Do we humans harbor within us vast mental powers beyond our imagination? Are some of us gifted with psychic abilities far beyond the norm, and if so what does that mean for us as a society? Whether one believes in extra sensory perception, mental powers, or any of the phenomena that go with them, some governments of the world have certainly at some point or another taken notice to entertain the idea. After all, wouldn't such amazing abilities be useful for warfare or intelligence gathering? Governments around the world have long sought to try and harness the untapped powers of the human mind to mixed results, and here are some of the oddest such experiments, which were perhaps surprisingly taken quite seriously in their time, perhaps not to be dismissed out of hand.
Although it had dabbled in extra sensory perception abilities in the 40s and 50s, the United States government began to truly pursue the potential application of psychic powers in warfare starting from the 1970s, when the U.S. Army, CIA, and Defense Intelligence Agency established a special unit at Fort Meade, Maryland, for the purpose of investigating psychic phenomena. Ordered by Maj. Gen. Edmund Thompson, then the Army’s top intelligence officer, and overseen by a Lt. Frederick Holmes "Skip" Atwater and later on Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine, what would be variously called Grill Flame, Sun Streak, and ultimately eventually fall under the general blanket code name of Project Stargate began here, and one of the main original focuses of the research was into what is referred to as “remote viewing,” or basically the ability for a psychic operative to observe and describe places, information, or objects from afar.
The great potential military application for this sort of thing is obvious, and the U.S. government pursued it with vigor, believing that the Soviets were also engaged in such research and vice versa, essentially setting off a sort of “psychic arms race,” so to speak. One part of an overview of the project that is part of declassified documents stated:
Driven by the notion that the Soviets might develop capabilities in this area, key personalities in the intelligence community were determined to explore the potential usefulness of psychic phenomena.
It was not a particular extravagant affair at first, poorly funded, run out of an old, decrepit barracks and only employing around 20 people or less in the beginning, and although there were certainly those in the military who thought it was all a bonkers, crackpot idea, the organization itself was very serious about what they were investigating. Psychics were recruited to the program, who then underwent scientific tests of their supposed abilities and programs to try and hone them in order to basically create an army of psychic spies. One former researcher with the program describes what they did thus:
In short, it involved placing an individual in a controlled darkened environment, descending him or her into a self-hypnotic trance and causing him/her to vocally describe images and other impressions that came to mind. In an intelligence context, the subject would be given some parameters of a target area or an intelligence question and the subject’s verbalization would be closely monitored.
There were a few stand out supposed successes within the secretive program in the over 20 years that it existed. In 1974, a soviet site called Semipalatinsk, located in present day Kazakhstan was targeted as a suspicious location by the U.S. government for reasons it did not seem willing to discuss. Not much was known about the location at the time, and a remote viewer with the program was tasked with trying to get a peek at what was going on in there. The viewer was given the coordinates of the site, after which he managed to draw a layout of buildings and a surprisingly massive crane, and stated that it seemed to be a facility for perhaps housing missiles underground. Amazingly, satellite imagery would later confirm this, perfectly matching what the psychic had drawn out during his visions.
In 1976, the remote viewers were tasked with the mission of trying to track down the whereabouts of a downed Soviet bomber, which had gone down into the wilds of Africa and vanished into the jungle. The CIA came to Stargate in desperation more than anything else, as all other attempts to locate the missing plane had met with failure, including satellite imaging, ground searches, and human intelligence. One psychic named Rosemary Smith, who also happened to be a secretary at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, managed to conjure up location of the downed plane to within a few miles. A team was sent to the area that she had described and discovered the crash site, an unbelievable feat and no one was able to figure out how this woman could have possibly produced this intelligence that no one else could. It was seen as evidence that the technique could work.
In another instance in 1979, a man once only known as Remote Viewer #1, who was actually named Joseph McMoneagle, under deep hypnosis described what he saw at the coordinates given to him by his handler. He explained that he could see a low, grey windowless building wreathed in the stench of sulphur, which he then drew onto some paper. This same image would be reproduced independently by a Remote Viewer #29, with the two drawn images being strikingly similar and the added detail that the place had numerous pieces of heavy machinery and that there was smelting of some sort going on. In both cases, the descriptions and the drawings closely matched a Chinese nuclear complex called Lop Nor, which was located in those coordinates and which neither of the men had ever seen with their own eyes, nor had had any contact with each other.
Also in 1979 was the case of remote viewers from an offshoot of the program called Detachment G to look into a shadowy and secret Soviet Naval base. In this case, the psychics were able to describe seeing a drab building along the sea which stank of gasoline and harbored a weapon of some sort that looked like a “shark.” Later, satellite imagery would show that the base indeed held a massive new type of nuclear class of submarine that the Soviets called the Akula, which means “shark” in Russian.
In 1987 the remote viewers were used to try and track down a CIA mole, and several of the viewers were able to divine the information that the man lived in Washington, was married to a Latin American woman, likely from Colombia, and drove an expensive foreign car. When the mole was found to be an Aldrich Ames in 1994 it was found that he did indeed live in Washington, was married to a Columbian, and drove a Jaguar. Spookily, the psychics had detailed this nearly a decade before.
