Government-Sponsored Research on Parapsychology

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Government-Sponsored Research on Parapsychology

In the opening years of the Cold War, the idea of the use of psychics for information gathering began to be discussed within government circles. As early as 1952, physician Andrija Puharish spoke at the Pentagon on extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychological warfare. A brief initial investigation of psychic phenomena was made by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the label Project ULTRA in 1961. Then in 1969 the CIA became concerned over reports of Soviet research on psychic phenomena, and in 1970 under the name SCANATE began an assessment of what had actually been learned.

Then in 1972 what was to become a long-term research effort was initiated by physicists Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, who had previously conducted some parapsychological research at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The pair approached the C IA with the assertion that they had found several psychics they felt could produce results. Their best example was Ingo Swann who made an impression with his seeming ability to effect a highly shielded magnetometer. Changes in the magnetometer coincided with Swann's own changes in consciousness. They later involved another psychic, Pat Price, in the successful demonstration of remote viewing, a form of clairvoyance. A review in 1976 noted the ambiguous nature of the remote view tests, and led to the relationship with SRI being dropped and the employment of Price as an independent agent. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack a short time later, and the research momentarily came to a halt. In spite of some stops and starts, SRI through Puthoff and Targ would conduct additional research funded by the government until 1990.

In the meantime the Army had become interested in ESP, due in large part to experiences in Vietnam with soldiers who gained a reputation as being psychic and hence contributing to a lowering of casualties in their units. For a short time the Navy and Air Force also showed some interest. Then in 1977 the Department of Defense established a secret program, GONDOLA WISH, to develop remote viewing and to use it in various intelligence gathering operations consisting of a half dozen intelligence officers. While much material on this unit was made public in 1995, the actual progress of the effort remains a matter of debate.

In 1878 GONDOLA WISH gave way to GRILL FLAME. A selection of Army personnel and a few civilians, all believed to have some psychic ability, were brought together at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The heart of the GRILL FLAME program was an operational unit that began to work on actual psychic espionage and to pass along the results of their finding to various Armed Forces intelligence personnel. From the beginning, the operational unit was employed in a variety of situations. Its work was and remains secret, but it seems to have held together until 1988.

At the same time, the SRI staff trained some of the psychics involved with GRILL FLAME in the use of remote viewing techniques, and also did a number of ESP experiments with them. The SRI personnel were unaware of the operational unit or how the people they were working with were using their skills on an immediate espionage operations. interacting with that unit. Among the people who joined the staff at Fort Meade in the early 1980s was Edward Dames, a former intelligence officer who had previously utilized the data supplied by the operational unit. About the same time, SRI and Ingo Swann introduced Swann's new model of remote viewing and the techniques of training people based upon that new understanding. Dames and a group of the people involved with GRILL Flame trained with Swann. According to Dames, utilizing Swann's new approach, he was able to create a group of remote viewers with an unprecedented consistency and accuracy. They enhanced their effectiveness by acting as a team on common remote viewing targets.

In spite of its effectiveness, however, the unit, now redesignated INSCOM CENTER LANE became a matter of persistent controversy within the Army. Some of that controversy was generated by a breach in its secrecy that led to an April 1984 news column by reporter Jack Anderson. That same year, the remote viewing research program went through a major review by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science. The report was negative. In 1985 the Army ended its involvement in the program and oversight shifted by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which had a continuing interest in Soviet experiments in psychic phenomena. This shift also had an accompanying name change to SUNSTREAK.

Under the new program Dames continued to train people who were moved into the program. By 1988, however, psychics who had not been trained in remote viewing in the manner taught by Swann were invited into the work and mixed with the operational unit developed by Dames. Also, under the DIA, the thrust of doing remote viewing on actual situations was dropped (though Dames and his people continued to quietly work on various matters and pass information to intelligence contacts). Among the people who became involved in the unit during this transitional period was Major David A. Morehouse, one of the last officers to be trained as a remote viewer. He remained with the secret program for two year, before returning to a more conventional Army assignment.

At the end of the 1980s, Dames and the remaining people who had been working with him left the Army and formed a private company, PSI-TECH, to continue their remote viewing work. Dames and the others were replaced with additional psychics recruited by Dale Graff, the head of the SUNSTREAK. By this time various members of Congress had learned of the unit's existence and several began to make requests of the psychics for information of a more personal nature. Also, in 1991, the research program moved from SRI to the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and continued under the direction of physicist Edwin May who had previously worked with the SRI research program.

In 1995, the Army hired the American Institute for Research to do a comprehensive review of the research program. The four-member review panel concluded that the continued use of remote viewing in intelligence gathering operations is not warranted." The program was discontinued and many of the papers related to it were declassified, though many related to the more secret operation unit have not yet become available. Again the name was changed to Project STAR GATE, the name by which the entire program would later become popularly known.

In 1995 Project STAR GATE underwent a comprehensive review by a panel set up by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). AIR invited two out side panelists, University of Oregon psychologist Raymond Hyman, a well-known spokesperson for a skeptical position regarding psychic phenomena, and Jessica Utts, a Professor of Statistics at the University of California-Davis, who had written several articles favorable to the existence of psychic phenomena. The report concluded that the laboratory results that they examined had produced above chance results but that it was unclear if those results were due to psychic phenomena or some other cause. They also concluded that the continued use of remote viewing in intelligence gathering efforts was unwarranted.

As a result of the AIR report, Project STAR GATE was closed. Toward the end of the year, the existence of the whole research program was made known to the public and a selection of document relative to the research made public. It produced an immediate controversy. Edwin May argued, for example, that the best results from the research had not been shown to the panel. Edward Dames argued that the operation unit had achieved good results in its intelligence gathering and that the material he had produced was also not shown to the panel. In spite of the complaints, the government program of research ended. It has been estimated that more than 80,000 pages of research data remain classified.

In the wake of the public disclosures over Project STAR GATE, many of the 23 remote viewers who had worked on the program at one time or another went public. Joseph McMoneagle claimed that he had provided information on more that 150 targets for the intelligence community. Morehouse, who worked with Dames at PSI-TECH for several years, eventually left, wrote a bestselling book, Psychic Warrior, and founded another company, Remote Viewing Technologies.


FAS Intelligence Resource Program: STAR GATE. April 20, 2000.

May, Edwin. "The American Institutes for Research Review of the Department of Defense' Operation STAR GATE Program: A Commentary." The Journal of Parapsychology 60 (March 1996): 3-23.

Morehouse, David A. Nonlethal Weapons: War without Death. New York: Praeger Press, 1996.

. Psychic Warrior: Inside the CIA's Stargate Program, the True Story of a Soldiers' Espionage and Awakening. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Operation Star Gate. April 19, 2000.

Puthoff, Harold E. "CIA-Initiated Remote Viewing Programming at Stanford Research Institute." Journal of Scientific Exploration 10, 1 (1996).

, and Russell Targ. Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Ability. New York: Delacorte Press, 1977.

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Government-Sponsored Research on Parapsychology

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Government-Sponsored Research on Parapsychology