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Imagine a military intelligence
operative with abilities reaching far beyond any network of
informants or advanced spying technology. An agent able to probe the
enemy's deepest underground bunkers, determine the exact location of
a group of hostages, or physically incapacitate foreign leaders or
entire armies. All from thousands of miles away, using only
the power of his mind.
For decades, U.S. intelligence agencies have been engaged in a quest
to find just such an agent. Efforts to determine intelligence
applications for psychic abilities have centered around
"remote viewing," a purported clairvoyant ability to spy on distant
In this special report, we'll examine the testing methods
used to measure psychic ability and the conclusions drawn by two
doctors who examined the Star Gate program at the request of
Testing Psychic Abilities of SG
Psychic Functioning is Well
Parapsychology Has No Foundation
Unexplained Anecdotal Evidence
Operation Star Gate Documents
Psychic Abilities of SG Operatives
The most recent series of remote viewing experiments by U.S.
intelligence agencies was a Defense Intelligence Agency
program codenamed "Star Gate," which was instituted in the
As part of a decision in 1995 to declassify its research in
parapsychology, the CIA commissioned an outside organization, the
American Institutes for Research, to determine whether remote
viewing is a viable intelligence option. AIR filed its
report, "An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and
Applications," in September, 1995.
The report summarizes the history and methods of Star Gate
and its predecessors, followed by independent reviews from two
experts on parapsychology, Dr. Jessica Utts and Dr.
The reviewers focus on two of the three primary objectives of the
Star Gate program:
"Research and Development" -
conducting studies to improve remote viewing for
"Operations" - using remote
viewing against foreign targets
A third objective, "Foreign
Assessment" - which investigated any possible remote viewing
capabilities of foreign powers - was outside the scope of
The bulk of the testing was
conducted on a "beacon and viewer" basis. A person acting as the
sender, or "beacon," traveled to a remote location or examined a
photograph or other object.
In isolation, a remote viewer
attempted to describe, through visual descriptions and drawings, the
beacon's physical surroundings or what he was observing. In most
instances, the beacons were simply looking at photographs from
With the data collected, a judge compared the viewer's descriptions
to what the beacon was observing, and determined whether reasonably
correct "hits" have been made. The number of recorded hits was
matched against the number that could occur by random chance,
providing a quantified measure of the remote viewer's success.
The AIR report (see below) also examines the results of a
different testing technique called the "ganzfeld" method. In a
ganzfeld experiment, the viewer enters a trance-like altered
mental state, unlike the standard remote viewing method, whose
viewers remain fully conscious and alert. Unlike the "beacon and
viewer" method, ganzfeld viewers evaluate the end results
themselves, without a third-party judge.
Another sort of test dealt with the topic of "remote observation."
Citing the folk belief that it is possible to feel that one is being
watched, these studies tested whether a person's physiology changed
appreciably when a distant, hidden observer alternately looked at
them and looked away.
Obviously, if it were actually possible for a remote agent to
manipulate a subject's body chemistry, the implications for
applications against a nation's enemies go far beyond mere
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Functioning is Well Established"
The first of the two experts commissioned to review Star Gate
was Dr. Jessica Utts, a Professor of Statistics at the
University of California/Davis.
Dr. Utts strongly asserts her belief
that the tests she examined have proven remote viewing to be a real,
"Using the standards applied to any
other area of science," Utts writes, "it is concluded
that psychic functioning has been well established. The
statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what
is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due
to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly
refuted.... Such consistency cannot be readily explained by
claims of flaws or fraud."
Central to the evidence Utts
cites is a close similarity in "effect sizes" among test results.
Effect size is a measurement method used in sociology to distinguish
random chance (defined as zero) from a tangible effect (ranging from
a small size of 0.2 to a large size of 0.8).
Utts presents results from a range of tests in which the
numerical effect sizes are very similar across the board. She
accepts this as proof that remote viewing can be successfully
replicated in laboratory conditions, and thus is scientifically
While the earliest remote viewing tests were later found imperfect,
Utts reports that she found no flaws or loopholes in Star
Gate's modern methodologies. (Problems with earlier scoring
methods included unfairly permitting judges to use a process of
elimination in matching descriptions to targets, or to give the
viewer hints such as the beacon's driving time to his target
Utts goes on to speculate on a possible rational explanation
for psychic ability. Noting that our five natural senses act as
detectors of change (sight acts on change in motion, color and
depth; hearing acts on change in volume and pitch, etc.), it is
reasonable to expect that a psychic sense also detects change.
