,” Zúñiga said.

Former President Donald Trump said in October 2017 that he believed “Cuba is responsible” for the wave of mysterious illnesses. His chief of staff, John Kelly, suggested the Cuban government was at least aware of hostile action against Americans on its soil and could “stop the attacks on our diplomats” if it wanted to. The Cuban government vehemently denied these allegations.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in February 2018, after an American citizen in Shanghai reported similar symptoms, that found it unlikely the Havana Syndrome could be a product of mass psychosis. The Cuban government was speculating at the time that patients were faking their complaints. Scientists who contributed to the JAMA study thought microwave radiation bombardment could produce the symptoms reported by patients.

There has been little discussion of Havana Syndrome since the March 2023 publication of a multi-year intelligence estimate that supposedly debunked theories of sonic weapons or microwave bombardment.

Reports of similar illness have dramatically tapered off, although they have not stopped entirely, as 60 Minutes pointed to a complaint from a senior Pentagon official who accompanied President Joe Biden to the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2023.

Five of the seven U.S. intelligence agencies who participated in the 2023 report concurred that it was “very unlikely” a hostile foreign power caused the “anomalous health incidents,” either on purpose or inadvertently through clandestine research projects. 

The other two agencies did not dissent from this conclusion, although they professed lower confidence in it, and some of the contributing officials expressed frustration that the mysterious illnesses could not be explained.

The report found no evidence of a foreign attack and no pattern in the clusters of cases that suggested hostile action. Investigators said some of the reported illnesses came from people in heavily monitored or shielded locations that seemed impossible for foreign powers to attack, even with highly advanced sound or energy weapons.

CIA Director William J. Burns described the report as “one of the largest and most extensive investigations in the Agency’s history,” and said he personally stood behind its conclusions.

JAMA published another study on Havana Syndrome in March 2024, conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), that found no evidence of brain injury in brain scans and blood tests performed on the patients, contradicting some earlier research that found possible brain injuries. The NIH scientists said their scans were more precise than earlier studies and were conducted under better clinical conditions.

The NIH said its study was not meant to definitively disprove the possibility of external causes for Havana Syndrome. Some people suffering from the syndrome reacted angrily to the publication of the study because they resented the implication that their symptoms were purely psychosomatic.

The 60 Minutes report on Sunday was based largely on the testimony of retired Army Lt. Col. Greg Edgreen, who was in charge of the Pentagon’s investigation into Havana Syndrome. Edgreen said he believes attacks from Russian agents caused the illnesses because he saw a “Russia nexus” in most of the victims – most of them “had worked against Russia, focused on Russia, and done extremely well.”

60 Minutes interviewed an anonymous Havana Syndrome patient who fit Edgreen’s profile, as she is an active FBI agent working on cases linked to Russia. She said she became ill while at home in Florida in 2021, developing problems with memory and concentration.

One of the cases the FBI agent worked on involved a Russian national named Vitalii Kovalev arrested for speeding near Key West in 2020.

The FBI apparently thought Kovalev might be a Russian spy, given his unusual employment history – he went from working in a Russian military institute to working as a chef at restaurants in New York and Washington. After serving his time for speeding, Kovalev returned to Russia in 2022 and is believed to have been killed in Ukraine.

60 Minutes relied heavily on an investigative journalist named Christo Grozev to connect the dots. Grozev has a theory concerning a Russian intelligence unit code-named “29155” that once paid an officer a bonus for working on the “potential capabilities of non-lethal acoustic weapons.” Grozev contents Unit 29155 was active in some locations where Havana Syndrome cases were reported.

Both Edgreen and Grozev speculated that the U.S. government, under both Trump and Biden, was reluctant to aggressively investigate Russian involvement in the Havana Syndrome because it did not wish to provoke a more serious conflict with Moscow or admit that U.S.  personnel were vulnerable to a seemingly unstoppable Russian weapon.

“If this is what we’ve seen with the hundreds of cases of anomalous health incidents, I can assure that this has become probably Putin’s biggest victory. In his own mind this has been Russia’s biggest victory against the West,” Grozev insisted.

The White House Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told 60 Minutes that it stands by the 2023 intelligence report and insisted that, while it takes reports of “anomalous health incidents” (AHI) seriously and has compassion for the victims, no theory of hostile foreign action has been “borne out by subsequent medical and technical analysis.”

The Kremlin on Monday dismissed the 60 Minutes report as “nothing more than baseless, unfounded accusations by the media.”

“This is not a new topic at all; for many years the topic of the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’ has been exaggerated in the press, and from the very beginning it was linked to accusations against the Russian side, but no one has ever published or expressed any convincing evidence of these unfounded accusations anywhere,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The Havana Syndrome remains a frustrating mystery and sleuths can offer only theories and “nexus” speculation absent hard evidence. If the darker theories highlighted by 60 Minutes are true, the point of the exercise was to devise a means of debilitating American personnel that would leave no evidence behind. At this point, few would doubt the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to perpetrate such attacks.

On the other hand, even giving conspiracy theorists the benefit of the doubt, it is not easy to see what the hypothetical attackers gained that was worth the considerable risk unless the whole affair was a lengthy and elaborate field test of a weapon still under development.

Theories implicating the Trump and Biden administrations, and the permanent intelligence bureaucracy, in a cover-up likewise run into the problems of risk and benefit. Plenty of evidence exists that the government, especially its permanent bureaucratic organs, covers things up and thwarts investigations, but there is not much hard evidence to support the theories 60 Minutes espoused. It is hard to imagine either of the recent administrations working overtime to make Putin appear less malevolent. 

It is especially difficult to imagine the current administration covering up bombshell evidence of Russia attacking Americans during a time when continued funding for Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion was a topic of heated debate in Washington. If the Biden administration wanted to leak some evidence about the Russians assaulting Americans at home and abroad with a weapon that causes brain damage, it probably would have done so months ago.

As with so many frustrating stories today, much is possible with Havana Syndrome but little has been proven – and most of what appears certain does not seem to make sense.

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