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In the Enemy’s Mind

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During the Cold War, Edwin C May ran a secret psychic spying programme, known as Star Gate, for the US government. He recounts the project’s successes, as he sees them
Edwin C May is perhaps the world’s only person who has enjoyed a 20-year, full-time job with industrial wages plus health and retirement benefits in which his only responsibility was Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) research and its applications

From the inception of the [Star Gate] project under the CIA’s auspices in 1972 through 1979, the [Stanford Research Institute] had three primary responsibilities. First, we were to use [Extra Sensory Perception] to obtain information about potential threats from the Soviet Union, other Eastern Bloc nations and the People’s Republic of China. Two, we assessed the credibility and accuracy of intelligence regarding ESP research that was slowly filtering out from the Soviet Union. Finally, with minimal support, we conducted basic and applied research. ‘Basic research’ concerned the fundamental physics, physiology and psychology of ESP. ‘Applied research’ searched for ways to make the ‘end-product’ more accurate and reliable.

It is a sad fact that modern military decision makers are extremely hesitant to finance programmes based on a putative extrasensory capability. During the Cold War, Senator William Proxmire invented a prize—the Golden Fleece Award—as a way of embarrassing government officials who routinely funded silly projects. The study of ESP also possessed a high ‘giggle’ factor, regardless of the quality of the work. Both the giggle factor and the Fleece award had a chilling effect in the funding community for ESP research. When I became the project director at SRI, more than 40 per cent of my time was spent attempting to raise funds so that the programme could continue.

There were many successful applications of ESP within the project at SRI and later at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). SAIC is similar to SRI in that it is a private not-for-profit corporation, but it is much larger. While it has a number of defence contracts, it is, or was then, primarily a defence contractor. When the programme closed at SRI for lack of funds, a former air force client, then retired, was working for SAIC and arranged for me to establish Star Gate anew there. That lasted for another four years with funding [of] about four-and-a-half million dollars.

One example was an intelligence-like success which was never formally part of the Star Gate programme. Rather, it resulted from a desperate call from a friend. On one of my many visits to Washington and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)—the agency that gave SAIC a contract for research into ESP and its application—I met Angela Ford. Angela, who was one of the DIA’s most skilful remote viewers, introduced me to Esther, who had been one of the managers of Bill Clinton’s first-term primary campaign in 1993. As a result, Clinton appointed her to a high position in one of the departments in the executive branch of the US government. Angela and I met Esther in her office. I was impressed with her obvious and extensive connections with the Clinton family. On the wall or mounted elsewhere were a large number of photos, some of them signed, of Bill and Esther in various situations. There she was jogging with the president, playing with Socks, the family cat, chatting with Hillary, engaging in formal meetings, and so on—quite impressive indeed. Esther and I went for dinner and enjoyed many in-depth discussions about the nature of reality, parapsychological phenomena of all kinds and the politics of the day. Many meetings and dinners followed, and Esther and I still maintain our friendship.

Sometime during Clinton’s second term, I received a panicked telephone call from Esther. It seems that her twenty-something daughter had failed to show up at work and was missing. “Esther, why the hell are you calling me? Given your position, you can have direct access to the FBI, the Secret Service and local law enforcement. Why me?” Understandably, she was in a bit of a panic, but she told me that the best efforts from government officials had been of no help. She urged me to ask some of our psychic remote viewers to see whether they could help somehow. In the laboratory, we call this a ‘search task’. Although searching for lost things, such as people, aircraft, weapons or drugs seems an obvious thing to do with psychics, this generally turns out to be a very challenging task indeed.

There are three basic approaches that have worked for such search tasks in the field and in the laboratory. The first is to ask psychics to ‘stick a pin in a map’ corresponding to the lost person. In my experience, this approach usually doesn’t work. When it does work, people often give this positive result undeserved attention.

A more effective technique is the standard ‘remote viewing’ technique, where the target is the whereabouts of the missing person, in this case Esther’s daughter. However, even this approach has its problems. Excellent remote viewing might not contribute much to finding the lost person. Let me illustrate. Imagine the following scenario. We wish to find a Soviet submarine that is lurking underwater somewhere off the California coast. Fortunately, we have at our disposal a psychic viewer who is nearly perfect with her impressions. The viewer describes the interior of the sub exactly, describes the crew members in detail, provides the name of the captain and his children, and [articulates] what the crew ate for dinner that evening. We now have top-of-the-line accurate psychic data, but in no way [does it] help us find the sub. Then, using remote viewing to ‘look outside’ the sub yields an amazingly accurate description of—you guessed it—water! This is one example of how intelligence value is often unrelated to the quality of the remote viewing. The quality of remote viewing is excellent; the value of the information worthless.

Fortunately, the real world provides a compromise. In the standard outbound remote viewing protocol, an agent travels to some randomly chosen location and the viewer simply describes the surroundings where that person is currently located—nothing new here. After all, this is the bread-and-butter laboratory experiment. So how might this approach be used to locate a person? Well, it clearly depends upon the accuracy and detail of the psychic response. In the ultimate case, suppose the viewer gives the street name and address of the hiding or lost person, then finding this person is simply a job of going there and knocking [on] the appropriate door. Sounds impossible, but this approach, or something conceptually similar, has worked spectacularly well in the past.

