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Havana Syndrome: Investigating what made the diplomats sick – The Fifth Estate


All four of us in
the house were
diagnosed with mild traumatic
brain injury.
This is kind of like uhm,you know,
immaculate concussion. We don’t know what happened. Jayme: Havana Syndrome –
a story of science and secrets. The government had a duty
to protect our people. ♪ ♪ [indistinct chatter] [timing clap] I can go back to the beginning. My wife and I both had
severe headaches and nausea. My oldest son was having nose
bleeds that we couldn’t explain. Bad, bad nosebleeds. That he was having three
and four of them a day. [Jayme] It’s 2017. Canadian and American diplomats
living in Cuba are getting sick. Really sick. Why? It was ten after
three in the morning. [Jayme] This is a
Canadian diplomat. He agrees to talk to us, if
we agree to keep him hidden. We’re calling him Alan. This noise woke me up. It was a loud
grinding, metallic noise, extremely loud. It went on for
about 20 or 30 seconds. And then as it was
dying it went– Whurr-whurr-whurr-whurr. And when it hit the low note I
thought I was gonna throw up, it just made me nauseous. And then, at the same time, my
son had another major nosebleed. Cue. [♪♪] Hi, I’m Jayme Poisson, and
you’re listening to Front Burner. It’s a story of science… and secrets. [Jayme] Havana syndrome. I’ve been tracking every twist
and turn of it for my podcast. And now, I’m teaming up with the
Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada’s Enquite to explore
existing theories… and a new one too. If you haven’t heard
of Havana Syndrome, here’s a quick 101. [Jayme] It begins
about three years ago. Strange sounds. Almost unbearable. They all complained of hearing
a loud noise and/or feeling pressure.CBC Newshas learned
a sonic attack in Cuba last year… [Jayme] The mysterious
syndrome makes headline news. [man] Theories ranged from a
high tech attack by a nefarious government… [woman] The New York Times… [Jayme] Theories fly. [man] The FBI is now
investigating whether these… [man] Mass hysteria…sonic
attacks…microwaves… Who knows? And now
that I am your President, America will expose the
crimes of the Castro Regime. [Jayme] In 2017, newly elected
Donald Trump is quick to blame Cubans in what
he calls “attacks”. They did some bad
things in Cuba. The Castro regime has proved
time and time again it is not a responsible actor in
the community of nations. Trudeau! Trudeau! [Jayme] Unlike the states,
Canada has historically had a good relationship with Cuba. So, why are
diplomats being targeted? [Jayme] Why Canadian diplomats? Their families as well. [woman] My daughter and I are
both now treated for post concussion. We have balance issues. We have visual issues. [Jayme] Their lives
turned upside down. My wife’s the same. She’ll pick up a phone
and not remember why. She can’t concentrate. [Jayme] Alan recalls a night
when everything changed for him and his wife. In April of 2017, an American
neighbour came over to my house. We lived directly
across the road. And, um, he asked
to go for a walk. I thought, that was weird
because we weren’t that friendly. So we took a walk and he told me
about this thing that was going on with the American Embassy. And, um, he gave me the
specifics of what to look for, the symptoms. [Jayme] Headaches, irritability. Alan and his wife
suffer from symptoms. But haven’t heard
any sounds…yet. So, the next morning I
took it to the ambassador. Security level secret. [Jayme] We get our hands on top
secret emails from that time. Look at this…
Completely redacted. [Jayme] They show
weeks pass before the Canadian embassy starts emailing
Global Affairs in Ottawa. “It would be helpful to identify
a process we can use to rule
out suspicions and thus be able to head off escalations
of concerns.” [Jayme] Embassy officials seem
to downplay the seriousness. Symptoms similar to
signs of extreme stress but there’s no mention
of actual symptoms here. [Jayme] Incidents, one email
says, are “isolated only to U.S. diplomats.” Subject Line: Attacks
on US Personnel. [Jayme] Another… The Canadian embassy is “aware”
that the US has moved their personnel away from residences. There has been no US
screening of Canadians. [Jayme] Until… Alan hears the sound himself.
