Their Men in Havana
April 1, 2024 6:30 AM   Subscribe

A yearlong investigation by The Insider, in collaboration with 60 Minutes and Der Spiegel, has uncovered evidence suggesting that unexplained anomalous health incidents, also known as Havana Syndrome, may have their origin in the use of directed energy weapons wielded by members of Russian GRU Unit 29155. Members of the Kremlin’s infamous military intelligence sabotage squad have been placed at the scene of suspected attacks on overseas U.S. government personnel and their family members, leading victims to question what Washington knows about the origins of Havana Syndrome, and what an appropriate Western response might entail.
Unraveling Havana Syndrome: New evidence links the GRU's assassination Unit 29155 to mysterious attacks on Americans, at home and abroad
Sociologists have suggested it is little more than a mass psychogenic illness, or perhaps the outbreak of mass hysteria. Such arguments have been undercut by multiple medical studies, including one conducted by an expert panel convened by the U.S. intelligence community. The final assessment of that investigation found that AHIs had “a unique combination of core characteristics that cannot be explained by known environmental or medical conditions and could be due to external stimuli.” Nevertheless, in Mar. 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a redacted report stating that it was “very unlikely” that AHIs were caused by a foreign adversary. This assessment has sent shockwaves among the hundreds of former and current intelligence officers and their family members who believe they have suffered significant and often irreversible health consequences at the hands of an enemy force.
Kremlin dismisses report Russia behind 'Havana Syndrome'
The Kremlin on Monday dismissed a report that Russian military intelligence may be behind the mysterious "Havana syndrome" ailment that has afflicted U.S. diplomats and spies globally.

Insider, a Russia-focused investigative media group based in Riga, Latvia reported that members of a Russian military intelligence (GRU) unit known as 29155 had been placed at the scene of reported health incidents involving U.S. personnel.

The year-long Insider investigation in collaboration with 60 Minutes and Germany's Der Spiegel also reported that senior members of Unit 29155 received awards and promotions for work related to the development of "non-lethal acoustic weapons".
Havana Syndrome previously on MeFi:
The Thing (November 11, 2018)
Blame mosquitoes, not sonic weapons (September 23, 2019)
These claims have not been demonstrated (November 28, 2019)
Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion (October 28, 2020)
License to Ill (December 2, 2021)
posted by Rhaomi (85 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I adore you Rhaomi but have no time today, is there a tldr on what's different considering this possibility was (I think?) previously considered and discarded?
posted by Wretch729 at 7:03 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Cheryl Rofer (blog, bluesky) reupped her article from Foreign Policy, with a comment on how last night's 60 Minutes episode did nothing to change her mind.

From one of her bluesky posts:
On that CBS report, consider this.
If Russia has a microwave (or whatever) weapon to scramble people's brains, why don't they make a zillion of them and scramble people across the US? Or why don't they aim it at the Pentagon or inside the White House?
Why don't they use it on Volodymyr Zelensky?

posted by NoMich at 7:04 AM on April 1 [14 favorites]


That evidence in the article is awfully thin. It takes several unremarkable facts, a reiteration of the recent history of US/Russian conflict, and insinuations that the CIA is witholding further evidence, because it is too shocking for the US.

It is well known that Russia and the US have both worked on nonlethal directed energy weapons, including acoustics, since at least the 1990s. This isn't new information. It is also entirely unsurprising that US diplomatic personnel are being surveilled by other states. It is no secret that embassy staff are usually spooks and keeping tabs on their foreign counterparts is part of the job. The evidence linking the GRU to the embassy at the time is a couple of dippomats saying they saw people years ago in Cuba who resembled known GRU agents.

The rest of the article is full of insights like "Russia retaliates against its enemies" and "Russia is in conflict with the US over Ukraine". And follows it up with the assertion that US intelligence knows more but isn't letting on because they don't want to let the US public no how bad it really is, lest we demand war on Russia.

It isn't 100% impossible Russian agents used some sort of acoustic or electromagnetic harassment against US personnel in Havana. But this article doesn't present anything to make it more likely. If there is intelligence work being done here, it seems more likely to be an attempt to generate anti-Russian sentiment.

Given the reduced focus of the US public on Ukraine, and the increasingly blatant efforts of pro-Russian Republicans to undermine support for the Ukrainian military, that makes sense.

I am sympathetic to the motives involved, but I don't think there is any more reason to believe "Havana syndrome" is the result of foreign action now than there was previously.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 7:12 AM on April 1 [28 favorites]


"we are trying to keep the thing quiet".

-Henry Kissinger.
posted by clavdivs at 7:16 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


- - - - - - - - ` ` ` - I dunno, I am disposed to doubt this. Obviously you can think of reasons that if Russia has something like this they don't use it more widely - Cuba isn't very much like other parts of the world in that it is small, had close ties with the USSR that may be assumed to persist in some attenuated form with Russia, has a fairly non-mobile population, has a government that isn't best buddies with the US but still has a strong incentive to maintain lots of ties with the US, etc. You could certainly see some kind of "we have this not-very-useful, limited-circumstances energy weapon that we're fooling around with, basically it only works under conditions that apply in Cuba and we can't, eg, parachute into New York and start giving people headaches, but let's keep messing with it here where we have the opportunity". jjjj+ ``=874W3V AEO
posted by Frowner at 7:29 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


I mean, I'm not going to say that Russia couldn't have such devices, or wouldn't use them if they had them, but I'm a bit skeptical about the idea that Russia has these devices and deploys them only in a manner that's statistically indistinguishable from random chance and only against low ranking people rather than, you know, the President or VP.

Maybe my percepting here is tainted because all the Havana Syndrome reporting back in the day was 100% far right wing lunatics promoting a narrative that evil leftists in America are traitors and complicit in such things. But I'm skeptical about it.

