Psychic Warfare: How Governments Commissioned Paranormal Experiments to Aid the Military

For the last century, governments around the world have been attempting to harness the power of the mind.

Secret government agencies have spent millions in serious attempts to weaponize extra sensory perception, for use against their enemies. It was believed by some experts that the psychic arms race was more important and would have more of an impact on history than the atomic bomb. And, these ideas were not merely the fanciful illusions of historical figures long gone, but continue into the present day.

Controlled Offensive Behavior – USSR

In July 1972, the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General Medical Intelligence released a report which detailed the USSR’s interest in human vulnerability, and how the mind may be controlled and manipulated in order to incapacitate individuals or small groups.

“Controlled offensive behavior as defined within the scope of this report includes Soviet research on human vulnerability as it applies to methods of influencing human behavior.” 1

Now available via the public Freedom of Information Act Reading Room on Russia, the unclassified report reveals the United State’s concern that the USSR would attack US or allied personnel utilising psychological methods beyond the USA’s current comprehension.

Beyond mortal: During the Cold War, there was a genuine fear that psychic super soldiers would be the new method of warfare.

The threat of parapsychological warfare

As well as making use of previously known methods of mental manipulation – such as “confinement, isolation and psychopharmaceutical administration” – it was feared that the USSR was also employing parapsychological methods to influence the minds of others. 2

“Today, it is reported that the USSR has twenty or more centers for the study of parapsychological phenomena, with an annual budget estimated at 21 million dollars. Parapsychological research in the USSR began in the 1920s and has continued to the present. Based on their “head start” and financial support, it could be concluded that Soviet knowledge in this field is superior to that of the US.” 3

In the interest of national security, the report described the Soviet Union’s interest in the capabilities of telepathic communication, telekinetics, astral projection, dream state, clairvoyance and, precognition.4

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It was stated that the major impetus for research into parapsychology – referred to as biocommunications by the Soviets – came from the Soviet military and KGB. 5

Telepathy and Soviet Russia

As unconfirmed rumours of successful telepathic experiments in the United States spread across the globe in the 1960s, the Soviet response was to reopen telepathic tests which had been conducted over a quarter of a century before. It was stated that “a great many” of these past experiments had been successful. As such, the value of research into telepathy was now not about proof for the Soviets, but about how to use such telepathy to the state’s advantage. One leading Soviet parapsychologist, Doctor Leonid Leonidovich Vasiliev had held the dynamic view that: “The discovery of the energy underlying telepathic communication will be equivalent to the discovery of atomic energy.” 6

“In 1963, Doctor Vasilev claimed to have conducted successful long-distance telepathic experiments between Leningrad and Sevastopol, a distance of 1200 miles”. This, it was said, was achieved with the aid of an ultra-short-wave (UHF) radio transmitter. 7

The weaponisation of physical mediumship

Further Soviet research mentioned in the report was concerned with physical mediumship, and the ability to produce “luminous bodies”, known as apports.

It was suggested that studying these effects could allow for such apports to be manipulated, so that they may travel unlimited distances and pass through solid material, such as walls. With such power at their command, it was feared that the USSR could use these bodies to produce “instant death in military and civilian officials”, and to “disable military equipment or communication nets”. 8

“If any of this highly questionable material is true then it can be inferred that organic matter can be transformed into “ectoplasm”, that this can be rendered invisible and impalpable and thus converted into something which, for all practical purposes, amounts to force. If organic matter can be converted into such “force-matter,” it seems reasonable to assume that a physical object, if similarly converted, could travel through space.” 9

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The United State’s military considered these, and many other parapsychological experiments, to be genuine enough to warrant further investigation – lest the USSR use such research against them.

Whilst the publication of “Controlled Offensive Behavior” by the United States may seem, in hindsight especially, rather bizarre it is important to consider it in the context of the wider Cold War. After all, it was the responsibility of the Defense Department and CIA to be aware of what the enemy, the Soviet Union, was working on and to create programs to counter it – even if that meant crossing the boundary into the supernatural. One could say that the report was merely a chapter in the great novel which was the psychic arms race between America and USSR.

Soviet and American tanks face each other at Checkpoint Charlie, during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. (Image source)

Project STAR GATE

Clandestine paranormal experiments commissioned by military and intelligence departments were not limited to the Soviet Union. Believing that significant advancements had been made by the enemy in the field of parapsychology, the U.S. Army established a secret unit in 1978 at Fort Meade, Maryland. Although the project had many different code names over the years, from GONDOLA WISH to GRILL FLAME, it would be remembered by history as the elusive STAR GATE Project.10

“One of our problems is keeping track of the Russians.” LTG Tighe, during a “GRILL FLAME” meeting on 30th October, 1979.11

Terminated and declassified in 1995, the once secret project investigated the potential for psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence for close to twenty years. In particular, it was the anomaly of remote viewing on which the project primarily focused.12

Remote viewing: a way to spy without spying

Remote viewing is the practice of uncovering information about a distant or unseen target, purportedly using extrasensory perception. In the context of the Cold War, this meant the ability to psychically ‘see’ the Soviet Union’s planned events, covert sites, important people and top secret information, from a great distance. It was hoped that STAR GATE would give the United States the ability “to spy without spying.” 13

Far from being approached with scepticism, STAR GATE attracted the support and interest of many who knew of its existence. A key sponsor of the research conducted at Fort Meade was Major General Stubblebine Convinced of the reality of a wide variety of psychic phenomena, he required all his battalion commanders learn how to bend spoons like Uri Geller. It is said that the Major General also experimented with his own psychic potential, even attempting to walk through walls.

