Saturday, November 23, 2019

Cause of "Havana Syndrome" Identified by Canada

Havana Syndrome Caused by Chemical Toxins

Canadian researchers have definitively identified the chemical toxin cause of the neurological symptoms experienced in Havana by their diplomats and presumably by Americans.  

However the theory that pesticides are the source is open to debate (albeit politically helpful as an unintended consequence).  

If pesticides applied by Cuba were responsible, diplomats from other countries would have been affected.  Canada did spray additional pesticides that could have been the source, but the US did not.

It seems possible that the toxins were applied topically, e.g. on specific locations likely to be touched by the targeted Americans and Canadians.  That could explain how US personnel who were hotel residents were affected and why one person in a residence suffered but another did not.

There are several theoretical beneficiaries of a successful assault that prompted the US to surrender and sacrifice the diplomatic, consular and intelligence presence and influence achieved by President Obama.  (see update below)

The study of the National Academies of Sciences released in December 2020 dismisses the Canadian research, PDF here   page 20-23

--John McAuliff

Science Daily
from research organizations

Pesticides likely caused 'Havana syndrome' that affected Cuba-based diplomats
October 3, 2019
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
The study details the nature of the injury, specifies the brain regions involved, including the blood-brain barrier and suggests a possible cause in the form of 'cholinesterase inhibitors,' with 'organophosphorus insecticides' being a likely source. Cholinesterase (ChE) is one of the key enzymes required for the proper functioning of the nervous systems of humans, invertebrates and insects.

A new interdisciplinary study on the "Havana Syndrome" led by Dr. Alon Friedman M.D. of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Dalhousie University Brain Repair Center in Nova Scotia, Canada, points to overexposure to pesticides as a likely cause for neurological symptoms among Canadian diplomats residing in Havana, Cuba in 2016. This is the first study of its kind focused on Canadian diplomats.
The "Havana Syndrome" was the name given to the symptoms initially believed to be acoustic attacks on U.S. and Canadian embassy staff, first reported in Cuba. Beginning in August 2017, reports surfaced that American and Canadian diplomatic personnel in Cuba had suffered a variety of health problems including headaches and loss of balance, as well as sleep, concentration, and memory difficulties.
To ensure Dr. Friedman and his team's findings are properly interpreted and understood, Dr. Friedman elected to discuss his research in advance of peer-reviewed publication with the Canadian Broadcasting Service which obtained a draft report to the Canadian government, leaked by an unknown source.
The research will be presented at Breaking the Barriers of Brain Science Symposium in New York on Sunday, October 27.
The study details the nature of the injury, specifies the brain regions involved, including the blood-brain barrier and suggests a possible cause in the form of "cholinesterase inhibitors," with "organophosphorus insecticides" being a likely source. Cholinesterase (ChE) is one of the key enzymes required for the proper functioning of the nervous systems of humans, invertebrates and insects.
In total, there were 26 Canadian participants: 23 Canadian diplomats and their family members who lived in Havana were included in the study, as well as individuals who didn't live in Cuba.
"We were also able to test several of the subjects before and after they returned from Cuba," Dr. Friedman says. "Our team saw changes in the brain that definitely occurred during the time they were in Havana."
Dr. Friedman and his team attribute the study's findings to multidisciplinary and quantitative research methods, in particular, their use of new brain imaging tools including advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques and magnetoencephalography.
"We followed the science, and with each discovery we asked ourselves more questions," said Dr. Friedman. "Pinpointing the exact location of where the brain was injured was an important factor that helped lead us to perform specific biochemical and toxicological blood tests and reach the conclusion that the most likely cause of the injury was repeated exposure to neurotoxins."
The researchers involved also represented a wide range of disciplines, including neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry, audio-vestibular, ophthalmology, toxicology and even veterinary medicine.
"The study validates the need for us to continue to learn more about the use of pesticides and other toxins," said Dr. Friedman. "It is a global health issue that reminds us how much we still have to learn about the impact that toxins have on our health."
The study was requested and funded by Global Affairs Canada, who partnered with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Also participating in the study were Dr. Friedman's group at BGU and Dr. Shamir from The Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at Hebrew University.

