In December 2016, a US official in Havana went to the embassy medical centre to report a debilitating and confounding illness. The symptoms included headaches; nausea; hearing loss; problems with memory and vision – and its onset was characterized by hearing… something. A buzzing, hissing, grinding… sound. Soon, a second official came down with the same symptoms. Then a third. Then a fourth. By the time the story went public in summer 2017, dozens of US diplomats, as well as some Canadians, had come down with what was becoming known as “Havana Syndrome.”
In this deep dive investigation, journalist Nicky Woolf peels back the layers of one of the most bizarre mysteries of the modern age. You’ll hear about how the US agencies failed to agree even on the basic premises. State department said it’s a “sonic device,” then rolled that back. The CIA have hinted microwave radiation might be involved. The FBI said there was no “there” there – now they seem to be rolling that back as well. We’ll explore the wild and wide variety of theories that have been put forward. Could it be caused by noisy crickets? Or mosquito spray? Or could it all be a mass delusion? We’ll hear from the cast of characters who inhabit this world; diplomats and spies, neurologists and physicists, skeptics and believers – and, with their help, begin to piece the evidence together.
THE SOUND is a story about spycraft, technology, and the brain. It’s a story where, at every turn, you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s an illusion. It’s a story about how the Cold War, maybe, never really ended.
There’s a mysterious outbreak of neurological problems among American spies and diplomats in Cuba. We document the first cases via never before heard accounts from Havana, while we parse through classified intelligence to learn how this all started.
Cases are spreading. Investigators flock to Cuba and politicians look for a culprit. We break down the early investigations by the US and Cuban governments while our own ramps up. And we see a political narrative start to take shape.
When recordings of a strange sound in Havana go public, some wonder if these health problems are real or imagined. We take a critical look through the research – and enlist the help of a mentalist – to try to answer the question: is this whole thing in our heads?
The story is bigger than Cuba now. Cases are being reported on nearly every continent, so some investigators propose a new, strange theory. We wade into the science to see if “Havana Syndrome” is just the latest in a long pattern of attacks using microwave energy.
We head to the UK to build a microwave device that could be the key to the mystery. And we take a deep-dive into the American military industrial complex to see what the future of warfare and weaponry looks like. Is Havana Syndrome just the beginning of something much scarier?
A CIA officer in Moscow gets sick, and his story fundamentally changes the narrative surrounding “Havana Syndrome.” We hear first-hand accounts of Soviet radiation that go back decades, and learn that the Cold War may have never really ended.
We go to the scenes of the crime in Cuba where we find “the sound” and see the human impact of the Havana Syndrome story. The US Embassy has reopened just as Cubans leave the island en masse.
We answer our central question: What happened here? And we try to chart the path forward for “Havana Syndrome” victims.