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US investigates second suspected case of mystery ‘syndrome’ near White House

By Katie Bo WilliamsJeremy Herb and Natasha Bertrand, CNN

Updated May 17, 2021

(CNN)Two White House officials were struck by a mysterious illness late last year — including one who was passing through a gate onto the property — newly revealed details that come as investigators are still struggling to determine who or what is behind these strange incidents.

Multiple sources tell CNN that the episodes affected two officials on the National Security Council in November 2020, one the day after the presidential election and one several weeks later.

The cases are consistent with an inexplicable constellation of sensory experiences and physical symptoms that have sickened more than 100 US diplomats, spies and troops around the globe and have come to be known as “Havana Syndrome.

The intelligence community still isn’t sure who is causing the strange array of nervous system symptoms, or if they can be definitively termed “attacks.”

Even the technology that might cause such an inconsistent set of symptoms is a matter of debate

The first incident, previously reported by CNN, occurred after the 2020 election as the NSC official was attempting to pass through an unstaffed gate near the Ellipse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the incident. That person suffered only mild symptoms after the encounter, including headaches and sleeplessness, all of which went away after a week.

The second official, whose case has not been previously reported, was struck weeks later near an entrance to the White House grounds, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

The second official suffered more serious symptoms and was ill enough to seek immediate medical treatment.

The twin incidents in downtown Washington, along with a previous suspected case in northern Virginia in 2019, have raised concerns that the wave of episodes first seen only among Americans overseas is now occurring in rising numbers on US soil — and maybe even at the President’s front door.

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This story is based on interviews with over a dozen current and former officials with knowledge of the US efforts to respond to these mysterious incidents.

For five years now, investigators have struggled to explain the strange experiences reported by US diplomats and other government workers in Cuba, Russia, China and elsewhere — episodes that in some cases have led to chronic headaches and brain injuries.

Victims have reported experiencing sudden vertigo, headaches and head pressure, sometimes accompanying by a “piercing directional noise.”

Some reported being able to escape the symptoms simply by moving to another room — and step back into them by returning to their original position.

The number of suspected cases worldwide is increasing, according to a recent statement from the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. There have been more than 130 cases worldwide over the past five years, according to the New York Times, which reported at least one episode taking place overseas in the last two weeks.

There have also been suspected cases in Europe, CNN previously reported, and additional suspected cases are being investigated domestically, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

‘Anomalous health incidents’

Under pressure from lawmakers and victims, the Biden administration has dramatically ramped up its efforts to “identify the cause of these incidents, determine attribution, increase collection efforts, and prevent” what the intelligence community now terms “anomalous health incidents,” a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement on Tuesday.

CIA Director Bill Burns has begun to receive daily briefings on the matter, including some from victims of these strange encounters, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

But even a definitive diagnosis proving any one case is, in fact, “Havana Syndrome,” has proven frustratingly difficult, officials say.

Victims suffer a myriad of different symptoms both initially and over time, and scientists, engineers and medical experts are divided over whether all of the cases under investigation can be attributed to a single cause.

The government has successfully identified and fielded a blood test that can point to some markers that may indicate exposure, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

That test was among the diagnostic tools used in recent cases of intelligence officers who reported symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome, and in the case of at least one of the White House victims, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But the test alone is not enough to offer a clear diagnosis.

Multiple agencies are also trying to create or repurpose a type of sensor that could be used to detect anomalous activity and, theoretically, help establish that personnel are being hit, according to two current US officials and one former US official — although sources cautioned such a tool would only be able to detect the activity, not protect from it.

“How do you counter something you don’t know is coming?” said one intelligence official.

March report from the National Academy of Sciences found that “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy” was the most likely cause of the strange set of symptoms — so-called microwave energy — but officials caution that even that isn’t known for sure, and some academics have publicly dismissed the theory as unsupported.

“The whole ‘microwave’ theory is not because someone has any intelligence to suggest it, or someone saw it happen,” said one source familiar with the intelligence on the matter. “This is what’s been so maddening. It’s based purely on symptoms.”

“We have no hard leads — just all circumstantial evidence. And it’s circumstantial evidence that could also be something completely different.”

