A Shadowy Russian Assassination Unit May Be Behind Mysterious 'Havana Syndrome'

Mia Jankowicz / Business Insider
A Shadowy Russian Assassination Unit May Be Behind Mysterious 'Havana Syndrome' "Those affected commonly describe a sudden, intense pain or pressure in their head, followed by varying symptoms that include headaches, vertigo, and nausea." (photo: PeopleImages/E+)

FBI agent "Carrie" was home in Florida when she felt a force "like a dentist drilling on steroids" in her right ear. Her phone battery swelled and cracked its case. Moments later, she passed out.

Since the incident in 2021, she says, she's had memory and cognition problems.

Carrie's account of "Havana Syndrome" was reported in an investigation jointly published by 60 Minutes, German outlet Der Spiegel, and investigative outlet The Insider.

The outlets link Unit 29155, a shadowy Russian assassination unit, to multiple incidences of the syndrome, which is formally known to the US government by the term "anomalous health incidents," or AHIs.

Hundreds of Americans, including diplomats and officials, across the world have reported mysterious symptoms, including in Cuba, China, Russia, and the US.

Those affected commonly describe a sudden, intense pain or pressure in their head, followed by varying symptoms that include headaches, vertigo, and nausea. Many are subsequently diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, The Insider reported.

Theories behind what causes the syndrome have included pesticides and a microwave weapon aimed by a hostile nation, and US officials previously said that the CIA had warned Russia that it would retaliate if it was found to be responsible.

The CIA has said publicly that it had found the vast majority of documented cases of the syndrome did not have nefarious causes and said they were unlikely to be the work of a foreign power.

The latest investigation's assertions, which Business Insider has not independently verified, make the strongest claims yet of Russia's involvement.

It said the syndrome is potentially the work of Unit 29155, a notorious assassination and sabotage group within the GRU, Russia's military intelligence service.

Members of the unit have been rewarded in Russia for the testing of "non-lethal acoustic weapons," The Insider reported.

The outlet said it had obtained records, such as phone metadata, flight records, Russian intelligence documents, and personal testimony linking dozens of cases back to Unit 29155's operatives.

Greg Edgreen, the Pentagon's former head of investigations for such incidents, told 60 Minutes that with the AHI sufferers they studied, "consistently there was a Russia nexus."

"There was some angle where they had worked against Russia, focused on Russia, and done extremely well," he said, adding that the top five to 10% performing officers at the Defense Intelligence Agency had been affected.

The Insider traced the movements of several Unit 29155 operatives around the time of several instances of alleged Havana Syndrome.

One source identified by The Insider as Joy, the wife of a US embassy official, said she locked eyes with a tall, blond young man outside her accommodation soon after she had experienced her first shocking symptoms in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2021.

Later, shown a picture of Unit 29155 operative Albert Averyanov by The Insider, she told the outlet: "I can absolutely say that this looks like the man that I saw in the street."

The term "Havana syndrome" originates from 2016, when the symptoms were first reported by US officials working out of the US embassy in Cuba.

In 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that a foreign adversary was "very unlikely" to be responsible.

"IC agencies assess that symptoms reported by US personnel were probably the result of factors that did not involve a foreign adversary, such as preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors," the ODNI report said.

However, in 2021 unnamed US officials told Politico that the GRU was at least suspected in ongoing investigations into the syndrome.

Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer and one of the most outspoken people to experience the symptoms, told Business Insider's Aylin Woodward that in 2017, he experienced sudden vertigo, his ears ringing, in a hotel room in Moscow.

"I was falling over. I had no control," he said. "Everything was spinning so wildly." Since then, he said, "It's been three years of a splitting migraine." He's since had to fight to get government support for his treatment at Walter Reed, he said.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request by BI for comment.

EXPLORE THE DISQUS SETTINGS: Up at the top right of the comments section your name appears in red with a black down arrow that opens to a menu. Explore the options especially under Your Profile and Edit Settings. On the Edit Settings page note the selections on the left side that allow you to control email and other notifications. Under Profile you can select a picture or other graphic for your account, whatever you like. COMMENT MODERATION: RSN is not blocking your comments, but Disqus might be. If you have problems use our CONTACT PAGE and let us know. You can also Flag comments that are seriously problematic.

rsn / send to friend

form code