I'm open to being proven wrong and to finding that Havana Syndrome both is real and is due to Russian energy weapons. But I'd like to see some actual evidence before I start suggesting we create literal tinfoil hatss to protect our government officials from Russian brain control beams.
posted by sotonohito at 7:38 AM on April 1 [9 favorites]


deploys them only in a manner that's statistically indistinguishable from random chance

I'm on Team Nothing-to-See-Here, but if an intelligence agency were going to deploy a method like this in the field, keeping it "indistinguishable from random chance" is how you would do it, like the Allies concealing the fact they had broken the German naval codes by using the information obtained pseudo-randomly.
posted by SPrintF at 7:51 AM on April 1 [19 favorites]


i hadn't watched 60m much in years but this came on & damn, have they been getting this fishy as a regular thing? i used to find their exposes much more believable. maybe it's just me.
posted by graywyvern at 7:55 AM on April 1 [7 favorites]


keeping it "indistinguishable from random chance" is how you would do it, like the Allies concealing the fact they had broken the German naval codes by using the information obtained pseudo-randomly.

Yes, but attacking one US embassy isn't really that random.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:58 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


First it was China but now it's Russia? Who's next, North Korea? Hamas? The "multiple medical studies" basicallt boiled down to the 2018 JAMA study, which was rubbish: no control group, no standardized symptom scales, no specialists or psychiatrists trained in psychosomatic medicine. It "found" nonspecific imaging "incidentalomas" in almost a random assortment of people. The more recent JAMA study was rigorous, included a standardized scales, and compared against a control group. Findings: no significant differences between participants with AHIs and control participants in most tests of auditory, vestibular, cognitive, or visual function as well as levels of the blood biomarkers. Participants with AHIs had significantly increased fatigue, depression, posttraumatic stress, imbalance, and neurobehavioral symptoms compared with the control participants.


posted by meehawl at 8:00 AM on April 1 [13 favorites]


Although semi-burried, wikipedia debunks Havana syndrome well enough:

In 2023, five different American intelegence agencies concluded "the available intelligence consistently points against the involvement of US adversaries in causing the reported incidents" (and a sixth said similar).

In 2024, the NIH could not find Havana syndrome injuries. It's all psychological unless real doctors say otherwise.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:01 AM on April 1 [7 favorites]


I'm on Team Nothing-to-See-Here, but if an intelligence agency were going to deploy a method like this in the field, keeping it "indistinguishable from random chance" is how you would do it, like the Allies concealing the fact they had broken the German naval codes by using the information obtained pseudo-randomly.

It would be a pretty stunning display of competence from Putin's Russia, whose secret services seem much more comfortable with straightforward thuggery than this sort of thing. Ditto Putin's scientists, who would have had to develop this thing from first principles without anyone else on the planet having any good ideas about what physical and biological mechanisms it's based on.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:02 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry to see the turn to skepticism here. The original reporting is quite good and brings new information to the public. The whole mystery is still murky.

If you want a quick summary, Miami Herald has a good article (archive link), mostly based on the 60 Minutes broadcast. The NYTimes and the WashPo both don't have stories on this take on the story today, at least not yet.

Props to Rhaomi for centering the original reporting in the post. The Insider is a decade-old journalist outlet of Russian expats working against Russian propaganda. One of the authors here, Christo Grozev, used to be Bellingcat's lead investigator for Russian topics. (The details of tracking Albert Averyanov's movements through his cell phone are pure Bellingcat.) All that's to say these sources are exactly the sort of detailed and careful journalists you want looking at a story as convoluted as this. And unlike the NYT or WaPo, I believe they are largely independent of US government influence.

For the other side of the story, March 2023 was the big news event where the US government told everyone they had no evidence these are Russian attacks with a new kind of weapon. That was bolstered earlier this month by a new NIH report that there's no medical evidence for brain injury. But these are not ironclad "debunking", they are the US government's statements about an ongoing mystery.

The new reporting's details on various Russian spy operations is compelling. But it's missing the physical evidence of the attack. The "Operation Reduktor" section of The Insider gets to this somewhat but it's frustrating. The article talks both about acoustic weapons and electromagnetic weapons and documents Russian experiments in both. But those are very different mediums of attack and would have different effects and there the reporting sort of dwindles. Is it all a mirage? Or a particularly subtle weapon?
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on April 1 [16 favorites]


only against low ranking people rather than, you know, the President or VP.


This would actually explain a lot about the current P and his main opponent, the former occupant of the White House, tbh
posted by chavenet at 8:19 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


As a rule, we do expect some detectable long-term harms from most non-lethal weapons used by police against protesters. Admitadly, those would be more powerful than what's being discussed here, but..

Headaches & brain function impairment would be caused by many many things, including elivated CO2 levels caused by sloppy HVAC repairs and/or an overcrowded office. Cuba could conspire to only permit entry by incompetent HVAC repairmen from the US maybe?

> Ditto Putin's scientists, who would have had to develop this thing from first principles without anyone else on the planet having any good ideas about what physical and biological mechanisms it's based on.

In principle, one could simply leak the idea to the American press, who discuss it publically, so then embassy personnel develop purely psychological symptoms. In this, there being no underlying physical methanism helps maintain the mystery.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:21 AM on April 1 [7 favorites]


I dunno, I am disposed to doubt this. Obviously you can think of reasons that if Russia has something like this they don't use it more widely - Cuba isn't very much like other parts of the world in that it is small, had close ties with the USSR that may be assumed to persist in some attenuated form with Russia, has a fairly non-mobile population, has a government that isn't best buddies with the US but still has a strong incentive to maintain lots of ties with the US, etc. You could certainly see some kind of "we have this not-very-useful, limited-circumstances energy weapon that we're fooling around with, basically it only works under conditions that apply in Cuba and we can't, eg, parachute into New York and start giving people headaches, but let's keep messing with it here where we have the opportunit...

This posted all by itself when I accidentally spilled a full cup of coffee onto my keyboard! Keyboard is drying out, miraculously enough, but I was actually working on a comment with complete sentences and a complete argument and didn't realize that it posted at all until just now!

Or did sinister forces post it for me?
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on April 1 [20 favorites]


I'm sorry to see the turn to skepticism here.

