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In the latest episode of Failed State Update podcast, I run two interviews about Havana Syndrome, that mysterious “illness” affecting CIA spooks and State Department employees. Some say that it’s the result of high-tech harassment by Cuba, but science says that’s not even possible. Check out the show here, or look for Failed State Update in your podcast app of choice:

But first, let me tell you about the time I became a Targeted Individual (TI).

Targeted Individuals are people who believe that they are being surveilled and subjected to harassment by governments or organized crime. This harassment could consist of anything from stalking by individuals or groups (known as “gangstalking”) or novel technological means: microwaves that make you hear voices are one popular complaint, as are radiation weapons that cause headaches or traumatic brain injury. The New York Times estimates this community to be some 10,000-people strong.

In 2017, The Outline published a story I wrote about the TI community. My conclusion was that while harassment and surveillance are real — that is, those things exist — the TI community largely consists of people who aren’t being harassed at all and have latched onto victimhood as some sort of identity.

On the whole, the TIs I spoke with seemed to be intelligent, rational people. Ian Gold, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry at McGill University and co-author of the book Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness, told me I should expect this. Most delusional people, he said, were only delusional in one aspect of their life. He referred to this as their “island of delusion.” Unless the topic of gangstalking came up, you would never know that most Targeted Individuals were, in fact, targeted.

You can see some victims of gangstalking in this PSA produced by a New Jersey TI group:

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I have an anxiety disorder, so I understand a little bit about mental health conditions myself. I’m glad to say that it hasn’t been much of a problem since I got myself a good doctor and a good therapist and learned to meditate, but there was a time when I couldn’t work, when my fight or flight response was constantly on overdrive, when strange pains and sensations pulsated throughout my extremities. When you’re in this sort of heightened state of physical paranoia, you start looking for any explanation — not a rational explanation like “I have an anxiety disorder,” but an explanation that feels real, that meets you where your body is. It’s not hard to imagine someone a little more susceptible to conspiracy theories experiencing this and deciding that they must be a Targeted Individual, that these were the sonic attacks described in countless blog posts and YouTube videos.

This all became clear to me when I was sitting at the busway near my house one evening after work several years ago. I was wrapping up my story for The Outline, and I was also in the throes of my anxiety disorder. On that particular evening, I was waiting to catch a bus downtown to get a beer with a buddy of mine when a cop car drove by. It was the oddest thing, and I can still picture it — the vehicle passed at about 10 miles per hour, and as it did the young cop behind the wheel locked eyes and scanned me for an unnaturally long period of time. He didn’t seem human, he didn’t seem to have a soul. I imagined that this is what it would’ve been like to come across Robert Patrick’s character, the extraterrestrial LAPD officer from Terminator 2. In that instant, I was sure that “they” were onto me. That “they” knew about my Outline story and put me on a list somewhere. After all, I had spent months talking to gangstalking victims, who all assured me that their emails were being hacked. At this point, I was told multiple times, mine was probably being hacked too.

Luckily, I did still have some of my wits about me and was able to recognize what I was doing. I rationalized the paranoia away, and over time the feeling of being watched receded, then disappeared completely. I eventually finished the article, collected my paycheck, and every few weeks or so I get contacted by Targeted Individuals who have read the story. They want to tell me about their lives, what they are going through, so I listen. I feel bad that I can’t do more, but there really is nothing else for me to do.

When I first heard about Havana Syndrome — strange symptoms and sensations reported by CIA agents and State Department officials worldwide — it all sounded awfully familiar. Since late 2016, a growing number of people around the world have claimed to be victims of Cuba’s (then China’s and Russia’s) high-tech, covert harassment. Science has determined that they are victims of mass psychogenic illness, but just like other Targeted Individuals, Havana Syndrome victims were able to find doctors and lawyers who ratified their claims.

There’s one real difference between most Targeted Individuals and the Havana Syndrome victims. TIs cast the United States government as evil, torturing dissidents and random American citizens. Their stories, although they’re mostly unprovable, make us look at the government in a sinister light. And they draw attention to the very real, very dangerous surveillance state that has taken hold of the United States over the last several decades.

Havana Syndrome, on the other hand, is an affliction borne by the agents of the American empire. These are the “good guys,” the diplomats and spies who represent the aims of the White House and American corporations throughout the world. And as long as their story, as bogus as it may be, can help the empire attain its goals, the victims of Havana Syndrome will be lauded as heroes. Their stories will be used as justification to expel Cuban diplomats and worse.

If any Havana Syndrome victims are out there and want to talk, please drop me a line. I can’t promise that I can help you, but I will listen. You can reach me through my website.