The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome

Brazen

In December 2016, a US official in Havana went to the embassy medical centre to report a debilitating and confounding  illness. The symptoms included headaches; nausea; hearing loss; problems with memory and vision – and its onset was characterized by hearing… something. A buzzing, hissing, grinding… sound.

Soon, a second official came down with the same symptoms. Then a third. Then a fourth. By the time the story went public in summer 2017, dozens of US diplomats, as well as some Canadians, had come down with what was becoming known as “Havana Syndrome.”

In this deep dive investigation, journalist Nicky Woolf peels back the layers of one of the most bizarre mysteries of the modern age. The Sound is a story about spycraft, technology, and the brain. It’s a story where, at every turn, you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s an illusion. It’s a story about how the Cold War, maybe, never really ended.

The Sound is a Project Brazen production. For more fearless storytelling, search for the Brazen channel on Apple Podcasts or visit brazen.fm, home to all our podcasts, documentaries and newsletters. At Brazen, we show you how the world really works – from espionage and corruption to deal-making and organised crime, we’ll take you inside stories from hidden worlds.

Don’t stay in the dark. Subscribe to Brazen+ on Apple Podcasts or at brazen.fm/plus and get exclusive bonus episodes for The Sound and all our shows, as well as ad-free listening and early access to new podcasts. For the latest from Brazen delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters at brazen.fm/newsletters.

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Our Editor's Take

The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome explains a mysterious disorder. For years, US diplomats and spies stationed in Cuba have gotten mysteriously ill. They call it “Havana Syndrome.” Is this real? What could be causing it? Is a weird sound involved? This podcast reveals the truth behind the mystery.

The host of the podcast is Nicky Woolf. He is an international journalist who specializes in politics and technology. In 2021, Woolf published Finding Q, a podcast tracking the people behind QAnon. With The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome, Woolf follows an even more engaging topic.

Podcast host Woolf spent a year investigating Havana Syndrome. He traveled to Miami, Washington, London, and Cuba. He went to the scene of the crime to experience the sound himself. The journalist spoke to whistleblowers, CIA agents, FBI, historians, and one mentalist. To check the science and test some of the theories, Woolf even built several ray guns. However, his most important task was to talk to the victims of the illness and their partners. To this day, many of them still find it hard to share their experiences.

The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome explores international relations and scientific evidence. But more than anything, at its core, it's about humanity. Behind the mystery, there are people with lifelong disabilities and shattered lives. Woolf shares their heartbreaking stories with empathy and care.

The podcast does something quite extraordinary. It examines the power of sound through the medium of audio. It puts the listeners in the shoes of those who experienced this enigmatic illness. The shoe goes on a journey to reveal the true reason behind Havana Syndrome. It also does so in the most immersive way possible.

The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome sound design is intoxicating, compelling, and terrifying all at once. Most of it is thanks to the score that the Grammy winner Attacca Quartet composed. The rest of the soundscape, including the replication of the dreadful Havana sound, may make listeners lower the volume at times. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Society & CultureSociety & Culture

Episodes

Introducing The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome
Jan 9 2023
Introducing The Sound: Mystery of Havana Syndrome
In December 2016, a US official in Havana went to the embassy medical centre to report a debilitating and confounding  illness. The symptoms included headaches; nausea; hearing loss; problems with memory and vision – and its onset was characterized by hearing… something. A buzzing, hissing, grinding… sound. Soon, a second official came down with the same symptoms. Then a third. Then a fourth. By the time the story went public in summer 2017, dozens of US diplomats, as well as some Canadians, had come down with what was becoming known as “Havana Syndrome.” In this deep dive investigation, journalist Nicky Woolf peels back the layers of one of the most bizarre mysteries of the modern age. You’ll hear about how the US agencies failed to agree even on the basic premises. State department said it’s a “sonic device,” then rolled that back. The CIA have hinted microwave radiation might be involved. The FBI said there was no “there” there – now they seem to be rolling that back as well. We’ll explore the wild and wide variety of theories that have been put forward. Could it be caused by noisy crickets? Or mosquito spray? Or could it all be a mass delusion? We’ll hear from the cast of characters who inhabit this world; diplomats and spies, neurologists and physicists, skeptics and believers – and, with their help, begin to piece the evidence together. THE SOUND is a story about spycraft, technology, and the brain. It’s a story where, at every turn, you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s an illusion. It’s a story about how the Cold War, maybe, never really ended. www.soundistheweapon.com The Sound is a Project Brazen production. Subscribe to Brazen+ on Apple Podcasts or at brazen.fm/plus and get exclusive bonus episodes for The Sound and all our shows, as well as ad-free listening and early access to new podcasts. For more fearless storytelling visit brazen.fm, home to all our podcasts, documentaries and newsletters. At Brazen, we show you how the world really works – from espionage and corruption to deal-making and organised crime, we’ll take you inside stories from hidden worlds.
Introducing The Professor: Hunting for the Mafia's Missing Masterpiece
Dec 5 2023
Introducing The Professor: Hunting for the Mafia's Missing Masterpiece
This week on The Sound we’re sharing the first episode of a new four-part series from Brazen called ‘The Professor’. William Veres is in trouble. In 2018 he was arrested following the largest ever investigation by the Italian police’s art squad. They accuse him of running a pan-European art-smuggling ring with ties to the Sicilian mafia. He is alleged to have stolen $40 million worth of art and antiquities from Italy. Charged with 14 counts, including money laundering, forgery, wire fraud and conspiracy, he faces a jail term of up to 20 years.  But he has a plan to get out of trouble.  In this four-part podcast, host Simon Willis follows him as he puts that plan into action. It’s a story that takes listeners deep into the underworld, and into the dark heart of the most famous criminal organization of them all – Cosa Nostra.  It is a story of drug dealers, hitmen, smugglers, spies – even a corrupt prime minister. And in the middle of it all is William Veres’s quest to save himself. How? By solving the coldest cold case in the history of art crime – the theft of Caravaggio’s Nativity.  The Professor is a series for Hidden Worlds, the home of unbelievable true stories and gripping investigations into shadowy places. Subscribe to Hidden Worlds and get brand new series delivered to your favorite podcast app year-round. One podcast, endless stories. For more, visit brazen.fm/hidden-worlds. Subscribe to Brazen+ on Apple Podcasts or at brazen.fm/plus to get ad-free listening.