[High-frequency whirring] And he approaches
his boss, again. He contacted the
American embassy, got the name of the doctor
that was seeing them in Miami. And we were on a
plane two days later. [Jayme] And this is where
Alan’s journey of tests begins. The Miami doctor he visits
specializes in brain trauma. They would– said
when they moved, it was always at their home. If they moved in the room,
the noise would follow them. If they opened the front
door, the noise would go away. So that’s the characteristics
of the noise and it was very targeted. One of the things we use
to test the individual. [Jayme] Michael
Hoffer gives us a demo. He’s the first to
examine the American victims. Alan, his wife, and kids too. And this is where
things get weird… [Jayme] Really weird. I meet up with Alan’s lawyer. What did the doctors find? We don’t know. We, we know that there was
some concussion like symptoms. But the testing was halted. Um, and, we don’t have an actual
report from Dr Hoffer out of the University of
Miami, at this point. And Alan doesn’t have a
report on his own examination? No. Why? How come? You’ll have to ask the
Canadian Government. [Jayme] Meanwhile, American
diplomats are being evacuated from Cuba. They’re also sent for tests. And more tests. This time to the
University of Pennsylvania. This is kind of like uhm, immaculate concussion. We don’t know what happened. We have no experience
with how you can get these concussion-like symptoms,
without the concussion. [Jayme] Some Canadian diplomats
take part in the tests. But that wouldn’t last long. The treatment being provided by
the University of Pennsylvania was for free. No one had to pay for it. And, once again, the Canadian
Government put a stop to that. Don’t know why. Did they ever tell
your clients why? No. And, when you
have that situation, when you’re at
world-renowned experts, where people who
have similar injuries, from the same
place and you’re told, come home. You’re not to be there. They get angry. [Jayme] It’s clear that the
Canadian diplomats and their families are sick. But there’s no explanation why. [woman] The delay has had a huge
impact on us in terms of the stress, trying to bring
our lives back to normal. [Jayme] And so five diplomats
and their families are suing the federal government
for $28 million. The government had a
duty to protect our people. [Jayme] Coming up, I’m on a
trail of theories including a homegrown one. I am willing to go where the
facts lead me. But I have to see the facts. [♪♪] [Jayme] It’s a long way from
Havana to Halifax in our search for clues to a
mysterious syndrome. What’s making so many Canadian
and American diplomats living in Cuba sick? Unfortunately, this
remains a perplexing case. [Speaking French] Their health and safety
absolutely needs to be a priority. There is no question that the
health impacts on diplomats in Cuba have been
visible and real. But it’s not until late 2018
that the Canadian Government organizes
its own study of the victims. It’s leaked to our
colleagues at Enquite. They were very high
functioning people, and they noticed that
something was wrong. [Jayme] Researchers at Dalhousie
University put the Canadian diplomats and their
families under their microscope. You noticed that the diplomats
had trouble remembering things? Absolutely.
They complained about them. They noticed it. [Jayme] Blood tests.