Skepticism is almost always the right response when it come to claims about covert government activity. Especially when it aligns with your pre-existing beliefs. Intelligence agencies have no problem getting stories into the news when they want to.

The evidence has pointed strongly to "Havana syndrome" being psychosomatic. Nothing here makes any substantial changes to that evidence.

I think being dubious of this convenient narrative is a sign people are engaging with the news critically. We could use a lot more of that kind of skepticism.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 8:37 AM on April 1 [18 favorites]


The big Occam's razor here is do the GRU agents' locations line up with Havana Syndrome reports because they're the cause of Havana Syndrome, or do they align because being near a US embassy is exactly where you'd expect to find GRU agents?
posted by thecjm at 8:39 AM on April 1 [12 favorites]


also, near embassies is exactly where our spies are, so of course we'll notice GRU agents hanging around. a lot harder to notice GRU agents hanging around places that our spies aren't
posted by BungaDunga at 8:44 AM on April 1 [12 favorites]


I'm on team "someone stole our own experimental prototype and went amok with it"
posted by infini at 8:44 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


I mean, there's a bunch of reasons why they wouldn't scale up a theoretical directed energy/acoustic weapon and deploy more widely. It may be it requires interdicted western electronic components which are expensive and difficult to obtain, and limited supplies are going to e.g. replacement cruise missiles. It may require skilled personnel to operate. It may have a strong signature of operation that would expose its use on enemy territory, e.g. it draws a huge amount of electricity so popping it next door to the white house would have the cops kicking down the door thinking it's a pot farm. It could just be that Havana was a test site, the results weren't particularly impressive and Russia decided the time, money and personnel could be put to better use.

That all said - the evidence that it was some form of weapon does seem very thin. I can absolutely believe theoretically it would be Russian (or Chinese) hostile action, they both absolutely have long-standing form wrt state-backed hacking of western infrastructure to cause harm, and Russia is obviously a terrorist state having commited many war crimes in Ukraine and previously. But the evidence so far is a long way from a smoking gun, or even proof of there having even been an attack. GRU agents as evidence? I'd utterly expect GRU agents to be around US embassies like flies on shit, the same way EVERY major state's embassies are the bases for their spies, and focuses for counter-spying operations.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 8:48 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


I'll just point out that if you are skeptical of conspiracies, explaining Havana syndrome via the existence of aliens actually turns two conspiracies into one, reducing the total number of conspiracies, making "aliens did it" it an inherently skeptical take.
posted by grog at 9:12 AM on April 1 [21 favorites]


Wasn't the leading theory a while back just plain old stress and anxiety? These are not easy jobs, and "we're now under attack by invisible brain frying tech" was thought to be what pushed a large group of people over the line.

These "attacks" also started to happen in late 2016 and became a widespread, multi-continent thing in 2017.

What could possibly have happened to Executive Branch and associated departments in late 2016 and 2017 that turned (assumed) barely manageable stress and anxiety into physical illness.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:17 AM on April 1 [21 favorites]


Gonna be a bit vague here for obvious reasons but I personally know one of the better-known Havana Syndrome victims. Is it possible it's "all in their head?" Maybe, I don't know, I'm not a neuroscientist or a doctor, all the science here is above my pay grade. I'm not a conspiracy theory person so yeah it's kind of a stretch.

But the immediate doubt and even worse, "they had it coming/kind of deserved it" attitude from certain corners is kind of gross. US embassies are not the den of spies you imagine, they are mostly boring office workers with regular jobs. The vast majority are processing visas/passports, disbursing aid (USAID), delivering demarches, etc. And a lot of the victims were family members. Did they deserve it too?

I've seen this elsewhere on Metafilter before and it's disappointing. You can disagree with US foreign policy without attacking the low-level bureaucrats who have to carry it out (and are generally just trying to earn a living, just like any other American). It's bad enough people on the right get their thrills by bashing government workers, we don't need it from the left too.
posted by photo guy at 9:20 AM on April 1 [46 favorites]


Ditto Putin's scientists, who would have had to develop this thing from first principles without anyone else on the planet having any good ideas about what physical and biological mechanisms it's based on

I don't know about that.
Tech Ingredients made this microwave weapon from an actual microwave (this video shows how you might protect yourself and yes it can involve tin foil)

There are constraints around size when it comes to capacity for transformers and microwave emitters, but as an invisible beam with no immediately noticeable impact to most objects, collateral damage doesn't need to be as big a concern.

I'm not a military tech expert, but I'm inclined to believe if technology like this could exist the U.S. would be in theoretical development. And if it does exist the U.S. would have physical tests in progress.
posted by shenkerism at 9:23 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Oh and also:and only against low ranking people rather than, you know, the President or VP.

Have you ever been near the White House? Saying everything within a mile is crawling with security would be the understatement of a lifetime. And there was at least one reported incident near the WH.
posted by photo guy at 9:25 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


I think longterm this one gets filed in the same bucket as the panic over Korean War vets coming home brainwashed.

It's a social panic that is being interpreted as a military threat because the people it's affecting are not open to the idea that they could be affected by a psychogenic illness.

Brainwashing wasn't the psychogenic illness--the belief that people were being brainwashed, rather than just given information that their value systems didn't allow them to process the way their own military authorities thought it should be wasn't a comprehensible idea to the people in charge. You could argue that the relatively-widespread belief that the commies had figured out secret hypnotic techniques was the illness.

Either way, these are social/political problems being crammed into a container they don't fit in because the truthful, meaningful way to resolving the cause of these issues is a political non-starter.
posted by turntraitor at 9:26 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


What is obvious is that if Putin has such a stealth weapon that did all these things, he would be using it. He routinely poisons people with obscure isotopes and tosses oligarchs from windows. Also this.
posted by Brian B. at 9:38 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a GRU.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:06 AM on April 1 [28 favorites]


The fact that family members are affected also makes the energy weapon theory even harder to swallow. The idea that 1) Russia invented an entirely new form of long-range, undetectable weapon, 2) they aimed it at US embassy staff in third-party countries, not at US staff in Russia (where it would be much, much easier to deploy and keep secret) or against Russia's enemies in wars they are actively fighting, and 3) they're not just directing it as US embassies but at staff housing too is just too unlikely to all be true. Embassy staff in Vienna aren't all sequestered into on-site housing, are they?
posted by thecjm at 10:12 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


"they had it coming/kind of deserved it" attitude from certain corners is kind of gross. US embassies are not the den of spies you imagine...

