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‘HAVANA SYNDROME’ EXPLAINED

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

Nearly four years after a mysterious neurological illness, referred to as “Havana syndrome”, started to afflict American diplomats and intelligence operatives in Cuba, China, and other countries, a report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) has found “directed” microwave radiation to be its “plausible” cause.

Introduction to the Study and Havana Syndrome

  • The study by National Academies of Sciences (NAS) in the U.S. was commissioned to investigate regarding the “hearing of strange sounds and experiencing of odd physical sensations” by U.S. diplomats and other officers stationed in Havana (capital of Cuba) in 2016.
  • The symptoms included nausea, severe headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, and hearing loss, which have since come to be known as the Havana Syndrome.

Highlights of the report

  • The NAS report examined four possibilities to explain the symptoms viz. infection, chemicals, psychological factors and microwave energy.
  • Directed pulsed microwave radiation energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining the cases of Havana syndrome among those that the committee considered.
  • By calling it “directed” and “pulsed” energy, the report leaves no room for confusion that the victims’ exposure was targeted and not due to common sources of microwave energy.
  • It warns about the possibility of future episodes and recommends establishing a response mechanism for similar incidents, adding that future incidents might be more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognise quickly.
  • It also does not mention the source and if the energy was delivered intentionally, even though it conducted significant research on microwave weapons.

Microwave Weapons

  • Microwave Weapons are supposed to be a type of direct energy weapons, which aim highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.
  • The high-frequency electromagnetic radiations heat the water in the human body and cause discomfort and pain.
  • This process is similar to that which takes place in a microwave oven – In the oven the microwaves agitate the water molecules in the food, and their vibration produces heat that cooks the food.
  • A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems.
  • China had first put on display its microwave weapon, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014.
  • The USA has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the “Active Denial System”, which is the first non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system with an extended range greater than currently fielded non-lethal weapons.

-Source: Indian Express

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September 2022
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