Consider the case of the attempt to find US army Brigadier General Dozier who was kidnapped from his home in Verona, Italy, on the evening of 17 December 1981. Joe McMoneagle was asked to locate the general by using remote viewing to accurately draw Dozier’s current location. Among McMoneagle’s responses was a drawing of a unique circular park with a cathedral. As it turned out, by scouring maps and photographs for such a combination of structures, the searchers found one in the city of Padua, the place where General Dozier was later rescued. Later Dozier was briefed on 9 February 1982, from 0930 to 1015 hours, at the Command’s Special Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF—Bldg 4554) on the Grill Flame psychic programme. He was then asked to review sketches and narratives generated during Grill Flame sessions for any correlation to places or events surrounding his kidnapping. Dozier was so impressed with the data that he suggested that senior government officials, military officers and leading business and political personalities be instructed in what to ‘think’ if they were kidnapped so that psychic searchers could more easily locate them.

Now back to Esther’s story and her missing daughter. I hesitantly agreed to ask three of our best viewers to try to describe the physical surroundings and emotional circumstances where she was currently located. One of these was Nevin D Lantz, PhD, who holds a degree in clinical psychology. Nevin had been formally associated with our project at SRI since the 1980s and was in charge of identifying personality factors that predict psychic ability by working with various consultants and conducting specific experiments. Additionally, I tasked Joe McMoneagle and Angela D Ford to attempt to locate the missing young woman.

Nevin responded with a detailed psychological profile of the missing woman and with the good news that she was not in physical harm’s way, but had suffered a substantial psychological episode. Later we learned that this remote psychological assessment was accurate. A combination of the responses from Joe and Angela aided the FBI in recovering the missing woman. Since Esther was obviously both relieved and especially happy at this outcome, I was convinced that our Star Gate project now enjoyed the attention of senior government officials and perhaps of the president himself. So I sat back to wait for the flood of contract funds to appear in order to continue the research. Apparently, however, the only thing that happened was that a few of Joe’s books on the topic were handed to the president. No contract funds were forthcoming and I take responsibility for that. It is simply not a good fundraising technique to do something noteworthy and then wait for money to be thrown in one’s direction. Clearly one has to be much more proactive than that, whether in fundraising for a school project or for research at the cutting edge of science.

In 1986, we had a rather substantial five-year army contract of $10 million. As a result of these resources, substantial progress was made in all of our primary tasks. For the first time, we actually had a charter to conduct basic research to attempt to understand the underlying mechanisms of parapsychological phenomena as part of our role as scientific support of the army and DIA’s in-house remote viewing group. Until this contract, we were required mostly to conduct operations-oriented research (that is, investigations designed to improve the quality of the results) and were not expected to understand the mechanisms involved. Additionally, we continued to conduct foreign assessments—analysis of potential parapsychological threats from other countries—and to a limited degree, remote viewing on foreign sites...

There was another approach to gathering intelligence besides direct ESP in which the US government took an interest. Normally, when a new military policy, weapons system or battle order is being considered, the proposed new system is evaluated critically. Often two teams of evaluators, designated as Red and Blue, are assembled to criticise or support the plan, respectively. Our group was awarded a contract to participate in a Red team to evaluate a proposal by the Carter administration, and later by the Reagan administration, to deploy the new MX missile system.

The proposals were variations on the theme of building many more missile-launching facilities than there were missiles, and then continually moving the missiles covertly among the various launching facilities—let’s call it a nuclear shell game. The Congressional Budget Office originally estimated that procuring 200 MX missiles, building 5,800 shelters for them, and operating such a system would cost $28.3 billion all the way through to the fiscal year 2000. Eventually, a ‘racetrack’ idea gained favour. Each missile would be moved among the shelters located on spur roads radiating from a central, circular track. There would be about five such patterns, or clusters, in each of about 40 valleys in the deserts of Nevada and Utah. This racetrack system would allow transporters to shift missiles between shelters within 30 minutes, in time to escape incoming Soviet missiles after they had been launched. The racetracks would be about 56 kilometres in diameter.

The complexity and financial support that would have been required for this proposed system demonstrates how seriously the Carter administration considered the concept. In fact, they were planning to move ahead as soon as possible. The US air force expected to begin site selection for the MX operation base test and training facility by 1980. Work on the first racetrack and shelters would begin by 1983. The first 10 MX missiles and 230 shelters were scheduled to be operational by 1986. The assumption of this system was that the Soviets would not know where to aim their missiles in order to cause the most damage to the US’s ability to retaliate, since our missiles would be moved continuously among the various shelters.

The question before us was whether or not we could compromise this racetrack concept using ESP. If so, we would have to assume that the Soviets could also accomplish this. This would imply that the racetrack concept was indefensible, and it would make no sense to build this vast system of racetracks and shelters in the first place.