Were there deleted comments? Where in this thread are you seeing something that can be characterized this way? The closest I can see are some comments noting that embassies will both likely have spies operating out of them and be spied upon by others. That's ... a pretty uncontroversial statement? And entirely different from saying all embassy workers are spies, or that any embassy workers (spies or not) deserve to be harmed.
posted by solotoro at 10:27 AM on April 1 [18 favorites]


Russia has a long and undisputed history of irradiating US personnel abroad with microwaves:

The Moscow Signal
The Moscow Signal was a reported microwave transmission varying between 2.5 and 4 gigahertz, directed at the Embassy of the United States, Moscow from 1953 to 1976, resulting in an international incident. The US government eventually determined it was probably an attempt at espionage, and that there were no significant health effects on embassy staff, although this conclusion has been disputed.[1]

Background
The name "Moscow Signal" was used by United States intelligence officials[2] to describe the low power signals recorded in the embassy. The microwave transmissions caused an irradiance in the embassy of only 5 μW/cm2,[2] which is one-thousandth the maximum permissible leakage from a microwave oven and far below what would be needed to heat anything.[3] However, these signals were a hundred times more powerful than the Soviet Union's maximum exposure standards,[2] which caused concern among U.S. officials.

The microwave beam came from a source in an apartment building about 100 metres (109 yards) east of the 10-floor embassy building. The beams targeted the east side of the building, with highest intensities between the third and eighth floors.[4]

During routine background radiation testing in 1953, the microwaves were detected and sourced to suspected Soviet forces.[4] Eleven years later, shielding against the microwaves was eventually put into place.[3] During regular monitoring of the signal, the beams were found to have increased in intensity in 1975.[4] The discovery of these microwaves was not acknowledged to the public or many embassy personnel until February 1976.[5]

There are several possible reasons the Soviet Union would have for directing the microwave transmissions at the United States Embassy. The most likely theory is that the microwave transmissions were used to trigger eavesdropping technology on U.S. intelligence operations.[3] Other theories include electronic jamming, and a popular (although unproven) school of thought that the technology was used to interfere with the health, minds or behavior of the American embassy staff.[3]
And the US has an equally long history of ignoring that and pretending it doesn’t exist:
The discovery of these microwaves was not acknowledged to the public or many embassy personnel until February 1976.[5]
posted by jamjam at 10:43 AM on April 1 [10 favorites]


I'm on team "someone stole our own experimental prototype and went amok with it"

it was SPECTRE all along
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:44 AM on April 1


It's hard to imagine a biological weapon so cunning it neatly mimics the effect of a brutal hangover, a thing I certainly can imagine no foreign service agent experiencing any other way
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:46 AM on April 1 [11 favorites]


An ototoxic chemical exposure event is the most likely explanation for Havana Syndrome, probably from carpet glue or off-gassing furniture adhesives.

US embassies often acquire the same products from the same suppliers. And during times of heightened security, they turn on closed loop air systems that would enable the build-up of solvents present in glues and adhesives.

We’re years into this issue and I still haven’t seen a single journalist ask when the carpet was replaced. It’s ridiculous.
posted by Headfullofair at 10:46 AM on April 1 [12 favorites]


My skepticism about this comes from Russia using radioactive weapons or kill squads abroad with no consequences. If they wanted to attack embassy staff, they'd just do it openly. No one seems willing to stop them, least of all Americans or Europeans whose right-wing political parties are literally funded by Putin.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:47 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Most recently, for example: A Russian Defector’s Killing Raises Specter of Hit Squads

The men who killed Maksim Kuzminov wanted to send a message. This was obvious to investigators in Spain even before they discovered who he was. Not only did the killers shoot him six times in a parking garage in southern Spain, they ran over his body with their car.

They also left an important clue to their identity, according to investigators: shell casings from 9-millimeter Makarov rounds, a standard ammunition of the former Communist bloc.

“It was a clear message,” said a senior official from Guardia Civil, the Spanish police force overseeing the investigation into the killing. “I will find you, I will kill you, I will run you over and humiliate you.”

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:03 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


The fact that we can detect even extremely subtle effects like that Moscow Signal is evidence against Havana Syndrome, not for it. Something powerful enough to have these effects would leave physical markers and be detectable.

Add me to the pile of people for whom "we found evidence that spies were near embassies" is neither surprising nor suggestive. This is still likely a psychogenic illness.
posted by Scattercat at 11:05 AM on April 1 [7 favorites]


I don't know if it's just how things are shaking out in this period of history, or if I'm older now and find everything exhausting, but the current state of global conflict is full of people who are clearly pinheaded idiot bullies making terrible choices with other people's lives. We are watching masses of people just hoover up everything they say and extol their brilliance because they're in power so obviously they're strong. They're rich so obviously they're smart. It's all profoundly frustrating, and more to the point, deeply stupid.

There's something in that context that feels hopeful about Havana Syndrome. It's more fun to ruminate on than yet another Ukranian city being obliterated by Russian artillery. It posits that the bad people orchestrating these conflicts are competent and canny, with mysterious weapons they deploy with accuracy and subtlety. That they may be craven, but they are in control and operating with some kind of long term plan.

