Berlin police investigate ‘Havana syndrome’ sicknesses at US embassy

Police in Berlin have opened an investigation into unexplained sicknesses that have been affecting staff at the US embassy in the German capital.

The US embassy in Berlin.
The US embassy in Berlin. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

The investigation, which Berlin’s city authorities confirmed to Der Spiegel last week, comes after at least two members of staff at the embassy reported symptoms that correspond to the so-called Havana syndrome, an unexplained sickness that has been affecting US diplomats and spies across the globe since 2016.

The US embassy has reportedly handed over evidence to Berlin’s state detective agency.

The first cases were reported in Havana, the Cuban capital, where dozens of diplomats reported suffering nausea and headaches. There have since been cases reported in Vienna, Moscow and Singapore.

US authorities suspect that the condition is caused by a sophisticated attack using concentrated microwaves.

The fact that many of the diplomats and CIA agents affected were working on Russian affairs has led them to believe that Moscow is somehow involved – a charge that the Kremlin denies.

As far as this so-called ‘syndrome’ is concerned, US President Joe Biden has vowed to find out “the cause and who is responsible.”

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German minister’s 5G comments spark US anger

The US ambassador to Germany complained on Monday after Germany's Economy Minister Peter Altmaier drew a parallel between alleged Chinese and US snooping as part of a debate on using Huawei infrastructure.

German minister's 5G comments spark US anger
Huawei German HQ in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Altmaier was defending Germany's decision not to ban Huawei from participation in its 5G network as requested by Washington, which accuses the firm of being a tool of China's electronic espionage.

“There is no moral equivalency between China and the United States and anyone suggesting it ignores history – and is bound to repeat it,” Ambassador Richard Grenell said in a statement.

Grenell is a loyalist of President Donald Trump and has himself ruffled feathers in Germany since taking up his post last year with a series of pointed comments about domestic politics.

During a debate on Huawei on Sunday, Altmaier referred to the allegations that began emerging in 2013 of US spying on German soil.

Even so, he said: “We didn't boycott them”.

Altmaier also pointed out that the US required its own telecoms companies to provide information “that is necessary in the fight against terrorism”.

But Grenell said that equating US government action to that of the Chinese Communist Party was “an insult to the thousands of American troops who help ensure Germany's security and the millions of Americans committed to a strong Western alliance.

“These claims are likewise an insult to the millions of Chinese citizens denied basic freedoms and unjustly imprisoned by the CCP,” he added.

While Huawei is a world leader in next-generation mobile network technology, the US and others including Germany's own security services have warned that it is close to Beijing.

But wary of a potential falling-out with China – Germany's biggest trade partner – Berlin has said only that there would be “high standards” for security in the new network.