News & Politics

What Does it Feel like to Get Hit With an “Energy Attack”?

The US is investigating a potential incident that happened near the White House.

CNN reports that federal agencies are investigating at least two potential ‘energy attacks’ on the US. These appear similar to the unidentified, invisible attacks that have affected US personnel abroad. One such attack was near the White House ellipse in November. Another in 2019 apparently happened to a White House staffer and her dog while they walked in Arlington. Government investigators reportedly believe the attacks came from a microwave weapon.

The victims of these attacks experience “Havana syndrome,” named for the roughly two dozen individuals associated with the American Embassy in Cuba who began feeling strange, unexplained symptoms in 2016. CIA officers and personnel who have served in Russia and China have also reported similar symptoms.

But what exactly does it feel like? Affected individuals describe the incidents starting with some kind of auditory element, like a “high-pitched beam of sound” or a “baffling sensation akin to driving with the windows partially open in a car.” That experience tends to trigger a variety of symptoms including sharp ear pain, headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, disorientation, attention issues, and behaviors consistent with mild traumatic brain injury or concussion.

If that weren’t terrifying enough, some of these symptoms stick around and defy treatment. Foreign Service officer Audrey Lee was one of the individuals affected by the original Havana attacks. The New Yorker reported in 2018 that it took four months of treatment to get her vertigo under control enough for her to return to full-time work. Most of the symptoms had returned, though, and her headaches had grown worse.

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.