I'm not equipped to assess the science or practices of spycraft, but after a couple decades of reading the news, I haven't generally found that kind of competence to be in evidence on a large enough scale or long enough timeline that I'm ready to buy into secret brain-melting microwave campaigns. Not until I see a seriously compelling break down of how any instance of it actually went, or see the tools demonstrated in a practical way. It's all just playing on assumptions based on Cold War narratives until that happens.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:11 AM on April 1 [6 favorites]


you know what would be a fantastically brilliant bit of spycraft? turn a whole bunch of Havana Embassy employees to your side, then tell them the mission is to complain vocally, serially and eventually in parallel about a collection of mysterious and hard-to-prove ailments like headaches, dizziness, hazy vision, hallucinations etc. in a huge mock action that sets the powers-that-be off on a wild mole chase to find the magical microwave weapon while simultaneously sparking similar copycat symptoms in other US embassies around the world (maybe with a few other turned agents scattered about).

I mean, I'm not saying that's what happened, just that it would be some slick spycraft
posted by chavenet at 11:44 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


now i really don't trust my neighbors
posted by MonsieurPEB at 11:47 AM on April 1


Long Range Acoustic Devices have been on the market for decades. LRADs produce a directable chirping sound loud enough to hurt and force a crowd to disperse from a significant distance.

High Powered Microwave devices are not very discrete (so heavy, in this link the Air Force is bragging about being able to mount them on aircraft). HPM devices can burn or blister. The subjects here would absolutely be describing a hot burning sensation on the surface of their skin, and if subjected to high enough intensity, would have actual burns as a record. Of course the presence of a vehicle with a large reflector dish pointed at your house and a several kW generator running would also be pretty conspicuous.

Maybe we take the red and blue pills at the same time. One person was attacked with a novel directed energy weapon in an experiment gone right. Agencies start warning people that they are being irradiated, and stress injuries start spreading.
posted by shenkerism at 12:02 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Were there deleted comments? Where in this thread are you seeing something that can be characterized this way? The closest I can see are some comments noting that embassies will both likely have spies operating out of them and be spied upon by others.

I was definitely getting the vibe from a few folks on here, even if they didn't specifically say "LOL at the brain-damaged imperialist Americans". I also know for a fact that there were multiple comments in another Metafilter thread the last time this came up and a couple of people really WERE openly mocking the victims (comments were apparently deleted, I cannot find them now).

Admittedly part of this is me getting sick and tired of the American public of all stripes using non-military public servants as a punching bag. I will openly admit to being a public servant, and one who has even worked closely with FSO types so I am very familiar with embassy environments. USG jobs, including the FS, are one of the vanishingly few paths to a solid middle/upper-middle class income in America that includes both job security and a decent retirement, I do not fault anyone for choosing that in the "you're on your own" hellscape that is American society.
posted by photo guy at 12:03 PM on April 1 [13 favorites]


Russia has a long and undisputed history of irradiating US personnel abroad with microwaves ... 2.5 and 4 gigahertz

These days we call that kind of radiation "WiFi" and "Cellular". As the article notes, they were very low power and non-ionizing, Kissinger's offhand comment linking this to someone's leukemia is implausible, to put it politely.

The Moscow Signal is a great example of how something that could have a relatively simple explanation ("Russian wireless communications for a spy device") can be conflated into some scary sounding thing ("irradiating with microwaves", a specious cancer link.) It's a great reason to be cautionary in interpreting the evidence we have about Havana Syndrome.
posted by Nelson at 12:14 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]


I was definitely getting the vibe from a few folks on here, even if they didn't specifically say "LOL at the brain-damaged imperialist Americans".

So, no actual evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mefites—just some bad vibes?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:29 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


This American Life recently has an episode about a Ukrainian journalist who was probably poisoned, though not fatally. To date, they're not sure what the substance was.

It's pretty easy to imagine a toxin that would be hard to detect and just to the point of making people miserable (like CO2, As noted above). This seems far more likely than some as yet unseen energy weapon.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:38 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


I'm on Team You-Picked-THE-Wrong-Day-For-Me-To-Believe-Anything.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 1:21 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Another long-covid effect. (I'm half being snarky, half being silly)
posted by ckoerner at 1:32 PM on April 1


So no one read the Insider article, it seems.
posted by caviar2d2 at 1:37 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]


So no one read the Insider article, it seems.

I did not. Reading the articles prevents me from giving pure, unadulterated takes.
posted by orange ball at 1:46 PM on April 1 [11 favorites]


On that CBS report, consider this.
If Russia has a microwave (or whatever) weapon to scramble people's brains, why don't they make a zillion of them and scramble people across the US? Or why don't they aim it at the Pentagon or inside the White House?
Why don't they use it on Volodymyr Zelensky?


The inverse-square law? Like any sort of directed energy weapon is still limited by the laws of physics. You'd need to be reasonably close and conceal a lot of equipment. A static target in an embassy in an urban area with commercial space nearby? Next to trivial. Getting a target in the White House or The Pentagon? Next to impossible.

Also, have you seen the polling for 2024? Who's to say they haven't scrambled a whole heap of brains across the US already.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:52 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Two comments deleted. Please avoid picking a fight with other Mefites. We hope you will Speak for yourself, not others and this includes misrepresenting someone else's comments.
posted by loup (staff) at 1:59 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I certainly don't know what the cause of Havana Syndrome is and I don't think this article helps in that regard, but I think people are overly eager to believe that whatever other people are suffering from is psychosomatic (for what are fairly obvious psychological reasons). There is a long and sordid history of all kinds of diseases being labelled psychosomatic due to stress or poor parenting or some other vague and unrefutable reason (recently, peptic ulcers, but also asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, autism, etc). There's a belief in pop culture and in some areas of medicine that psychosomatic illness is a lot more common than it actually can be shown to be with solid evidence.

I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically.
posted by ssg at 2:10 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


There's a belief in pop culture and in some areas of medicine that psychosomatic illness is a lot more common than it actually can be shown to be with solid evidence.

I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically.