Targets containing a large amount of change, such as variations in
color, were more successfully identified by remote viewers than
other targets. Utts supposes that psychic ability may work by
searching for high degrees of change, whether nearby or far away,
whether happening now or in the future.
Despite her belief in the validity of remote viewing, Utts
concludes that Star Gate can be of little, if any, use as an
intelligence tool. Believing psychic abilities to be inborn, Utts
contends it would not be possible to train a corps of agents as
She also deems the information gathered by the method too arbitrary
and unreliable to be useful or accurate -- even though, as she
further admits, "The same is probably true of most sources of
intelligence data." Utts suggests that the government
discontinue its inquiry into whether psychic ability exists and
instead study why it exists.
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"Parapsychology Has No Foundation"
Dr. Raymond Hyman, a Professor of Psychology at the
University of Oregon, is the other expert asked for an opinion on
the Star Gate program.
While Dr. Hyman agrees with Dr.
Utts that the test results do appear significantly higher than
random chance would allow, and there are no obvious flaws in testing
technique, he contends that Star Gate has proven nothing and
that psychic phenomena have yet to earn a place in the scientific
The entire field of study known as parapsychology, Hyman asserts,
has no cumulative foundation to build its findings upon. The
discoveries of one generation of its students are gradually found to
be bogus or inconclusive, leaving those who follow to start with a
clean slate each time. This is fundamentally different from
established science, where replicability of all known phenomena is a
Hyman calls parapsychology,
"unique among the sciences in
relying solely on significant departures from a chance baseline
to establish the presence of its alleged phenomenon."
It is partly for this reason that
Hyman discounts the effect sizes that Utts submitted as
An effect size reflects not a known property, but a measure
of deviation from a known property. Furthermore, Hyman
maintains that taking the average of a series of effect sizes
results in a meaningless aggregation of numbers from which no real
conclusions can be drawn. He points out that such figures can be
shifted around to support a variety of different viewpoints with
Hyman finds the testing methods to be sound and believes that the
findings may represent a scientific anomaly. (He does object to the
use of only one judge, familiar with the individual viewers,
conducting all of the judging, rather than using a double-blind
Nonetheless, a phenomenon's lack of an explanation constitutes only
a null hypothesis, which is a necessary condition for establishing
scientific fact, but not a sufficient condition.
Even in the best of circumstances, Hyman would not accept
Star Gate as proof that psychic ability exists, because science
does not accept new findings on the basis of one study conducted by
one organization with no outside verification. Compounding matters
is the cloak of government secrecy which isolated the affair during
most of its existence -- a far cry from the open community spirit
found on the frontiers of pure science.
Predictably, Hyman agrees with Utts that while Star Gate presents no
useful applications for military intelligence, its findings are
promising enough to merit continued research of another form.
The next step is to develop measurement methods for paranormal
phenomena which define their occurrence in positive terms, rather
than by their deviance from the expected norm.
"Without such a theory," Hyman
writes, "we might just as well argue that what has been
demonstrated is a set of effects -- each one of which [may] be
the result of an entirely different cause."
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Even though the experts hired by the American Institutes for
Research recommended that continuation of the Star Gate
program was not justified, they both agreed that certain of the
test results seemed unexplainable by conventional science. Actual
remote viewing may have been demonstrated.
It is difficult to judge the anomalies that Utts and Hyman
the AIR report reveals very
little of the exact content of the tests: that is, actual beacons'
images paired with corresponding viewers' descriptions. Instead, the
report primarily offers obtuse bar graphs and spreadsheets of
numerical test scores as evidence.
One "success" that is described in anecdotal detail involved
two separate remote viewers who reported the location of a secret
underground installation. Given only the "coordinates of the site"
located in West Virginia, the subjects described the surrounding
landscape and a government base hidden beneath.
The report does not name it as such, but this site would appear to
be the infamous "Mount
Weather" installation, also known as the Western
Virginia Office of Controlled Conflict Operations, run by the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Mount Weather reportedly houses a complete duplicate of the
Federal government, secretly waiting on stand-by to run the United
States in the event of a national catastrophe or declaration of
One of the remote viewers went so far as to name codewords and personnel associated with the base, and his accuracy
was high enough to spark a full investigation into any possible leak
for this classified information.
Hyman points out that these remote viewers may have been relying on
foreknowledge of the Mount Weather facility rather than
psychic powers. Considering that this particular test supplied the
location up front, and that the majority of the remote viewers who
participated were government employees, the possibility is a
A third remote viewer identified the existence of a rail-mounted
gantry crane in the then-Soviet city of Semipalatinsk.
