CIA doctor affected by Havana Syndrome says he was ‘in disbelief’ as he endured what he was investigating
Watch CNN’s special report: « Immaculate Concussion: The Truth About Havana Syndrome » at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on CNN.
CIA physician Dr. Paul Andrews was one of the first people sent to Havana, Cuba to investigate a series of mysterious health incidents that affected embassy and government personnel. agency in 2017 when he was struck down by the same set of debilitating symptoms, he told CNN. Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta during his first public interview for a CNN special report: « Immaculate Concussion: The Truth About Havana Syndrome ».
Andrews, who uses a pseudonym to speak publicly, had previously studied early victims of what is colloquially known as « Havana Syndrome », or officially « abnormal health incidents ». Doctors in Florida had recorded a series of symptoms suggesting that the victims suffered from a brain injury that affected their balance, among other things. Andrews traveled to Cuba to investigate about two months after learning of the first cases.
He wasn’t too worried about his own safety at first. On his first night, he fell asleep around 11:30 p.m. in his hotel room. But shortly before 5 a.m., he was awakened by severe pain in his right ear, nausea and a terrible headache. Then he started to hear a clicking sound that past victims had reported hearing at the start of their symptoms – a sound that Andrews had previously only heard on audio clips.
His first thought was that he was dreaming.
“That can’t happen. And I sat on the edge of the bed for a minute, and things just got worse and worse,” he recalled. “I am truly in disbelief. And I start to think, is this a dream? I had no idea. »
Because officials at the time suspected some kind of sonic attack, Andrews went to the bathroom and sat with headphones on for 45 minutes. The symptoms did not improve and at 6am he decided to pack up and leave the room.
But he found that he could barely pack his bags. He checked the bathroom « at least four or five times » to make sure he had his toothbrush, then did the same as he pulled his coat out of the closet. On his way to meet colleagues in the hotel cafeteria, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to push or pull the doors. And he realized that his balance was « very far ».
Certain that he and his co-workers were being watched, he tried to quietly tell his co-workers that he thought he might have been hurt, but he wasn’t sure they understood. For the rest of the day, Andrews said he was in a fog: nauseous, disoriented and struggling with basic tasks like counting money and showing his ID to security personnel.
When he returned to the United States, he called the same doctor in Florida he worked with to investigate the first victims and told him he needed help.
Abnormal health incidents – AHI for short – are always a source of mystery and debate within the intelligence community. A group of experts investigating the incidents, which have now affected dozens of US officials around the world, said some of the episodes could ‘likely’ have been caused by ‘pulsating electromagnetic energy’ emitted from an external source . But the panel stopped short of making a final decision.
An interim report released earlier this year by a separate CIA task force examining who might be behind the episodes found that Russia or any other foreign adversary was unlikely to carry out a broad global campaign aimed at harm US officials. But the agency also hasn’t ruled out that a nation state – including Russia – could be responsible for around two dozen cases that investigators have been unable to explain to any other cause. known.
In short, according to sources, after years of investigation, the intelligence community is no closer to determining who or what caused these injuries – or even if the roughly two dozen unsolved cases are all caused by the same actor or mechanism.
Some victims – including Andrews now – have raised concerns about the agency’s handling of the first installment of cases. Former CIA officials have claimed that their injuries were not taken seriously at first by CIA leaders, in part because many of the symptoms were subtle and could be associated with a number of health issues. known health.
“The narrative was just going the wrong way. And no matter what I did or said to people, it continued,” Andrews said. « In fact, to date, a lot of the stuff that’s been done didn’t seem appropriate to my standards. »
Some affected officers did not want to come forward for fear of hurting their careers, Andrews said.
« Another person at one point told me as an aside that she thought she might have been hit and was hearing and or had pain in her ear, » he said. declared. « And I said, are you going to report this? » And they said, absolutely not.
Victims have widely praised CIA Director Bill Burns’ handling of the issue, and the Biden administration has been careful to avoid any hint that it does not take victims seriously.
« I think we’ve made significant progress in ensuring people get the care they need and deserve, » Burns said during a public address at the Aspen Safety Forum in July. “We have tripled the number of full-time employees in our medical practice who deal with this problem. We’ve established very important relationships, not just with Walter Reed, but, you know, with private medical systems to make sure people get the care.
Congress in 2021 passed legislation mandating compensation for victims, and some of those payments have been made, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The CIA declined to comment for this story.
More than five years later, Andrews is still suffering from debilitating symptoms. He still has balance and vision problems that almost prevent him from functioning normally. He finds it difficult to read, hike or jog because it makes him nauseous and forgets being in a crowd in a museum: turning his head left and right to look at the art and avoid getting bumping into other customers makes him dizzy and sick.
« It gets to the point where you just don’t want to get out of the house because you say what’s the point? I want to do this, but I know it’s going to make me sick, » he said. I don’t want to be nauseous I don’t want to trip and fall.
« It’s very frustrating that all these things you want to do, you can’t, » he said.
Andrews was examined by a battery of doctors, who found damage to his vestibular structures – the parts of the body that govern balance and orientation. But like many AHI sufferers, Andrews doesn’t have a single clear diagnosis. Some victims have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, which he questions because even though he says AHI is clearly brain damage, it strikes him as a different type of brain injury than doctors have seen. previously.
For Andrews, as for the intelligence community, there is little more certainty about who or what is behind this strange phenomenon than when he visited Cuba in the spring of 2017.
“I definitely learned more about the disease than I wanted to know,” he told Gupta.