Such short memories. Remember the 90's? Early in the decade, a couple of reporters stumbled across something called "Carpal Tunnel Syndrom", and looked around their pressure cooker, toxic newsrooms where everyone was slouching over their keyboard, banging away to meet deadlines. All of a sudden, **everyone** was complaining about CTS, including many surgeons getting rich cutting peoples wrists open. CTS rates went from a pretty consistent low-level and skyrocketed overnight. Ten years later.... occupational ergonomics slowly penetrated the workplace, people got their interventions, many which actually did some good biomechanically, but most helped because it made people think their workplace cared about them (hah!, but whatever, people are funny). Now.... when's the last time you heard anyone complain about Carpal Tunnel? It's still a real medical problem, but the incidence is back down in the noise for the population, right back to the level it was before some reporters self diagnosed a population epidemic.

No, hundreds of people don't experience similar and sudden psychosomatic events, never..... /s
posted by cfraenkel at 2:51 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically.

I don't. It is trivially easy for people to talk themselves into short term symptoms like dizziness or headache, or to interpret mental stress as a physical ailment. And these people don't even have to have done that. They could easily have suffered a variety of minor health issues and attributed them to a non-existent source.

There might be some shared causal agent involved in some of these cases, like the toxic carpet glues mentioned above, but even then, their are likely symptoms being attributed to "Havana syndrome" that are completely unrelated.

On the one hand, we have stress, the nocebo effect, and accidental exposure to minor environmental hazards. On the other we have enemy agents blasting a minor embassy's personnel with experimental weapons to no obvious end. I think I know which one makes more sense to me.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 3:02 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


Anybody know what frequency the bad vibes were? Could help us pinpoint the hostile intelligence agency attacking our comment section
posted by youthenrage at 3:24 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


I'm suffering from what I think is long-term conversion disorder. I'm working through a series of physical medical tests to determine if any of my symptoms might be caused by a physical illness. Right now I assume all of my vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, inability to walk at times, lightheadedness, and a wide variety of other symptoms are the result of things happening in my brain because I've internalized too much stress and trauma without having let it out well previously in my life.

What I have NEVER encountered is anyone with a similar overlay of symptoms to me. That we've got so many that are so similar.... brains don't really rhyme with their damage like that unless it's the exact same damage.
posted by hippybear at 3:31 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Russia has a long and undisputed history of irradiating US personnel abroad with microwaves ... 2.5 and 4 gigahertz

These days we call that kind of radiation "WiFi" and "Cellular". As the article notes, they were very low power and non-ionizing, Kissinger's offhand comment linking this to someone's leukemia is implausible, to put it politely.

You make a very good point Nelson, and the reported power levels of "5 μW/cm2" measured in the Moscow embassy is quite comparable to what you would see today from a WiFi device at a distance of 15 cm.

However, that level was 100x more than the allowable Soviet maximum even though the heat it generated in tissue — the basis of US max exposure — was essentially negligible.

So why such a much lower Soviet max?

For the answer to that, I think we have to look at the Pokemon Shock triggered by the 38th episode of the Pokémon anime's first season. Its sole broadcast was in Japan on December 16, 1997.
The episode contained repetitive visual effects that induced photosensitive epileptic seizures in a substantial number of Japanese viewers, with more than 600 children across Japan taken to hospitals. The incident is referred to in Japan as the "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック, Pokemon Shokku).

As a result of the incident, the episode was pulled from rotation and it has not aired in any country since. After the incident, the Pokémon anime went into a four-month hiatus.
[…]
Broadcast

"Dennō Senshi Porygon" had its sole broadcast in Japan on Tuesday, December 16, 1997,[1] at 6:30 PM Japan Standard Time (09:30 UTC).[2] It was broadcast over 37 TV stations that Tuesday night.[3] It held the highest ratings for its time slot,[2] and was watched by approximately 4.6 million households.[4][5]

Strobe lights

A slowed-down version of the effect that caused seizures among the viewers of the episode.
Twenty minutes into the episode, Pikachu stops missiles with his Thunderbolt attack, resulting in an explosion that flashes red and blue lights.[1][6] Although there were similar parts in the episode with red and blue flashes, two anime techniques, called "paka paka"[a] and "flash",[b] made the scene particularly intense.[2] These flashes were bright strobe lights, with blinks at a rate of about 12 Hz for approximately six seconds.[7]

At this point, some of the viewers experienced blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea.[1][6][8] Some suffered seizures, blindness, convulsions and unconsciousness.[1][6] Japan's Fire Defense Agency reported that 685 viewers – 310 boys and 375 girls – were taken to hospitals by ambulances.[6][9] Although many victims recovered during the ambulance trip, more than 150 were admitted to hospitals.[6][9] Two were hospitalized for more than two weeks.[9] The incident was referred to as "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック, Pokémon Shokku) by the Japanese press.[10]
Later studies showed that 5–10% of the viewers had mild symptoms that did not need hospital treatment.[7] Twelve thousand children who were not sent to hospital reported mild symptoms of illness; however, their symptoms more closely resembled mass hysteria than a seizure.[6][11][12] A study following 103 patients over three years after the event found that most had no further seizures.[13] Although approximately 1 in 4,000 people are susceptible to these types of seizures, the number of people affected by the Pokémon episode was unprecedented.[1][9]
Six seconds — six seconds! — of 12 Hz flashes sent six hundred kids to the hospital with symptoms such as "seizures, blindness, convulsions and unconsciousness", and "5–10% of the viewers had mild symptoms that did not need hospital treatment.[7] Twelve thousand children who were not sent to hospital reported mild symptoms of illness; however, their symptoms more closely resembled mass hysteria than a seizure.[6][11][12]".

I think the Soviets strobed their otherwise WiFi-like signal, entirely possibly at ~12Hz!, in a partly successful attempt to induce the kind of symptoms 5-10% of the viewers of that Pokémon episode experienced, as well as the more severe symptoms that the much smaller group of 600 experienced, and that they probably did the same thing in Havana
posted by jamjam at 3:33 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


That Pokemon thing was parodied to utter hilarity in the episode of The Simpsons where they go to Japan. Which IMO is one of their best episodes ever.

