Enemies in the mind's eye
For more than 20 years, the CIA funded psychic experiments
Remote viewing was added to the roster of psychic phenomena in 1972 when the CIA became interested in the published viewing experiments of Hal Puthoff at the Stanford Research Institute. In 1972, the CIA gave the institute $50,000 to study remote viewing. Russell Targ, who joined the project in 1972, recalls a CIA official telling him: "You are wasting your time looking at churches and swimming pools in Palo Alto." Two years later, the institute received the geographical coordinates of a "Soviet site of ongoing operational significance."
"Turning point." The target was Semipalatinsk, in what is now Kazakhstan. Aside from suspicions that the site was important, nothing was known about it. Given the coordinates, a remote viewer provided a layout of a cluster of buildings and drew a puzzling, "damned big crane." He identified the underground facility as storage for Soviet missiles. Satellite photos verified the viewer's report, according to Donald Jameson, then a senior CIA Soviet specialist, who called the event a "turning point." One group within the agency refused to look at the Semipalatinsk data, objecting to the unscientific methodology. Another group allowed that the data might be real but called the process "demonic."
Still, officials were convinced enough of the program's potential that a training program was designed, as well as an ESP teaching machine. Questions designed to detect ESP talent supplemented the standard personality test used by the CIA. Some employees were deemed psychically gifted. When the CIA cut the program in 1975, the funds shifted first to the Air Force and then, in 1980, to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The military also looked for potential talent. That meant, says Paul H. Smith, a retired intelligence officer who spent seven years in Star Gate, "certain odd proclivities, like a creative pursuit in music or art, an interest or aptitude in foreign languages. They were also looking for people who didn't report any ESP experiences."
Between 1979 and 1994 Fort Meade's viewing site conducted roughly 250 projects involving thousands of missions. One, in 1987, was an attempt to find a mole in the CIA. The viewers came up with a composite: The man lived in the Washington area, drove an expensive foreign car, perhaps gray, lived in a palatial home, was intimate with a woman from Latin America, possibly Colombia. Aldrich Ames lived in a palatial house in the Washington area. He drove a Jaguar and was married to a Colombian. The car was red; the house was gray. Not that the information was used; Ames was apprehended in 1994. By 1995, the end of the Cold War, along with increasing concerns about unfavorable scrutiny, drained the remote-viewing program of both its vitality and its supporters, and CIA director John Deutch ended it. All told, it had cost $20 million. The CIA says it no longer funds remote-viewing research, but the military is less emphatic in its denials. In the end, the weakness of remote viewing, says Smith, "is the weakness of any phenomenon that deals with the threshold of human perception. There are false positives, vague notions, and confused data that go with the territory." Paradoxically, for nearly a quarter of a century of American spying, that was also a strength.