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Early ESP and the U.S. Government

Any mention of ESP and psychic-phenomena in connection with the activities of the U.S. Government is almost certain to provoke and guarantee commentary with respect to the ground-breaking “Remote-Viewing” work of the CIA, U.S. Army, and Defense Intelligence Agency from the early 1970s onwards. And rightly so, too. Many people, however, are glaringly unaware that the government’s interest – and direct involvement – in such matters actually dates back decades before the remote-viewers were even on the scene.

In 1977, in a document titled Parapsychology in Intelligence, Kenneth A. Kress, an engineer with the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, wrote: “Anecdotal reports of extrasensory perception (ESP) capabilities have reached U.S. national security agencies at least since World War II, when Hitler was said to rely on astrologers and seers. Suggestions for military applications of ESP continued to be received after World War II. For example, in 1952 the Department of Defense was lectured on the possible usefulness of extrasensory perception in psychological warfare.”

Moving on to 1960…

Ruth Montgomery was a well-known and controversial psychic, and the author of such books as  Aliens Among Us and A World Beyond who died in 2001. On June 14, 1960 Montgomery wrote an article entitled “Spying By Mind-Reading” that was published in the New York Journal American newspaper.

Files declassified under the terms of the Freedom of Information reveal that Montgomery’s eye-opening article led none other than FBI head-honcho, J. Edgar Hoover, to ask “Is there anything to this?” in a memo that was sent to three of the FBI’s most respected figures: Clyde Tolson, who had been the FBI’s associate director; Alan Belmont, who held the position of Assistant Director of the Domestic Intelligence Division of the FBI; and Cartha DeLoach, who in 1948 became the liaison point between the FBI and the CIA.

Forty-eight-hours later Belmont prepared a reply. It stated: “The New York Journal American on 6-14-60 carried a column by Ruth Montgomery Spying by Mind-Reading! in which she stated the Army Intelligence Service was conducting research experiments in mental telepathy. She speculated that the ultimate achievement would be to develop a method whereby U.S. spies could ‘receive’ thoughts of plotters in the Kremlin…Lieutenant Colonel Lee Martin, Chief of Investigations, Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, advised liaison agent [Deleted] that the Army is conducting no such project as described in the article.”

But did this mean that no such research had ever been initiated by other branches of the military? When faced with yet further inquiries, Lt. Col. Martin seemingly back-tracked to a degree. He admitted to the FBI that the denial to the Montgomery article about the Army’s non-involvement in such matters did not mean other agencies were not implicated. In fact, Hoover was told:

“He [Lt. Col. Martin] did state that the U.S. Air Force had a contract in 1958 and 1959 with the Bureau of Social Science Research, Washington, D.C., which did research in the many phases of mental problems raised by the Korean War, with particular emphasis on brainwashing. This research did incidentally include mental telepathy or extra sensory perception; however, the results were inconclusive.”

Hoover was further informed: “Our Laboratory experts advised that informed scientific opinion at the present time is that there is no basis in science for the validity of extra sensory perception as described in this article. It is true, of course, there are some areas and activities of the human mind which have not been explored or completely understood by psychologists for the purpose of explaining these little-understood functions of the mind.”

As for the aforementioned Alan Belmont, having reviewed additional FBI files on “mental phenomena,” he told Hoover the following:

“In 1957, one William Foos, Richmond, Virginia, claimed that he could teach blind persons to see through the use of extra sensory perception. He claimed he could teach people to read a paper which was covered or to see through a wall. Recognizing the value of such activity to our counterespionage work, we thoroughly checked the claim and had to conclude that his alleged powers had no scientific basis. Other Government agencies such as Veterans Association, Central Intelligence Agency and Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence also checked on Foos and were highly skeptical of his work.”

Nevertheless this did not stop the FBI from continuing to carefully, and secretly, watch Ruth Montgomery. Indeed, the Bureau noted that, according to Montgomery’s insider-sources, “top intelligence agents” were involved in classified ESP-themed operations in the early1960s, and cited Montgomery’s words in an official memorandum for Hoover. It reads as follows:

“The Army Intelligence Service is beginning to delve into an unknown reach of the mind which – should it eventually prove successful – could make spying the least hazardous branch of defense… The project receives expert guidance within the department, but many of the officers have become so fascinated by the possibility [of ESP] that they have formed groups, outside of office hours, to try reading each other’s minds.”

Clearly, then, and despite what many have assumed and presumed, official U.S. Government interest in ESP began way before remote-viewing became fashionable within official circles. Precisely when such research actually began, however, is an issue as murky and as mysterious as the phenomenon itself!


Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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