Way back decades ago I had friends who had LED glasses that were made to be worn with your eyes closed and them showing you different patterns of colored lights against your closed eyelids to try to do different brain programming things. I used them a bunch, don't know if any of them worked, but this idea of the Pikachu brain melting thing combined with an energy weapon that isn't visible light spectrum is intriguing. Do you have a newsletter?
posted by hippybear at 3:38 PM on April 1


Now.... when's the last time you heard anyone complain about Carpal Tunnel?

Yesterday? That was when I heard someone else talk about it. Today I adjusted my chair again to manage the problems I have in my left wrist. I don't have Carpal Tunnel, that's a very specific thing. But more generally Repetitive Strain Injuries are still a big problem for people who keyboard all the time. I sure wish it were psychosomatically induced, maybe treating it would be easier. Instead for me it's been 30+ years now of careful attention to ergonomics and taking breaks.
posted by Nelson at 3:46 PM on April 1 [11 favorites]


Has anybody outside the government scienced the shit out of this event.
it would seem logical that blood and urine samples were taken from victims so perhaps these toxins would show up in their system as any other chemical agent though depends on when the sample is taken, half-life etc. for the sake of argument, say Russians have this device, why use it on a mass scale, even though there have been a couple reportings of officials being hit at the White House, it would expose the weapon, but what shakes me about this is the report from Vietnam 60 minutes reported that there are documents transferring sensitive technology to Vietnam. I really cannot imagine Vietnamese intelligence using this device willingly or unwittingly against U.S. personnel this is in relation to vice president Harris' visit in 2021 that was delayed for 3 hours due to a anomalous health incident which I believe is the new term to use. I'm not too sure seems to me a device like this would have to have a clear LOS, unimpeated glass, brick, etc.


I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically.


I understand what you mean but can you imagine when the diplomats found
The Thing.
posted by clavdivs at 3:47 PM on April 1


It's a particular kind of hubris to think that if the tests are normal, then the problem must be psychological. Maybe we just aren't testing the right things because we don't have the right tests? We've invented all kinds of new tests in the last century. Do we really think we won't invent more in the years to come? Do we really think we know everything there is to know about the human body precisely now in 2024, so we can determine empirically if something is psychological or physiological? We don't even really have more than a faint idea where that dividing line might be, if there is one.
posted by ssg at 4:03 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]


The Insider story references a case where they did find elevated levels of... something:
Both microwave and ultrasound energy can damage cells in the brain as well as open the blood-brain barrier, causing proteins from the damaged cells to leak into the spinal fluid and then into the bloodstream. These so-called biomarkers are metabolized by the body within hours to days, meaning that someone hit with an acoustic weapon would need to have their blood drawn almost immediately after an attack to detect this kind of evidence of injury.

The former Kyiv Station CIA officer who was hit in Hanoi in 2021 was one of only two victims of Havana Syndrome whose biomarkers had been measured before the attack, thus establishing an individualized baseline. In this officer’s case, the biomarker levels jumped from normal before the attack to far above normal hours after; they then returned to normal days later, clearly indicating brain injury at the time of the attack, according to multiple sources within the U.S. intelligence community. He was diagnosed with “neural network dysfunction and persistent dysautonomia due to traumatic brain injury.”
This does not seem quite consistent with the NIH study not finding evidence of brain injuries though maybe that study didn't include this particular case.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:09 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]


I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically.

Psychosomatic illnesses can be contagious. Especially in a high-stress environment like, say, a foreign embassy under a newly installed Trump administration, beset from both above and from a newly aggressive Russia. Is it dispositive? No, but there's enough there to hang a theory on.

Remember the Iranian "Iranian schoolgirls mass poisonings"? Those were never pinned down to anything physical (though possibly there were a couple of incidents of eg industrial or cleaning fumes leaking into classrooms and making people ill). But the entire epidemiology of the case points to a mass mass psychogenic illness, and there's no wonder what stress schoolgirls might be under in Iran at the time. The facts were simpler though, because the only other mechanism- a nationwide effort by invisible poisoners somehow poisoning only teenage girls- is imho even harder to believe.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:19 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]


For Pokemon shock, there's a mechanism of action. Lights, interacting with the eyes, causing something to misfire. For Havanna Syndrome, there's no mechanism of action. Microwaves magically impacted just the brains of victims without burning any surrounding tissues? IIRC from early stories, it wasn't really traceable to specific offices, sporadically hit people behind desks. It hit seemingly randomly across the world.

I don't want a blood test, I want the Havanna employees feedback on their bosses. I want to know how understaffed they were. Was anyone involved suffering from high blood pressure or elevated heart rates before hand? Not that we're likely to ever get that info.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:22 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]


It hit seemingly randomly across the world.

According to one source it hit mostly those with Russian contacts for their government job, without disclosing what their job was. If Russia was sending a message and hitting covert operators, the CIA would never reveal this.
posted by Brian B. at 4:39 PM on April 1


Having read the Insider article, that was some great reporting, connecting dots around the whereabouts of various people that a few of the witnesses IDed.

Also fascinating about the cross-country rally being a known front.
posted by emelenjr at 4:49 PM on April 1



I don't want a blood test..... Was anyone involved suffering from high blood pressure or elevated heart rates before hand? Not that we're likely to ever get that info.


a blood test would determine the former.

oh.
posted by clavdivs at 4:51 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Also just re-read the insider article, and this confirmed it to be true. That guy said he would eat his tie!
posted by shenkerism at 5:09 PM on April 1


That guy said he would eat his tie!

interesting. The reverse play is the red carpet outting of Averianov and Sons and a nice chunk of anti Russian fear with basis in science with the unknown application device cherry on top.

For Havanna Syndrome, there's no mechanism of action. Microwaves magically
It's secret so it could have Pokemon card apparatus. It is fascinating to speculate esp. that's it's a coordinated hoax. I believe there's about 120-30 cases reported and could all those people keep a secret like that normally I'd say maybe but to medical symptoms not attributed to carpet glue, GRU planted chemically altered fly tape or Col. Moran and his air rifle of wax dusted psychotropics.
posted by clavdivs at 6:01 PM on April 1


I found this podcast on the same topic to be interesting when I listened to it last year.