Despite the uncanny accuracy of the description, the official who
analyzed this viewer deemed his test results unsuccessful, since the
bulk of his observations were erroneous.
Another anecdotal report, appearing only in a censored
document given as an appendix, describes apparent successes in the
remote viewing of North Korea. Viewers identified possible
rail tunnels leading into the Republic of Korea. Unlike the others,
this particular case appears to go beyond mere testing to attempt
discerning information which the U.S. government does not already
The document states,
"the indicator regarding rail line
camouflage is extremely important since it provides a possible
answer to the controversy over rail line activity south
[deletion] where rails allegedly no longer exist."
Of the pool of remote viewers studied,
six were judged to perform at a level significantly higher than the
The report provides no further specifics about these six and
what they "saw," but both expert reviewers managed to use their
existence to support their viewpoints.
Utts argues that since the same testing methods were used in
every case, all results should have been equal; since some viewers
were able to distinguish themselves from the rest, their abilities
must therefore be valid. Hyman, on the other hand, points out
that statistical methods used in the study can permit the few high
scorers to overshadow the wild inaccuracies of other viewers.
Subjects scored much higher on "free response" tests, in which they
described a target in their own words, than they did on "forced
choice" tests, which involved selecting the correct target out of a
list. Additionally, the successes of tests conducted without a
distant person acting as a beacon raised the question of whether a
beacon is necessary at all.
In another test, meanwhile, interaction between two distant minds
produced a striking and unexpected result. Remote observation
experiments, which measured whether a person can affect the body
chemistry of another merely by looking at the person, yielded
markedly more positive results when the two subjects were of the
One could interpret these findings as evidence that remote
viewing is a potent, organic ability that functions
independently of formal trappings and external assistance. Maybe it
is an unrecognized aspect of the human condition that influences our
everyday communication and behavior patterns.
Who knows -- maybe this property that the CIA attempted to
use for the purposes of war could even be a component of human
sexual dynamics: the most complex intelligence operation of all.
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AIR Report - Executive Summary
Summary of the American Institutes for Research report prepared
on remote viewing at the request of the CIA.
AIR Report - Full Text
The full text of the American Institutes for Research report
prepared on remote viewing at the request of the CIA.
Parapsychology in Intelligence
This report appeared in the Winter 1977 issue of Studies in
Intelligence, the CIA's classified internal publication. A CIA
paranormal expert provides a historical overview of the agency's
investigation and use of psychic spies.
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An Evaluation of Remote Viewing
Research and Applications
Michael D. Mumford, Ph.D.
Andrew M. Rose, Ph.D.
David S. Goslin, Ph.D.
The American Institutes for Research
September 29, 1995
Studies of paranormal phenomena have nearly always been associated
Despite the controversy concerning their nature
and existence, many individuals and organizations continue to be
avidly interested in these phenomena. The intelligence community is
no exception: beginning in the 1970s, it has conducted a program
intended to investigate the application of one paranormal phenomenon
-- remote viewing, or the ability to describe locations one has not
Conceptually, remote viewing would seem to have tremendous potential
utility for the intelligence community. Accordingly, a
three-component program involving basic research, operations, and
foreign assessment has been in place for some time. Prior to
transferring this program to a new sponsoring organization within
the intelligence community, a thorough program review was initiated.
The part of the program review conducted by the American
Institutes for Research (AIR), a nonprofit, private
research organization, consisted of two main components. The first
component was a review of the research program. The second component
was a review of the operational application of the remote viewing
phenomenon in intelligence gathering.
Evaluation of the foreign
assessment component of the program was not within the scope of the
To evaluate the research program, a "blueribbon" panel was
The panel included two noted experts in the area of
parapsychology: Dr. Jessica Utts, a Professor of Statistics
at the University of California/Davis, and Dr. Raymond Hyman,
a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. In addition
to their extensive credentials, they were selected to represent both
sides of the paranormal controversy: Dr. Utts has published articles
that view paranormal interpretations positively, while Dr. Hyman was
selected to represent a more skeptical position.
Both, however, are viewed as fair and
open-minded scientists. In addition to these experts, this panel
included two Senior Scientists from AIR; both have recognized
methodological expertise, and both had no prior background in
parapsychological research. They were included in the review panel
to provide an unbiased methodological perspective. In addition,
Dr. Lincoln Moses, an Emeritus Professor at Stanford University,
provided statistical advice, while Dr. David A. Goslin,
President of AIR, served as coordinator of the research effort.
