Pseudoscience Intelligence Studies
Pseudoscience Intelligence Studies
█ JUDSON KNIGHT
During the 1960s, Soviet intelligence services became interested in the possible use of paranormal abilities for "psychic intelligence" or "remote viewing"—the use of telekinetic powers to glimpse or otherwise comprehend objects not immediately available to the senses. Remote viewing, it was claimed, would help intelligence officers gain access to information that could not be seen or heard by ordinary means. U.S. intelligence officials, particularly in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), learned of the Soviet interest, and themselves became fascinated with remote viewing. The result was a $20 million DIA program known as Stargate, which lasted throughout the 1980s. Ultimately red-flagged by CIA, Stargate in its heyday attracted considerable respect within sectors of the U.S. intelligence community.
Soviet Experiments in the 1960s
The catalyst for American interest in pseudoscientific intelligence methods was the publication, in 1970, of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. According to authors Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, a number of Soviet scientists were interested in various aspects of the paranormal, including telekinesis, extrasensory perception (ESP), parapsychology, and various other psychic phenomena. These scientists had worked with military and intelligence agencies in their country to explore methods for deployment of paranormal abilities for defense and intelligence-collection purposes.
Among the most intriguing stories included in the book was an account of an experiment involving rabbits. Electrodes were inserted into the brain of a mother rabbit, and baby rabbits—without implanted electrodes—-were placed on a submarine that was then taken out to sea and submerged. A baby rabbit was killed, and as the scientists recorded, the brain of the mother, many miles away on shore, reacted at the moment of death. Setting aside all questions of animal cruelty and experimental ethics, the was interpreted to show that ESP existed and served to connect minds.
Early CIA Experiments
Psychic Discoveries elicited considerable interest in the use of the paranormal for intelligence-gathering, but U.S. programs in psychic intelligence seem to have started much earlier, probably sparked by an awareness of Soviet activities in this area. The CIA conducted its own experiments with remote viewing through its Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T), beginning in the mid-1960s, and continuing for many years thereafter.
During the early part of this period, Carl Duckett, who became CIA Deputy Director for Science and Technology in 1966, funded remote viewing experiments at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in California. Remote viewers at SRI attempted to locate targets of interest in the Soviet Union, and in other nations whose nuclear capabilities were a matter of concern to the United States.
Evaluating results. In late 1975, a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory conducted a study of one experiment, in which remote viewer Pat Price evaluated a site under investigation by both the CIA (which called it URDF-3, or Unidentified Research and Development Facility-3) and the Air Force, which referred to it as PNUTS, or Possible Nuclear Underground Test Site. The Los Alamos evaluator compared Price's "findings" with those obtained by satellite photography.
On the positive side, Price had "seen" a gantry crane that was actually there, but he had also discerned nine other objects whose presence the satellite revealed to be fictional. According to the Los Alamos report, from December 1975, "the validity of Price's remote viewing of URDF-3 appears to be a failure." Years later, after the end of the Cold War, American scientists had an opportunity to view the site firsthand, and learned that it was concerned with developing nuclear-powered rockets for space flight.
DIA and Stargate. During the late 1970s, DIA began developing a project codenamed Grillflame, which ultimately became Stargate. The connection between Psychic Discoveries and Stargate is not a clear one, but Pentagon officials did examine the book, and Stargate seems to have been a U.S. response to Soviet efforts.
At the time of the book's publication, DIA was a young agency attempting to prove itself within the Intelligence Community. Formed in 1961, it had not fared well during the Vietnam War, when it faced considerable intransigence from the intelligence agencies of the various military services. The idea of using unorthodox means to gain intelligence was seen by some personnel to offer a way of gaining a competitive edge within the Intelligence Community.
Although lacking in scientific evidence, Stargate drew in a number of respectable intelligence organizations—not just DIA, but also the National Security Agency (NSA), which in September, 1979, requested remote viewers' help with regard to Soviet submarine construction projects. One remote viewer produced a surprisingly accurate reading, predicting the launch of a new sub in 100 days. In fact the craft was glimpsed 120 days later, but it had fewer than the 18 to 20 missile launch tubes predicted by the remote viewer. Skeptics of remote viewing point out that "hits" were often based upon clues given to "viewers" and that misses were numerous.
In fairness to Stargate, it should be noted that Joseph McMoneagle, one of the chief remote viewers, later said that all readings by remote viewers were intended merely to augment, not supplant, intelligence gained by more conventional means. Additionally, the NSA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Customs Bureau, and Coast Guard requested readings from Stargate remote viewers. So, too, did the CIA, but in the mid-1990s the agency took over the program, had it evaluated scientifically, then cut off funding.
In 1995, as a result of an executive order by President William J. Clinton authorizing the declassification of certain materials, information on both the SRI program, initiated in 1972, and Stargate became public. Both programs appear to have lasted into the early 1990s, and when this information became public, many observers wondered just how the Intelligence Community could have invested so much money in such fanciful activities.
One explanation was the cultural environment of the United States at the time—an influence to which intelligence officials are not necessarily any less susceptible than ordinary citizens. The 1970s was the heyday of the paranormal, the occult—Satanism made the cover of Time magazine in 1972—and what scientists would describe as pseudoscience. Israeli psychic Uri Geller appeared to bend spoons with his mind on television, and popular TV programs such as In Search of… (hosted by Star Trek 's Leonard Nimoy) treated outlandish notions with the utmost of seriousness.
Despite the best efforts of professional skeptics like James Randi to expose the fraud in pseudoscience, the fascination with bizarre programs continued. During the 1970s, bestsellers such as Erik von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods promised evidence that extraterrestrial visitors had left countless clues of their ancient journeys to Earth at sites such as the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Interest in Nostradamus's writings swelled, and religious cults flourished. It was an ideal time for experimentation in psychic intelligence-gathering, and thus, it seems to be no accident that the CIA and DIA programs took place during this period.
Additionally, there was the desire, noted earlier, to keep up with the Soviets. Herein lies an irony. Though the United States would attempt to develop its own psychic intelligence programs in competition with the Soviet Union, it appears that the Soviets were only trying to keep up with the Americans in the first place. Psychic Discoveries noted that Soviet experiments were sparked by a 1959 report in the French magazine Constellation regarding alleged telepathy experiments conducted by the U.S. Navy. The article, "Thought Transmission—Weapon of War," was based on a misreading or misunderstanding of Navy activities. Therefore it is possible to characterize experiments in psychic intelligence on both sides of the iron curtain as, to some degree, a comedy of errors.
█ FURTHER READING:
Mandelbaum, W. Adam. The Psychic Battlefield: A History of the Military-Occult Complex. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Morehouse, David. Psychic Warrior: Inside the CIA's Stargate Program: The True Story of a Soldier's Espionage and Awakening. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Ostrander, Sheila, and Lynn Schroeder. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.
Haines, Gerald K. A Die-Hard Issue: CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947–90. Studies in Intelligence 1, No. 1, 1997. Central Intelligence Agency. <http://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/97unclass/ufo.html> (April 28, 2003).
Richelson, Jeffrey T. Science, Technology and the CIA. National Security Archive, George Washington University. <http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB54/index2.html> (April 24, 2003).
UFOs. Central Intelligence Agency FOIA. <http://www.foia.cia.gov/ufo.asp> (April 28, 2003).
Area 51 (Groom Lake, Nevada)
CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)
CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)
DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency)