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The Case of the Sick Spies

Has Russia been zapping American embassies with a secret weapon?

Illustration by Carlo Giambarresi

In late 2016, staff at the American Embassy in Havana began hearing strange noises and experiencing a range of odd symptoms: headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears. Suspicion arose that they had been targets of a secret weapon. In the years since, doctors, scientists, journalists, and government officials have tried—with limited success—to get to the bottom of the illness that came to be known as Havana syndrome. On Episode 24 of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene talk to four people who have followed the story closely: Jack Hitt, who covered it for Vanity Fair; Tim Weiner, author of The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945–2020; Adam Gaffney, a physician; and the journalist Natalie Shure. What was the diplomatic context in which Havana syndrome appeared? How have Republicans, Democrats, and the foreign policy establishment exploited the secret weapon theory? And is there a likelier explanation for the mysterious syndrome?

Read a transcript of “The Case of the Sick Spies.”