Polymeropoulos was a covert CIA operative, a jovial, burly man who likes to refer to himself as “grizzled.” Moscow was not the first time he had been on enemy territory. He had spent most of his career in the Middle East, fighting America’s long war on terrorism. He had hunted terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen. He did the same in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had been shot at, ducked under rocket fire, and had shrapnel whiz by uncomfortably close to his head. But that night, paralyzed with seasickness in the landlocked Russian capital, Polymeropoulos felt terrified and utterly helpless for the first time.
Struggling to regain control over his body, Polymeropoulos couldn’t have imagined that this incident would upend his life. It would end a promising career that had just catapulted him into the ranks of senior CIA leadership, and threw him into the middle of a growing international mystery that has puzzled diplomats and scientists, and raised concerns on Capitol Hill. In the months ahead, he would come to realize that it wasn’t a spoiled sandwich that had mowed him down. Rather, it was his macabre initiation into a growing club of dozens of American diplomats, spies, and government employees posted abroad who were suffering in much the same way he was—targets of what some experts and doctors now believe were attacks perpetrated by unknown assailants wielding novel directed energy weapons. Though many of these apparent attacks have been publicized, including those that took place in Cuba and China, others have not been revealed until now, including at least three incidents that officials from the CIA and Capitol Hill say targeted American citizens on American soil.