A prominent animal rights group is calling on the Pentagon to halt “disturbing” research exposing ferrets and monkeys to pulsed radiation to try to recreate symptoms of “Havana Syndrome.”
On Thursday, POLITICO first reported that the Defense Department began funding experiments last September on ferrets to try to determine whether radio frequency waves could be the source of the mysterious ailment that has plagued more than 1,000 U.S. government personnel for years. POLITICO also reported that DoD has recently conducted these tests on primates.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Monday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth urging the Army to ban all tests wounding animals for medical research purposes, calling the radiation tests “misguided” and “irrelevant.”
In the letter, PETA pointed out that the intelligence community recently rejected the theory that exposure to radio frequency waves caused the illness. In an assessment led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, seven intelligence agencies determined that it’s “very unlikely” that a foreign adversary wielding a directed-energy weapon or the byproduct of electronic surveillance caused the illness.
In light of the assessment, a year-long Army-funded experiment conducted by Wayne State University on ferrets “is not only cruel and wasteful but also, frankly, futile,” wrote Maggie Wiśniewska, PETA’s science policy adviser.
PETA also noted that the Army’s decision to use live animals in experiments is “counterproductive,” because of biological differences between different species. Some experts believe “human models provide better opportunities” to study the cause and treatment of traumatic brain injury, according to the letter. It also pointed out that researchers could use animal-free technology to study the syndrome, including using healthy brain tissue from human patients undergoing certain brain treatments.
PETA has a long history of pushing back on Pentagon animal testing. In 1983, the group exposed and successfully campaigned to shut down a DoD “wound lab” in which dogs, goats and other animals were shot with high-powered weapons, leading then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to ban the shooting of cats and dogs in these laboratories.
In 2020, PETA called out the Army for reversing a previous ban on weapons development tests on dogs, cats, marine animals and nonhuman primates. The group last year accused the Army of hiding such weapons tests after the service rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the experiments.
The Havana Syndrome cases began in 2016 after diplomatic personnel in Havana reported symptoms such as severe headaches, temporary loss of hearing, vertigo and other problems similar to traumatic brain injury.
There is a large body of scientific research suggesting that a pulsed, radio frequency device could be behind the incidents. The grant to Wayne State University, which funds research from September of last year to September this year, is being used to develop and test a new laboratory animal model to mimic the symptoms as part of DoD’s ongoing research into the incidents, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to POLITICO.
It is necessary to use animals with similar brain structures to humans, such as ferrets or primates, for these experiments, according to the grant abstract. Mice and rats do not fulfill the criteria.
Despite the recent report batting down the theory that pulsed radiation used by a foreign adversary is behind the ailments, ODNI’s annual threat assessment presented to Congress last week acknowledged that for a subset of cases, the agency has not ruled out any cause, “including the possibility that one or more foreign actors were involved.”
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers last week the government continues to conduct scientific research “to determine causation.”
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