Physical exams. MRIs. It’s extensive. And it’s the first study that
measures diplomats before they live in Cuba, and
after they return home. They find brain injury,
just like the Americans, but there’s more… And, there is very specific type
of toxins that affecting these kinds of nervous systems, the
cholinergic nervous system, and these are
insecticides, pesticides, organophosphates. Toxins. Toxins. Specific neurotoxins. [Jayme] And neurotoxins have a
direct impact on the nervous system and brain. Why do you think that the
diplomats in Cuba were exposed to these toxins? During 2016/2017 the
government started a secret campaign and
they fumigated all of the island but mainly in Havana and in the
cities and the urban areas with trucks– in the
houses it was an army, a military operation in
order to eradicate Zika. Why are we not hearing
about Cuban people with similar symptoms? Because we are not
asking them, probably. And that’s one reason why
Canadian diplomats question the results of the study funded
by the Canadian Government. Paul Miller is their lawyer. The researchers at Dalhousie
believe that the cause of all of these symptoms could be
chemicals and pesticides. An increase in fumigation. And how do you
respond to this study? How is it that you have 20
some odd Americans and 14 Canadians– maybe
more Canadians, we’re not sure. But these are the only
people who have been affected by the pesticides? There’s no other
diplomats from around the world. No other civilians,
but these people. Really makes you
scratch your head. What are other
scientists finding? [Jayme] Could there be
some other explanation? How about….mass hysteria? …these bizarre and
vicious attacks… It’s a very unusual
attack, as you know, but I do believe
Cuba’s responsible. If some people think they are
under attack because they hear strange sounds, and
their government says, Yes, you are under attack, yes,
you have been attacked and you have to take care, then
any symptom they have, any kind, will be amplified. [Jayme] Mitchell Valdes-Sosa
is part of a team of Cuban investigators. We do know that after there was
an official communication by the US embassy to its employees
and then to other embassies, of the supposed attacks, that
the cases started to skyrocket. [Jayme] It’s a theory massively
debated but widely dismissed. I understand you examined the
brain of a family dog as well? Correct, yeah. So, one of the families that we
interviewed, they shared with us the loss of the dog and during
the time in Cuba it started to behave differently,
started to be aggressive, bark. [Jayme] Back in Canada, the
dog’s behaviour worsened. The family had to euthanize it. The dog had brain,
changes in the brain, that they are consistent with
what we found in the diplomats. And is this one of the reasons
why you think that the diagnoses of mass hysteria or
psychosomatic disorder doesn’t stand here? I don’t think the
dog was hysteric, yes. [Jayme] Let’s throw the
possibility of something more menacing into the mix. Crickets. I am willing to go where the
facts will lead me. But I have to see the facts. [Jayme] Cuba launches
several investigations including analysing
recordings of sounds. The annoying sounds that
perhaps created an explanation in the mind of the patients,
that they were being attacked, those annoying sounds,
can now, part of them, be explained by crickets. Yes, crickets. [Jayme] But could it be
something more sinister? Like sonic attacks. We don’t know the source. The person– if they moved,
the target moved with them. So that’s the
characteristics of the noise, that it was very targeted. [Jayme] Remember Michael Hoffer? He’s the Miami specialist who
finds brain trauma in American diplomats. We don’t know that
this is an attack. We know that there was
some sort of external energy, you know, occurring
to these individuals. But we don’t know how, or why
or what caused that external energy. The proposal that there is an
energy beam that can penetrate walls, track
people around rooms, some people will hear it, one
person will hear it in a room, the other won’t,
unknown to science. That’s extraordinary. [Jayme] For scientists
like Douglas Fields, the idea of sonic weapon
attacks doesn’t add up. That kind of claim, any kind
of extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. I’ve looked at the evidence… [Jayme] But sonic attacks is a
claim Canadian diplomats like Alan hold on to. A more plausible
theory, he says, than the fumigation
findings of Dalhousie’s study. Like, it totally ignores the
fact that we heard or I heard the noise and my son had the
nose bleed at the exact same time. And that we– all four of us in
the house were diagnosed with mild traumatic
brain injury. Many things are not known yet. It’s a big research. It’s just the beginning
of a research, but it’s what
we’re working on now. So, we got this email from a
spokesperson for Global Affairs, Canada. Here’s an interesting line… [Jayme] We contact Global
Affairs several times for an interview. They email us a statement,
saying they will continue to investigate potential causes
of the unusual health symptoms. For us, we’re looking at how
our clients have been hurt. And, until they know that, it’s
very hard to treat these people. The government had a
duty to protect our people. Had a duty to protect the
families and that they didn’t live up to that responsibility
to the way they should have. [Jayme] That’s for
the courts to decide, but for now, the search for
answers to the Havana Syndrome mystery continues. [♪♪]

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