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/havana-syndrome/id1661362245
posted by juliebug at 6:54 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I hope that scientists and doctors are able to find something that can help alleviate the symptoms of those suffering, even if we can’t determine the cause. It is incredibly frustrating for patients who have a psychological illness. It may be all in your head but they doesn’t make the symptoms less debilitating. The symptoms remain just as real.
posted by interogative mood at 7:25 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]


Now.... when's the last time you heard anyone complain about Carpal Tunnel?

I mean, it's not all over the news cycle, but I have carpal tunnel syndrome. I regularly wake up with dead hands, and tend to fumble and break dishes and mugs in the morning when I'm doing something that makes it act up. I'm probably headed for surgery, eventually.

My father, who I suppose I got my wrists from, has it too. It probably ended his first career as a carpenter. This propelled him into good second and third careers, so it's not exactly a tragedy, but it profoundly affected his life.

And, just off the top of my head, the person in the office two doors down the hallway from me at work had carpal tunnel release surgery in 2018. So, yes, this is a weird assertion.
posted by pullayup at 8:08 PM on April 1 [15 favorites]


It is incredibly frustrating for patients who have a psychological illness.

*screams mindlessly into the void like a David Lynch character in agreement and desperate hope for someone to give us some help*
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


. It is trivially easy for people to talk themselves into short term symptoms like dizziness or headache, or to interpret mental stress as a physical ailment.

See for example Medical students' disease where students convince themselves they have whatever ailment they are studying.

Or more directly I bet I can make a good percentage of the heads of readers here itchy just by mentioning head lice. Hell my head is itchy right now and I'm the one who brought it up.

And stress itself isn't a pure mental process. It has physical effects that are easily quantified and measured. Being stressed raises cortisol levels, which we can measure, which raises blood pressure.
posted by Mitheral at 9:08 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


Here's a thought. It's not one I believe or anything, but it's something that occurred to me and that I'm spending some time contemplating.

What if the symptoms we're seeing weren't the intended effect of whatever weapon/device/thingy this was/may have been? What if they were just side effects, and the thingy was doing something else altogether?

It seems like a lot of trouble to go through for vague symptoms. But vague symptoms as collateral damage of covert operations, well, there's a long history there. I just think the question of what, if not causing general malaise among embassy workers, the thingy might have been intended to do, is interesting.

Anyway.
posted by MrVisible at 9:44 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


What if the symptoms we're seeing weren't the intended effect of whatever weapon/device/thingy this was/may have been? What if they were just side effects, and the thingy was doing something else altogether?

One of the theories (which absolutely no evidence behind it much like every other theory on the topic) is that Russia was using some sort of long-range method of snooping on embassy computers (microwave beams to read the electrical signal from every keypress on a laptop?) and these symptoms are a side-effect.
posted by thecjm at 6:15 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/havana-syndrome-investigator-on-accusing-russia-of-targeting-u-s-officials

But we have been here before. This happened with the Moscow Signal for decades. This has happened with PTSD. This has also happened with Agent Orange.
posted by Brian B. at 7:22 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I'm on Team Nothing-to-See-Here, but if an intelligence agency were going to deploy a method like this in the field, keeping it "indistinguishable from random chance" is how you would do it, like the Allies concealing the fact they had broken the German naval codes by using the information obtained pseudo-randomly.

This is not how the GRU under Putin works.

If Putin had this even just one piece of this kind of weaponry he'd use it extremely publicly against some Russian expat critics in London and leave glacial erratic sized rocks behind as evidence so that it was 100 percent obvious he had ordered it done. Just like he did with the polonium radioactive snail trail he left all over London and other parts of England.

The point would not be the biological result of using the weapon (some people harmed). It would be the political result of using the weapon (a direct threat communicated).
posted by srboisvert at 10:24 AM on April 2


I find it very hard to believe that these hundreds of people all experienced very similar and sudden precipitating events psychosomatically

One should never underestimate the ability of the mind-body connection to produce amazing symptoms and, in the case of "Havana Syndrome," the symptoms are so nebulous, variable, and wide-ranging across disparate organ systems as well as a multiplicity of self-reported causation events (and none) that a mass psychogenic illness simply is the most reasonable and parsimonious answer. It's not like this is a new phenomenon. We've been seeing, and occasionally treating or condemning, similar mass events for millennia. I've seen contagious catatonia break out and spread from person to person. Also demonic possession. Different times, different populations, but likely a common communicable psychogenic vulnerability. People are amazing.
posted by meehawl at 4:03 PM on April 2


Unknown "directed energy" weapons at random targets (including in D.C. itself) with a wide array of vague symptoms. Reports from intelligence and military officials breathlessly believed. And a whole slew of ifs and maybes and conjectures.

I'm going to keep this thread in mind in the future should I ever need to comment on how Mefi is not immune to conspiracy theory thinking and military industrial complex propaganda.
posted by AlSweigart at 6:58 PM on April 2 [5 favorites]


Russia operating its troll farms and spreading doubts about their intentions is essentially the same operational goal as stealthily disabling those agents attempting to reveal their intentions.
posted by Brian B. at 10:43 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Odd, it's as if the voter is the cut-out.
posted by clavdivs at 10:33 AM on April 3


Stories like this, and like the UFO hearings a couple months back, demonstrate that many of the people officially tasked with collecting, collating, interpreting, and presenting The Facts, from covert state operatives to lawmakers to investigative journalists live in a reality no less deranged and science-fictional than that of the Q-Anon people. It's good to keep that in mind when we read tearful opinion pieces about how posts joking about Kate Middleton's BBL surgery are doing irreparable damage to the Truth.
posted by jy4m at 6:23 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


NYTimes: Havana Syndrome and Russia’s Unit 29155. It's an editorial by one of their editorial board and I think may be online only, at least it's in a weird section of the website. Just a summary of and pointer to The Insider's reporting we've talked about here, but it's the closest to mainstream news I've seen on this story.
posted by Nelson at 11:24 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


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