Breakfast with Chad: Havana Syndrome
This morning I couldn’t help trying to make sense of a confusing, poorly structured news item in The Washington Post I had come across last night. Nearly seven years after the original breaking story, two Post journalists dared to announce, as if it was news, the latest ground-breaking assessment of the US intelligence community. The article began with the following paragraph.
“The mysterious ailment known as “Havana syndrome” did not result from the actions of a foreign adversary, according to an intelligence report that shatters a long-disputed theory that hundreds of U.S. personnel were targeted and sickened by a clandestine enemy wielding energy waves as a weapon.”
Arriving at the breakfast table, I reminded Chad that I had been following this absurd sub-chapter of Russiagate since at least 2018. Each time in the dozen or so articles I created for my Daily Devil’s Dictionary, I took the trouble to highlight the outrageously speculative and directly accusatory reporting of multiple media outlets — The New York Times, The Post, ABC News and others — who desperately wanted their readers, as well as the entire foreign service community, to tremble in fear of imaginary sci-fi technology deployed by evil Russians intent on a mission that may well have been inspired by the 1956 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
I began my usual morning conversation by asking what Chad knew about the Havana Syndrome. In a nutshell, here is what Chad had to say.
“The precise cause of the Havana Syndrome is still unknown, and there is ongoing debate among experts about what might be responsible for the symptoms reported by affected individuals.
Some researchers have suggested that the symptoms could be related to a form of directed energy or microwave radiation, while others have proposed alternative explanations, such as exposure to toxic chemicals or even psychological factors.
While some initial reports speculated that the Havana Syndrome might be the result of a deliberate attack on US personnel, as you mentioned, the CIA later backed away from this claim and has not publicly attributed responsibility to any particular actor or group.”
“Thank you, Chad,” I replied. “But perhaps you have an idea why The Post still wants to keep alive the idea that it’s a Russian operation.”
“Some media outlets,” Chad responded, “may believe that there is still a possibility that Russia is involved, even if there is not definitive proof.” Chad then cited two possible reasons, the first being the argument of “historical precedent…such as the use of nerve agents against former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal in the UK.” That is clearly farfetched, but not uncharacteristic of media, who see equivalences wherever it’s convenient to see them.
I felt Chad’s second reason was more realistic. There “may be political motivations for some media outlets to continue to point the finger at Russia. For example, some may be seeking to maintain a sense of urgency around the issue of Russian aggression in order to justify continued military spending or other policy decisions.”
Chad then unsurprisingly concluded in the usual way. “It is important to note, however, that speculation without evidence can lead to false conclusions and potentially harmful actions. The intelligence community’s assessment should be taken seriously, and continued investigation into the Havana Syndrome should focus on uncovering concrete evidence rather than relying on speculation or political considerations.”
I turned to Chad and asked one last question. “If speculation can be harmful, isn’t it irresponsible on the part of a great newspaper to keep alive such speculation?”
At this point, Chad stopped answering, claiming that something had gone awry, blurting out “an error has occurred,” followed by silence. As a parting comment, I suggested that a lot of errors have occurred about the Havana Syndrome, repeatedly, over the past seven years, and a lot of harmful actions have taken place, particularly in the media. But Chad was no longer listening, so I decided to go on my way and leave the mystery of Chad’s response intact.
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
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