Cases such as these kept the top secret agency going, with the government pumping an estimated $20 million into their activities. However, for all of these alleged successes there were just as many failures or instances where things were ambiguous to say the least. Attempts to use the viewers to locate the whereabouts of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1986, fugitive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega after the U.S. invasion of the country, attempts to locate certain weapons of war, and efforts to locate prisoners of war still kept after the Vietnam War, among others, all failed to produce any actionable intelligence or useful information at all. On top of this, despite the occasional successes there were just too many instances of false positives and vague, confused, irrelevant, ambiguous, or flat out wrong data to make psychic powers a viable pursuit at the time. This led the CIA to conclude that the technique was not worth pursuing for intelligence gathering purposes, and that it was not ready for any real, trustworthy application in the field. Simply put, it was deemed to be more trouble than it was worth.
Other experiments carried out by the program were those dealing with telekinesis, clairvoyance, and even trying to stop the hearts of animals with the power of the mind, but none of them ever produced consistent, reproducible results, if any. Amidst growing skepticism and lack of clear results and lowered funding, Project Stargate was disbanded in 1995. Project Stargate is the subject of the 2004 book The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson, as well as the 2009 film of the same name. In 2003, the long top-secret, need-to-know only project saw roughly 73,000 pages of records declassified, yet interestingly a further 17, 700 were marked as too sensitive to be released. One wonders just what exactly is on those mysterious pages.
This would not be the end of interest in this area of research though, and shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States the UK Ministry of Defense also pursued the use of psychic powers, namely remote viewing. In 2002 the Ministry of Defense carried out a program designed to test the validity of using such abilities to sense hidden objects such as bombs. During the research, blindfolded psychics were presented with brown envelopes that contained various images such as a knife, Mother Teresa and an "Asian individual.” However, while 28% of the participants were able to correctly guess the contents to within a startling range of detail, in most cases the volunteers were not even close, and the project was scrapped. A Ministry of Defense spokesperson would say of the project:
The remote viewing study was conducted to assess claims made in some academic circles and to validate research carried out by other nations on psychic ability. The study concluded that remote viewing theories had little value to the MoD and was taken no further.
Another interesting alleged program for using psychic abilities was purportedly carried out by the Chinese government in 1981. One Chinese journal called Ziran Zazhi (Nature Journal) held a paper entitled Some Experiments on the Transfer of Objects Performed by Unusual Abilities of the Human Body (Shuhuang et al., 1981). While supposedly quite a serious scientific paper, the whole thing reads like a science fiction story. According to the report, under the supervision of China’s official National Defense Science Commission certain gifted psychic children were able to actually teleport small objects from one place to the other even through physical barriers.
Some of the objects successfully teleported were radio micro-transmitters, photosensitive paper, mechanical watches, nuts, bundles of matches, pills, nails, thread, horseflies and other insects, and in every case the objects moved in the blink of an eye from one location to another several meters away without the subject ever touching them. Of particular interest was the successful teleportation of a radio transmitter, which was left on during the experiment in order to monitor its state during the process. It was found that the signal fluctuated to become faint to the point of nearly disappearing during its “jump,” suggesting that it had shifted from its physical reality somehow or was in some sort of altered state.
It may seem to be pretty farfetched, but according to the report this was all done under rigorously controlled conditions, and were reproducible, with observers from various institutes and representatives from the PRC National Defense Science Commission during the whole thing. In 1990 there was another round of tests apparently done, with the results being published in the Chinese Journal of Somatic Science (Kongzhi et al., 1990; Jinggen et al., 1990; Banghui, 1990), which was carried out at the Aerospace Medicine Engineering Institute in Beijing.
In this case, high-speed videotape was used to record the strange events, in which the objects were apparently teleported through sealed paper envelopes, paper bags, and glass bottles. Data retrieved during these tests showed that the objects were transported from within a fraction of a second to several minutes. The video evidence apparently showed that the specimens would simply disappear from their resting place in the container to reappear somewhere else, and showed evidence that some of the test specimens “melded” through the walls of their containers. In no instance was the object altered in anyway after the process, and even living things such as insects made it through without any negative effects or noticeable change. It is hard to know what to make of these findings, but the papers are supposedly quite real. Are there really people who can teleport objects over distance with just the power of their mind, and if so just what does the Chinese government have in mind for them?
There can be no doubt that the strange phenomena of the human mind could be tapped for military purposes. To look into an enemies fortress without even physically being there, to move objects or in some cases even teleport them out, it is all rather exciting for those with an eye towards war, and it is perhaps no wonder why these phenomena have been so hotly pursued over the years. It is unclear as to what extent the success of such operations extended, and there are still many documents and details hidden from our eyes. One is left with the question of is any of this being used today? Are there psychic warriors in operation behind conflicts that we do not even know about? To what extent has any of this research been pursued and is it being covered up? There may very well be last powers lying within us, and those who would seek to harness and weaponize it, but these are questions to which the answers we simply do not know.