A National Security Agency memo made public in 2014 revealed that the agency had intelligence from as recently as 2012 pointing to the possible existence of “a high-powered microwave system weapon … designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system.”

But the memo did not definitively confirm the existence of such a weapon, or which country may have developed it.

And some officials have questioned how such a weapon might be discreetly powered — especially in crowded downtown Washington — and focused so precisely that it would only cause injury to the target’s brain and not the rest of the body.

Equally murky is who might be behind these incidents, if they are indeed attacks.

Some evidence points to Russia as a likely culprit, officials say, but it is largely circumstantial: Russia is one of only a few countries that has dedicated research and development to what some experts believe could be the kind of weapon that could cause symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome.

Some officials tracking Havana Syndrome suggest that, if a foreign adversary is using some kind of directed energy weapon, the intent may not be to harass or maim US personnel, but rather to collect information from their cell phones.

“I don’t know if they stumbled across a collection mechanism that allows it to be used as a weapon system or if they are just trying to collect (data from cell phones) and it (causes) adverse side effects,” said one person with direct knowledge of the incidents. “From what I read that the jury’s still out on what exactly people thought it was.”

‘We don’t have the smoking gun’

The new incidents, including those in Washington, have sparked growing frustration among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who say the intelligence community has failed to provide Congress with enough information on what it knows and how it’s responding — and has not properly taken care of the victims.

“I’m appalled that many of these individuals who were injured in the line of duty have had to fight to get adequate medical care, to have their injuries even recognize and acknowledge and to receive financial compensation,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees have been demanding additional details and have urged intelligence officials to declassify information about the attacks.

Lawmakers have praised Burns’ stated commitment to the issue, but a recent closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee briefing on the subject was one of the committee’s most contentious in recent memory, according to two sources familiar with the briefing.

Congress has also expressed concern that the government has failed to sufficiently coordinate efforts out of multiple agencies — including the Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department — to address the problem.

“There are lots of entities in the government looking at this. We need to have it better coordinated,” said Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner. “I think there’s a level of seriousness given to this now that frankly was not there until Director Burns came and made this a priority.”

The Virginia Democrat said it was frustrating that after five years since these apparent attacks began occurring, there’s still difficulty in everything from taking care of those who have been injured to determining who is responsible and even what tools or weapons were used.For some victims of these strange incidents — some of whom are suffering from debilitating ongoing health problems — the government’s response has been equally frustrating.

Current and former officials say that during the Trump administration, individuals who reported experiencing these symptoms weren’t always believed.”

It took awhile for certain people to take it very serious,” said one official with direct knowledge of the incidents

Even now, officials who report these symptoms are closely screened to confirm whether their symptoms are physical or psychosomatic.”

The problem with the handful (of episodes) that I know have happened here in this country (is) the smoking gun,” said the official. “We don’t have the smoking gun.”

Big USA recycling myths tossed out: Plastic industries behind these delays

America’s recycling system is in crisis.

That’s the picture the Washington Post recently painted in a damning story on the state of recycling in the United States.

First, the mixed-material “blue bins,” designed to decrease the hassle of sorting, are contaminating the recycling coming into facilities—meaning recyclable materials end up getting chucked into landfills along with trash. Second, thanks to lighter packaging, dwindling demand for newsprint, and low oil prices, the commodity prices for recyclables have decreased—

So China, which used to buy most of our recycled materials, no longer has incentive to do so.

According to the Post, this means that recycling is no longer profitable for waste management companies, and municipalities are stretching to pick up the cost.

So is the end of recycling drawing nigh? Not necessarily.

The experts that I spoke to agreed that our system is broken—but for a slightly different set of reasons than those that the Post listed. And guess what?

