By now, this was no longer a novel occurrence, and CIA people had come to call it “getting hit.” One senior intelligence officer in EEMC, the Center Polymeropoulos used to run, had gotten hit twice while traveling under cover, first in Poland in the spring of 2019, then again in Tbilisi, Georgia, that fall. He, too, was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia and experienced symptoms similar to Polymeropoulos’s. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.)
According to these sources, the attacks were becoming increasingly daring: One of the CIA officials hit in Australia and Taiwan was among the agency’s five highest-ranking officials.
Whoever was behind the attacks also began going after Americans on American soil. An American diplomat and his spouse, who had been hit when they were stationed in China, traveled to Philadelphia to get specialized treatment at the University of Pennsylvania. One night in June 2018, according to three government sources, the couple was startled awake by a sound and pressure in their heads similar to what they had felt back in China. On the advice of FBI agents, the family moved to a different location, but on their second night in the hotel, they were again awoken in the early morning hours. Terrified, the parents ran into the room where their children were sleeping to find them moving in their sleep, bizarrely and in unison. In the weeks afterward, the children developed vision and balance difficulties. The family members, whose identities GQ is not revealing for privacy reasons, declined to be interviewed for this story. “I can’t say anything about that,” says attorney Janine Brookner, who represents the family.
Then, shortly after Thanksgiving 2019, according to three sources familiar with the incident, a White House staffer was hit while walking her dog in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. According to a government source familiar with the incident, the staffer passed a parked van. A man got out and walked past her. Her dog started seizing up. Then she felt it too: a high-pitched ringing in her ears, an intense headache, and a tingling on the side of her face.
According to the source, this had happened to the staffer before. In August 2019, she had accompanied John Bolton, who was then the national security adviser, on a trip to London. The staffer, whom GQ is not identifying out of concerns for her privacy, did not respond to requests for comment. According to the government source, she was in her hotel room when she suddenly felt a tingling in the side of her head that was facing the window. The intense pressure in her head was accompanied by a tinning in her ears. When she left the room, the symptoms stopped. She reported the incident to the Secret Service because it was uncannily similar to the symptoms described by American diplomats who had served in Cuba and China.
While the CIA is not typically involved in investigations of domestic incidents, two sources familiar with the attack on the White House staffer told me that the Agency began looking into the matter and, last December, briefed the National Security Council’s unit on biodefense. But by the end of the month, they had become completely consumed with a brand new threat coming from overseas: COVID-19. (The White House did not respond to GQ’s request for comment.)
In the meantime, a team was assembled at Langley to investigate the incidents overseas. Investigators came to believe that the injuries to victims’ brains were caused by a microwave weapon, which could be beamed at its target through walls and windows, and could even be effective from a couple miles away. Given the work Polymeropoulos and his team had been doing to thwart the Russians since 2017, and the fact that much of the scientific literature on the biological effects of microwaves had been published in the Soviet Union and Russia, it seemed plausible to the investigators that the Russians could be behind this.