WASHINGTON (Nov 30, 1995) -- More than a decade after we first told the story, the Pentagon continues to employ a highly classified team of "psychic spies," who use a form of extrasensory perception to help gather intelligence in foreign countries.
It was called "Project Grill Flame" when we first reported this strange story in April 1984. Since then, the program has fought off several external and internal threats to its existence, changing its name to Center Lane and Sunstreak, among other appellations.
But it continues to exist, albeit in scaled-down form. It's also been moved from its long-time headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., which gave the unit a comfortable "hideout" because it was home to a much larger spy outfit -- the National Security Agency.
The unit was launched in the early 1970s, when the CIA became concerned about a "psychic gap" with the Soviets, who were heavily involved in investigating psychic phenomena. The precursor of the current project, called "remote viewing," was put together in part by two respected academics -- Harold Puthoff, once with the NSA, and Russell Targ, associated with the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, Calif. For a time, in fact, SRI was under contract to run the program for the CIA.
The group was first called "Project Scanate," which stood for "scan by coordinate." Program managers recruited subjects who demonstrated psychic abilities and placed them in darkened rooms, where they were given longitude and latitude coordinates and asked what they "saw." The CIA and Pentagon soon found that it could be a useful tool in the intelligence mix, though they have never relied on it exclusively for intelligence gathering.
Its successes have won key converts inside and outside the intelligence community:
-- One remote viewer described an airfield, complete with details including a large gantry and crane at one end of the field. The CIA was impressed, but critical. There was indeed an airfield at the given map coordinates -- the Soviet Union's ultra-secret nuclear testing area at Semipalatinsk. But the CIA knew of no gantry or cranes at the site. They were later stunned when the next satellite photos revealed both the gantry and crane, which had recently been moved there.
-- Another test involved a Soviet Tu-95 "Backfire" bomber, which the CIA knew had crashed somewhere in Africa. They were eager to find it before the Soviets did, so they could take photographs and perhaps purloin secret gear from the wreckage. So one of the remote viewers was asked to locate the downed bomber, which he allegedly did within several miles of the actual wreckage.
-- In yet another instance, a remote-viewer was asked to focus on a KGB colonel caught spying and being interrogated in South Africa. He "saw" that the spy had been smuggling information using a pocket calculator modified into a communications device, and that the South Africa assignment was his last before returning to Russia. The "suggestion" to question him on this was shared with South African intelligence, and it allegedly caused the spy to break down and cooperate -- because of its accuracy.
-- Remote-viewers have been employed in most international crisis over the last two decades. During the Gulf War, knowledgeable sources told our associate Dale Van Atta, remote viewers fingered the secret location of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, though this was never verified by conventional means. The unit's two biggest congressional defenders -- Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., and Rep. Charles Rose, D-N.C. -- have long since been convinced of the program's effectiveness.
The Achilles heel of the project has been its misses -- which have raised the ire of many critics over the years. Remote-viewers have produced as much bad information as good, intelligence sources admit. But the program's defenders say this is no different from the rest of the CIA, where human spies have also been known to make major blunders.
"We were always able to survive," one of the remote-viewers told us, "when we stuck to what we did best: just a guy (or a woman) sitting in a dark room, or even a lit room, focusing on what was happening somewhere else.... There was no shaking, no big trance, no spirit entities speaking in different voices, nothing hoodoo voodoo. It seems to work enough times to make it valuable as a 'tip,' if you will, to where the CIA's folks, or our satellites, should be looking."
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