The quest for psychically enhanced super soldiers was a tantalising proposition.

By the time of its termination, the program had conducted thousands of remote viewing sessions – with some notable successes. The “eight martini” results, for example, were aptly named: the data produced during a particular session had been so mind-boggling that everyone had to go out and drink eight martinis afterwards to recover. 14

Further endorsement of Project STAR GATE came from the Dr. Jessica Utts, a Professor of Statistics at the University of California, who reported that a statistically significant effect had in fact been demonstrated at Fort Meade. The secret government psychics were said to have been accurate in their data retrieval about 15 percent of the time.15

Regardless, the eventual conclusion was that the continuation of the STAR GATE Project would most likely not benefit the United States’ military and intelligence departments. The American Institute for Research, contracted by the CIA to evaluate the program, suggested that extrasensory perception would not provide data useful to intelligence operations. As such, the project was disbanded and subsequently declassified.

“The single conclusion that can be drawn from an evaluation of the 40 operational tasks is that the value and utility to the Intelligence Community of the information provided by the process cannot be readily discerned.”16

Yet, far from being the end of it, the tests conducted at Fort Meade would go on to inspire future clandestine government projects.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence explored physic powers

In early November 2001, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence devised a secret experiment which was hoped would increase defence and protection of Great Britain.Thanks to a UK Freedom of Information request in 2007, we now know that these secret tests intended to assess psychic powers and the brain’s potential to remotely view information – much like Project STAR GATE.

It is believed that this experiment was contrived in response to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, which had shocked the world only the month before.

Nick Pope, who ran the Ministry of Defence’s UFO research programme, and worked at the ministry for 21 years, said: “It can only be speculation, but you don’t employ that kind of time and effort to find money down the back of the sofa. We must be talking about Bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction.17

It can be hypothesised that the MoD intended to train British soldiers to remotely view sensitive information about terrorist organisations, and hopefully prevent any future attacks similar to 9/11.

When one reads the now declassified “UK Eyes Only” secret report, it certainly seems like this may have been the case.

The methodology of the remote viewing sessions

In December 2001, a small sample of untrained, amateur psychics were taken to a secret, rented property that “offered minimal environmental distractions”.18 There, over the course of 18 sessions, the participants were invited to remotely view the contents of several sealed envelopes. Inside each envelope was a different image. Mother Teresa, a pocket knife, a petrol station and “Asian inhabitant” were among the hidden pictures.

Mother Teresa: one of the images concealed by the testers for the participants to remotely view.

Minimal intrusion on the participants was important throughout the sessions. Therefore experimental instruments were limited to two cameras, an audio recorder and an electromagnetic field sensor. It was hoped that the latter would record electromagnetic activity close to the self-proclaimed psychics’ heads, to see if successful viewings caused higher-than-usual fields to be emitted from the brain. 19

Throughout the experiment, the status of the participants was monitored, in the hopes of revealing how remote viewing – if real – worked. Hand and head movements, and breathing patterns were observed. One psychic even focused themselves to sleep during the remote viewing session.20 In the end, however, none of the participants accessed the target information concealed within the envelopes “beyond reasonable doubt”. In 28% of the sessions, it was reported that participants “may have accessed some feature of the target”. 21

“On the basis of the scores / access it is clear that as untrained Remote Viewers the subjects were almost completely unsuccessful. However, as a baseline against which to measure trained or experienced Remote Viewers it will serve a purpose.” 22

A chart from the report which shows the decree of access to the hidden images achieved by each of the participants.

Ultimately, these results did not inspire the confidence required to continue the research. The Ministry of Defence concluded, much the same as the United States in 1995, that – for now at least – remote viewing was not going to help in the business of national security.

US Office of Naval Research commissions further parapsychological experiments

The apparent failure of both the US and UK remote viewing programs should not be seen as the death knell for government-sponsored parapsychological research. Far from it. As recently as 2014 the United States’ Office of Naval Research dedicated a budget of $3.85 million to research precognition – the intuition and premonition based phenomenon of knowing something before it happens.

Staff Sgt. Martin Richburg supposedly used his ‘sixth sense’ to save lives in Iraq in 2006.

As the project was established as a four-year program, its research is ongoing.23

“If the researchers understand the process, there may be ways to accelerate it — and possibly spread the powers of intuition throughout military units.”24

Can an innate ‘sixth sense’ ability save lives?

According to the Pentagon, the program was inspired by battlefield reports which seemed to indicate the existence of a ‘sixth sense’ ability amongst some soldiers. One incident came from Iraq in 2006, when Staff Sergeant Martin Richburg prevented an improvised explosive device from exploding at an internet cafe, supposedly using his powers of intuition. 25

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The potential lifesaving ability of such ESP or precognition – now termed “sensemaking” to create distance from the Department’s past parapsychological experiments, like StarGate – is described as limitless. And indeed, new technologies previously not available to government commissioned parapsychologists might push this program closer to success than its predecessors.

“Ultimately, this is about Sailors and Marines being able to harness their gut instincts in situations where they need to act quickly.”26

With research not yet complete, only time will tell if science is any closer to unlocking the potential of the brain’s long-claimed psychic abilities.

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About Laura 22 Articles

Falling more strongly on the side of scepticism, Laura’s passion is for the details. She is fascinated by the culture implications and psychology of strange phenomena. Some of Laura’s main interests are parapsychological experiments; the paranormal in history and folklore; and, haunted locations.