by Guy Lyon Playfair
With the publication of Paul H. Smith’s Reading the Enemy’s Mind (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2005) we can now read the whole story of the U.S. military intelligence programme of ‘remote viewing’ that began in California in the early seventies and came to an inglorious end in 1995 with the disbanding of the remnants of the last operational unit in Fort Meade, Maryland. It is an excellent book, as compellingly readable as it is authoritative, yet some aspects of the story it tells are very sad.
The saddest is the fact that what should have been a ground-breaking programme – the first of its kind anywhere to be funded with public money – that revolutionised the business of intelligence gathering was allowed to deteriorate as it did. Another is the way in which the skeptical community did its best to scupper it right from the start, or even before the start, with what Smith describes as “an invasion of skeptics” in 1972/3 at the (then) Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International. Chief invader Ray Hyman displayed some rather uncertain powers of observation, referring to the “incredible sloppiness” of the experiments he witnessed there with the ‘blue-eyed’ Uri Geller (black-eyed, actually), but forgetting to mention that the only experiments he and his colleagues were able to see were some that they set up themselves.
Some twenty years later, after what became known as Star Gate had been bounced from one funder to another ending up where it started, with the CIA, that agency commissioned a report from the ostensibly impartial American Institutes of Research (AIR) which sought the opinions of statistician Jessica Utts, a genuine expert who concluded that “psychic functioning has been well established”, and Ray Hyman, who concluded that it hadn’t. One of Paul Smith’s most startling revelations is that out of the three to four thousand remote viewing sessions carried out by some two dozen viewers over the years, the AIR team based its findings on “approximately forty sessions conducted in 1994 and 1995 by three demoralised viewers” (p.449).
It was the third time Hyman had been involved with what appears to be a report guaranteed to come up with negative findings. He was a co-signatory of CSICOP begging letter that included: “Belief in paranormal phenomena is still growing, and the dangers to our society are real… The Defense Department may be spending millions of tax dollars on developing ‘psychic arms’… Please help us in the battle against the irrational.”
Smith notes (p. 372) that a phrase from Paul Kurtz’s The Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology turns up almost verbatim in the National Research Council’s 1988 report which was compiled by, among others, Hyman and George Lawrence, two of the original ‘skeptical invaders’ at SRI. How objective can you get?
Why, you may well be wondering, did the U.S. military and intelligence communities behave in such a paradoxical manner, first setting up a radically new and forward-looking programme several of whose participants received medals, suggesting that they had done something right (one, Joseph McMoneagle, being awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit for “producing crucial and vital intelligence unavailable from any other source”) and then doing its best to destroy it? The answer is simple: it all depended on those involved, whether as recruiters, trainers, supervisors or viewers.
Several of these – in the early days, probably all of them including the original CIA funders – were strong believers in psi, their positive approach clearly affecting the performance of novice viewers. Ingo Swann, for example, who trained most of the best viewers, was already a well tested veteran of psi research when a series of chance encounters got him together in the early 1970s with SRI physicist Harold Puthoff, while McMoneagle’s interest in psi began with an exceptionally powerful near death experience that seems to have unlocked remarkable abilities.
Although only a very small percentage of RV reports has been made public, the rest never having been openly evaluated by Hyman or anybody else, a few major successes have been admitted, such as the location in Africa of a crashed Soviet aeroplane and the capture of runaway U.S. customs official Charles Jordan, the latter being confirmed by a customs official and the former by no less than President Carter. You will find no mention of these successes in any of the skeptics’ reports.
If one was to listen to a bunch of first-grade piano students fumbling through Chopsticks with wrong notes in every bar while upstairs and out of earshot a talented youngster was giving a faultless performance, without the music, of Chopin’s Barcarolle, you would be wrong to conclude that there was no real evidence that anybody could play the piano properly, let alone brillliantly. Which is in effect what the skeptical invaders did, as they always do. What has been lost as a result can only be imagined.
Remote viewing may not have been the intelligence panacea it was hoped to be, but the programme did show that just about anybody can be trained to become clairvoyant to some degree, an important discovery in itself.
So much for the bad news. The good news is that many of the remote viewing veterans are still very much around. To catch up with them, go to Smith’s website RV Viewer and that of the International Remote Viewers Association.