They think there’s a way to fix it. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common myths about recycling:

  • Myth #1: Recycling was invented to reduce waste.
  • Back in the 1970s, says Samantha MacBride, a sociologist at CUNY’s Baruch School of Public Affairs and author of the book Recycling Reconsidered, cities and towns became overwhelmed by the amount of plastic packaging entering the waste stream and started demanding something be done about it.
  • In order to avoid regulation and the banning of plastic products they used, the beverage and packaging industry pushed municipal recycling programs.
  • Decades later, the plastics used for packaging have barely been regulated—so cities and towns have to deal with more waste than ever before.The problem is so overwhelming that many contract with private trash companies, the largest of which is publicly-traded Waste Management, which brought in nearly $14 billion last year.
  • Recycling only generates a fraction of the revenue of these companies (much more comes from landfill, which requires less labor), but they are able to make some profit from selling bales of recycled materials to countries like China as raw material.
  • When commodity prices are low, they shut down recycling plants and put recyclable materials in landfills, or renegotiate contracts with cities to charge more for their services.
  • In short, these corporations have no incentive to reduce waste.
  • Myth #2: Blue bins are what’s mucking up the recycling stream.
  • In single stream recycling—the “blue bin” model—consumers put all their recyclables in one bin, while in dual stream, the consumer sorts the materials at the curb into different bins.
  • According to Container Recycling Institute president Susan Collins, data does suggest that single stream recycling leads to more contamination than dual stream—garbage gets thrown into blue bins at a higher rate, spoiling what’s actually recyclable.But MacBride says that contamination rates in single-stream recycling are not actually that much higher than that in dual stream recycling—and that people who complain about blue bins are missing a much larger problem: Because the packaging and beverage industry has opposed banning even the most troublesome plastics, like polystyrene, there are now “thousands of different kinds of plastics,” says MacBride.
  • In 2013, the US generated 14 million tons of container and packaging plastic. It takes so much work to sort through that mess that it’s nearly impossible to make a profit doing it—so companies like Waste Management send it to China. Plus, all of the different kinds of plastics used for packaging confuse consumers. (Can the soda cap be recycled or just the bottle? What about the bag inside the cereal box?)
  • Myth #3: Falling commodity prices mean the end of recycling.
  • Big, profit-driven trash companies like Waste Management argue that factors like low oil prices, less demand for newsprint, lighter-weight packaging, and contamination from single stream recycling have slashed commodity prices and made recycling untenable.
  • It isn’t profitable for us, and we have to react by shutting down plants,” Waste Management CEO David Steiner told the Wall Street Journal. But Collins says this is “not a surprise to anyone.” She and other recycling advocates point out that recycling markets fluctuate like any commodity; oil prices and the market will eventually adapt and rebound.
  • Myth #4: The solution is to quit recycling—it’s just not worth it.
  • That’s the story Big Waste has been peddling. But some smaller recycling outfits aren’t buying it. Take the city of St. Paul, Minnesota: Fifteen years ago, city officials balked when Waste Management raised its rates for the city’s curbside pickup program by 40 percent. So St. Paul ditched Waste Management and contracted with a new partner: a nonprofit called Eureka Recycling.
  • Since 2001, Eureka reports, its recycling program has generated $3.5 million in revenue and 100 new jobs. It also diverts 50 percent of its trash away from the landfill, with a goal of 75 percent in the next 5 years*—an accomplishment it has achieved largely through a program that gives consumers clear instructions about what they can recycle. (That is why Lebanon should ditch Sukleen for ever)Employee-owned Recology in San Francisco also educates residents about recycling and employs hundreds of people to sort the materials coming into their recycling facility. As a result, while Recology, which saves 92 percent of San Francisco’s trash from the landfill, isn’t seeing Wall-Street-level profits, it isn’t experiencing a crisis either.
  • As Collins points out, when commodity prices are down, the the highest quality bales are sold first, rewarding operations doing the best job recycling.One way to improve the bales: Ditch the plastics that are hardest to recycle.
  • Indeed, a growing number of cities—including San Francisco—have banned plastic bags and polystyrene. The result is less sorting required at the facility—and better bales. As Recology manager Robert Reed told me, “We are confident that we can move our materials because of the high quality of the bales that we make and the quality of our recycling process.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the percentage of trash that Eureka Recycling diverts away from landfill.

Note: Lebanon has been experiencing an enduring trash problem with extremely high cost of over $150 per ton. 50% of the expenses go into the pocket of the leading political leaders. Germany and Sweden are ready to pick our trash, but our government refuses to sort out the trash according to protocol.

Andrew Bossone shared this link on July 24, 2015

US recycling issues more from no regulation pushed by plastics industry than high costs argued by big waste companies

No, “blue bins” are not what’s causing America’s trash problem.




January 2023

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