Panel members were asked to review all laboratory experiments and
meta-analytic reviews conducted as part of the research program;
this consisted of approximately 80 separate publications, many of
which are summary reports of multiple experiments.
In the course of
this review, special attention was given to those studies that,
(a) provided the
strongest evidence for the remote viewing phenomenon
(b) represented new
experiments controlling for methodological artifacts
identified in earlier reviews
Separate written reviews were prepared
by Dr. Utts and Dr. Hyman. They exchanged reviews with
other panel members who then tried to reach a consensus.
In the typical remote viewing experiment in the laboratory, a remote
viewer is asked to visualize a place, location, or object being
viewed by a "beacon" or sender. A judge then examines the viewer's
report and determines if this report matches the target or,
alternatively, a set of decoys. In most recent laboratory
experiments reviewed for the present evaluation, National Geographic
photographs provided the target pool. If the viewer's reports match
the target, as opposed to the decoys, a hit is said to have
Alternatively, accuracy of a set of
remote viewing reports is assessed by rank-ordering the similarity
of each remote viewing report to each photograph in the target set
(usually five photographs). A better-than chance score is presumed
to represent the occurrence of the paranormal phenomenon of remote
viewing, since the remote viewers had not seen the photographs they
had described (or did not know which photographs had been randomly
selected for a particular remote viewing trial).
In evaluating the various laboratory studies conducted to date, the
reviewers reached the following conclusions:
A statistically significant
laboratory effort has been demonstrated in the sense that hits
occur more often than chance.
It is unclear whether the observed
effects can unambiguously be attributed to the paranormal
ability of the remote viewers as opposed to characteristics of
the judges or of the target or some other characteristic of the
methods used. Use of the same remote viewers, the same judge,
and the same target photographs makes it impossible to identify
their independent effects.
Evidence has not been provided that
clearly demonstrates that the causes of hits are due to the
operation of paranormal phenomena; the laboratory experiments
have not identified the origins or nature of the remote viewing
phenomenon, if, indeed, it exists at all.
The second component of the program involved the use of
remote viewing in gathering intelligence information.
representatives of various intelligence groups -- "end users" of
intelligence information -- presented targets to remote viewers, who
were asked to describe the target. Typically, the remote viewers
described the results of their experiences in written reports, which
were forwarded to the end users for evaluation and, if warranted,
To assess the operational value of remote viewing in intelligence
gathering, a multifaceted evaluation strategy was employed.
First, the relevant research
literature was reviewed to identify whether the conditions
applying during intelligence gathering would reasonably permit
application of the remote viewing paradigm.
Second, members of three
groups involved in the program were interviewed:
Third, feedback information
obtained from end user judgments of the accuracy and value of
the remote viewing reports was assessed.
This multifaceted evaluation effort led
to the following conclusions:
The conditions under which the remote viewing phenomenon is observed
in laboratory settings do not apply in intelligence gathering
situations. For example, viewers cannot be provided with feedback
and targets may not display the characteristics needed to produce
The end users indicated that, although some accuracy was observed
with regard to broad background characteristics, the remote viewing
reports failed to produce the concrete, specific information valued
in intelligence gathering.
The information provided was inconsistent, inaccurate with regard to
specifics, and required substantial subjective interpretation.
In no case had the information provided ever been used to guide
intelligence operations. Thus, remote viewing failed to produce
The foregoing observations provide a compelling argument against
continuation of the program within the intelligence community.
though a statistically significant effect has been observed in the
laboratory, it remains unclear whether the existence of a paranormal
phenomenon, remote viewing, has been demonstrated. The
laboratory studies do not provide evidence regarding the origins or
nature of the phenomenon, assuming it exists, nor do they address
the important methodological issue of interjudge reliability.
Further, even if it could be demonstrated unequivocally that a
paranormal phenomenon occurs under the conditions present in the
laboratory paradigm, these conditions have limited applicability and
utility for intelligence gathering operations. For example, the
nature of the remote viewing targets are vastly dissimilar, as are
the specific tasks required of the remote viewers.
Most importantly, the information
provided by remote viewing is vague and ambiguous, making it
difficult, if not impossible, for the technique to yield information
of sufficient quality and accuracy for actionable intelligence.
Thus, we conclude that continued use of remote viewing in
intelligence gathering operations is not warranted.