Story Source:
Materials provided by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the NegevNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1.    Alon Friedman, Cynthia Calkin, Amanda Adams, Guillermo Aristi Suarez, Tim Bardouille, Noa Hacohen, A. Laine Green, R. Rishi Gupta, Javeria Hashmi, Lyna Kamintsky, Jong Sung Kim, Robert Laroche, Diane MacKenzie, Dan Milikovsky, Darren Oystreck, Jillian Newton, Greg Noel, Jonathan Ofer, Maher Quraan, Claire Reardon, Margaux Ross, Derek Rutherford, Matthias Schmidt, Yonatan Serlin, Crystal Sweeney, Janine Verge, Leah Walsh, Chris Bowen. Havana Syndrome Among Canadian Diplomats: Brain Imaging Reveals Acquired NeurotoxicitySubmitted to medRxiv, 2019 [link]

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "Pesticides likely caused 'Havana syndrome' that affected Cuba-based diplomats." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2019. <>.


BACKGROUND: In late 2016, US diplomats stationed in Havana began presenting with a variety of neurological manifestations that proved difficult to diagnose. Though previous studies suggested a likely association with brain injury, the mechanism of injury, brain regions involved, and etiology remained unknown. METHODS: We conducted a multimodal study examining 26 Canadian diplomats and their family members, the majority of whom presented with symptoms similar to their American counterparts while residing in Havana. Assessments included a medical history, self-reported symptom questionnaires, cognitive assessments, blood tests, and brain imaging assessments (magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG)). Individuals showing signs of brain injury underwent further neurological, visual, and audio-vestibular assessments. Eight participants were tested both before and after living in Havana. RESULTS: Our assessment documents multiple functional and structural impairments, including significant spatial memory impairment, abnormal brain-stem evoked potentials, degradation of fibre tracts in the fornix and posterior corpus callosum, blood-brain barrier injury to the right basal forebrain and anterior insula, and abnormal paroxysmal slowing events of cortical activity. Subsequent mass-spectrometry and blood analyses documented reduced serum cholinesterase activity and the presence of organophosphates (Temephos) and pyrethroid metabolites (3-phenoxybenzoic acid or 3-BPA). CONCLUSIONS: Our findings confirm brain injury, specify the regions involved, and raise the hypothesis of overexposure to cholinesterase inhibitors as a plausible etiology. If correct, our hypothesis bears public health ramifications (see Discussion) and suggests a course of action for reducing exposure in the future. FUNDING: Global Affairs Canada.

Full Research PDF here

Personal speculation about the responsible party.

As Senator Marco Rubio said in January 2018 (reported here),  “Whoever did this did this because they wanted there to be friction between the U.S. and the Cuban government, that would be the motivation behind this.”

The perpetrator could be hard liners in Cuban security services, a third country wishing to undermine US-Cuba rapprochement, or extremists in Florida.  

In a backhanded way, Rubio introduced the last possibility when he blurted out unprompted“I don’t believe that any credible person on the planet believes that some group of anti-Castro Cubans conducted these attacks in an elaborate scheme to somehow disrupt the Obama opening.”  

While Russia had the motive and a modus operandi demonstrated in England, we should not ignore the potential hand of Florida extremists.  They are the only ones with a history of anger at Canada, an aggravatingly long time opponent of US efforts to isolate Cuba and a primary source of tourists and western investment.

The Russia theory fits if one assumes President Trump has shaped much of his foreign policy to benefit Vladimir Putin.  Running away from the ostensible sonic attacks, against the expressed views of the Foreign Service, led to dramatic reversal of growing US-Cuba relations and mutual influence through closure of both countries consulates and drastic reductions of embassy staff.

Facing growing economic sanctions from the US, even threats of military assault because of Venezuela, the Cubans had no option but to move closer to Moscow as reported here by AP.

If the Russians were responsible, they would have required assistance or at least cover by some Cubans.  If leaders such as Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel who had taken a political risk by embracing Obama discovered this betrayal, what could they have done about it?  Facing growing hostility from Washington, a closer relationship with Moscow was inescapable.  Trump presumably also would not have wanted his friend Putin exposed.  

President Biden cannot restore the embassies and consulates without assurance the mysterious medical maladies will not return.  Cooperation between the two governments could mean a private mutual understanding of the Russian role and a Cuban guarantee that it will not happen again.

-- John McAuliff, 12/5/20

Earlier analysis in September 2018 here

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