Our proposal, which was eventually approved, included the following elements, that is, what we were going to do with the money if the contract was awarded to SRI:

» Assuming one actual missile shelter to 20 sham ones, determine the statistics of MX system compromise as a function of beyond chance hitting by remote viewers.

» Conduct a screening programme involving about 100 SRI employees and other experienced remote viewers, utilising a one-in-20 screening device with 100 trials for each of these employees.

» Take the five best people from the screening and have each of them contribute 200 more trials.

» From these data, estimate the potential vulnerability of the racetrack or shell game concept.

In addition, we used a sophisticated statistical technique coupled with a form of ESP called ‘dowsing’ to see if we could compromise the system by using a statistical approach towards compromising the MX missile system.

In our final report to the government, we showed that ESP practitioners were able to locate the hypothetical missile in 12 out of 12 trials, with a total of 452 circle selections. The correct hit rate was over two-and-a-half times of what was expected in a one-in-ten game.

I doubt that our data alone kept the system from being built, but, on the other hand, our ESP research reports surely contributed in an important way towards that end.

Beginning in 1986, the air force became exceptionally interested in learning the degree to which remote viewing could provide useful information on directed-energy weapon systems. To test this idea, they awarded us a contract to examine this question in three trials: one per year, for three years. As always, we used a double-blind protocol, meaning that no one who interacted with the remote viewers knew anything about the potential target or even, in this case, the identity of the client. A session would play out as follows. We were usually given the social security number of an individual none of us had met. In addition, we were told that on a specific date this person would be somewhere in continental US. As project director, I knew that the targets would be directed-energy systems of some kind, but beyond that I too did not know any specifics.

At a specified time, Dr Nevin Lantz, our project’s psychologist and active researcher, would assign a task to the psychic at midnight and again once every eight hours, including the next day’s midnight. That task was simple: describe the surroundings where the person to whom the social security number belonged was standing. So far, nothing particularly new or inventive was involved. The analysis of the result was a breakthrough not only for laboratory studies. After all, if used properly, it could easily have been adapted to the real world of psychic spying. I will not go through the mathematical intricacies, because conceptually, the idea is quite simple.

Before any of the sessions with a client began, I worked with the sponsor to define three categories of things they wanted to know about the target. First and foremost was the target’s function: why it was being developed. The air force had five or six different aspects in this category alone in which they were interested. The second category was physical relationships: an instrument, for example, might be under the building which was next to a truck. There were around ten such aspects. Lastly, they specified a rather long list of objects, similar to those one would expect from a traditional remote viewing.

For each of the targets, the air force filled out a table for each element in all three categories that was specific to each target to be used later, and rated each to the degree to which each element was germane to that target. After the psychic session, an analyst, who was blind to the target and its list of items, filled out the same table, but with regard to the degree to which each item was present in the psychic’s response.

Armed with both tables, one for the intended target and one for the response, the computer could take over. Although mathematically complex—the process is known as fuzzy set analysis—three simple ideas emerged from the computation. The accuracy was defined as the percentage of the air force’s predefined target that was obtained by the psychic. The reliability was defined as the percentage of the psychic’s response that was correct. And finally, the figure of merit was defined as the product of accuracy and reliability.

The way, then, to obtain a high figure of merit was for the psychic to describe as much of the intended target as possible, but in as simple and minimal a way as possible so as not to include many incorrect aspects. To get a hint of what a random response could be like in the absence of any psychic ability, we had determined in the laboratory that, using a rough rule of thumb, about a third of any site can be described by about a third of any response. Perhaps this may seem high, but this rule of thumb arose from considerable analyses of data collected in the laboratory. How did this work out? I will describe just one of three successful examples: Project Rose, a high-frequency, high-power, microwave device in the New Mexico desert at Sandia National Laboratory. Joe McMoneagle was the psychic on this trial. By the air force’s own assessment, the accuracy, reliability and figure of merit for this case were 80 per cent, 69 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. Keep in mind that chance or just Joe being lucky would predict these numbers to be 33 per cent, 33 per cent, and 11 per cent respectively.

In my 30 years of experience in ESP research, I consider this case to be among the very best. If this example had been an intelligence operation instead of a proof-of-principle session, an independent analyst would have no trouble whatsoever in identifying the target as a microwave device of some sort. Joe went on to say that this device was in a wrapped environment and was being used as some kind of test evaluator. In fact, they were shining the microwaves on electronic instruments to test their sensitivity to high-energy microwave radiation… Not only did Joe accurately describe exactly what was going on, but also by his drawing indicated the spread of the electromagnetic radiation, which matched the known beam angle of the device…

My point in all this detail is important. We had developed a system of analysis that had the potential of allowing an operations analyst looking at real psychic spying data to evaluate the results quantitatively. When combined with more traditional methods of intelligence collection, the military could assess more accurately whether or not to invest resources in solving the problem. In short, did the psychic spying programme work? Yes. I realise, of course, that the ‘official’ US government’s response was ‘No’. However, as I hope I have demonstrated here, the real answer is more complex.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books India from Seriously Strange: Thinking Anew about Psychical Experiences, edited by Sudhir Kakar and Jeffrey J Kripal, Rs 499