During the days when the animosity between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States, spying on each other’s diplomats, journalists and visiting delegations was at its peak. Journalists visiting Moscow were acutely aware of the fact that they were being surveilled upon at every step both physically and electronically. A minor infringement of the permitted rules of conduct could lead to years in Russian prisons.
Being conscious that they are in a deeply hostile country with draconian laws caused severe stress and anxiety particularly among the first-time visitors to Moscow.
On one occasion, a young woman journalist on her maiden visit to Moscow began to feel unexplained headache, nausea, memory loss and general disorientation. She was baffled by her illness, but was too suspicious of the local Soviet doctors to consult them. She took a flight to Vienna and had herself thoroughly checked by a specialist doctor who assured that there was nothing wrong with her. He told the lady that the nagging stress of the job in Moscow could have been the trigger of her discomfort. She returned to Moscow with some relief, but was not convinced that she was out of the woods.
True too her fears, the symptoms returned within days of her resuming duty in Moscow. The symptoms were the same, but were more acute. She assumed that the extreme stress of being eyed by hostile agents was perhaps the reason. She got a transfer back to her office in the U.S.
Since then, U.S. and Canadian diplomats working in Havana in Cuba, Moscow, North Korea, and even India and Columbia have reported such debilitating symptoms in their embassies. The fear has become pervasive among American diplomats.
In the meanwhile, the CIA has carried out deep and extensive electronic sweeps of the embassy premises, but have found nothing. Bizarre theories have been floated to explain it. One such is the use of high frequency sound emitters that numbs the brain of the victim, but eminent scientists have dismissed the theory as implausible. As the matter stands now, the symptoms keep appearing in victims randomly, but quite frequently, but the intelligence community has no answer as to how this intriguing phenomenon keeps repeating.
Journalists have named the symptom ‘Havana Syndrome’ alluding to the fact that maximum occurrence of this disorder has been reported from Havana, the Cuban capital.