SCANATE Proved There’s No Such Thing As A Government Secret

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A lot of crazy things happened during the Cold War. In California those things got crazier. As you might expect, it took some time to discover the truth.

Or did it?

In late 1995, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) declassified all materials relating to what was then known as the Stargate Project. The Stargate Project represented the final consolidation of several secret research efforts by multiple government agencies (including the CIA) to investigate the application of psychic powers in military and criminal matters.

The powers that be decided to assemble what they called a “blue ribbon” panel to assess the success or failure of the nearly two-decade effort to determine the efficacy of “remote viewing.” According to “An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications,” this committee’s final report which was issued on September 29, 1995 under the auspices of The American Institute for Research, “remote viewing,” which is also called “anomalous cognition,” is “the ability to describe locations one has not visited.”

In other words, “ESP.”

Naturally, if you combine “secret government research” and “ESP,” you no doubt get dozens of salacious headlines and snide columns from the denizens of the newspaper world. Check out some of these headlines: “Psychics Worked as Spies for CIA, DIA,” (The Salt Lake Tribune, November 29, 1995); “Pentagon employed psychic spy unit.” (The Baltimore Sun, November 30, 1995); “Secret military psychic program refused to die,” Rapid City Journal, December 10, 1995).

Despite the alarm, if not outright ridicule, found in the headlines, the blue ribbon panel concluded “we were all to agree that anomalous cognition is possible” and “it appears that anomalous cognition is to some extent possible in the general population.” Furthermore, their report stated “it also appears that certain individuals possess more talent than others, and that it is easier to find those individuals than to train people. It also appears to be the case that certain individuals are better at some tasks than others.”

That being said, the official document says, “What is not so clear is that we have progressed very far in understanding the mechanism for anomalous cognition.” It recommended “it would be wasteful of valuable resources to continue to look for proof.”

It would seem this would have been more interesting to write about than the banal “government watchdog” approach all too common among journalists. In fact, it seemed reporters were more concerned with the $20 million price tag (for its entire twenty-year run). Wow, is it inflation or does that number lack the punch today that it had a generation ago?

Jack Anderson, perhaps the poster boy of investigative journalists in his era, certainly trumpeted his displeasure with the program. In addition to the many failures he highlighted in his December 1996 syndicated column “Log reveals psychic spies network,” he throws in an “I told you so.” Anderson writes, “We were the first to pull the cover back on the unit, in the early 1980s, when it was called ‘Project Grill Flame.’”

Indeed, this is true. Anderson wrote no fewer than 4 columns on the subject from January 1981 through August 1985. His May 1984 column “‘Twilight Zone’ spies” in particular offers plenty of details, including naming names from the project leader (Harold Puthoff), it’s top (surviving) psychic (Ingo Swann), it’s original name (“SCANATE”), one of its disaffected founders who made possible the seminal research project (Russell Targ) as well as the goings on where the project first started (then called the Stanford Research Institute or “SRI”).

His column in the summer of 1985 provided a very precise story of one the SCANATE subjects incredibly accurate “remote viewing” spying on a “top-secret Soviet military base in the Urals.” More amazing about this episode is the subject saw something the satellites couldn’t see – a newly developed process called “flux welding” going on inside the building.

About the only thing Anderson got wrong was the annual budget number. He claimed it was $6 million a year. We now know it was probably no more than $1 million, although at that time it was probably less.

Incidentally, Anderson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1972 for his investigation into secret government work on the 1971 India-Pakistan War. His early uncovering of the secret Stargate predecessors appears to be good investigation work by Anderson.

Or was it?

Nearly half a decade earlier, Claire Huff (“U.S. aides get psychic lesson,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 30, 1976) wrote in her column “World of psi” about the research going on at SRI, including the names of Puthoff and Targ. Of course, the real credit goes to William Stuckey, whose piece in the October 1976 issue of Science Digest contain much of the details she uses.

Stuckey, a writer who specialized “in the politics of science” (according to his Science Digest byline), penned a 7-page article under the title “Physic Research: Extrasensory perception (ESP) may become the super weapon of the future. The Pentagon, CIA and Soviet intelligence are all reportedly involved in paranormal projects.” Stucky admits upfront this is either “a phenomenal hoax,” “a lot of PhDs smoking funny flowers,” or “science and mysticism fusing to reveal a vast new source of political power, culture-busting power, world-controlling power.”

Stuckey also stated, “the insiders among our planetary dignitaries are not giggling or calling for the men with butterfly nets.” Like I said, a lotta crazy things came out of the Cold War. To be truthful, however, given what the strange realities we were discovering about quantum and relativistic physics at the time, the smart thing for scientists to do was to keep an open mind. Of course, good scientists always keep an open mind.

By the way, keep the phrase “not giggling” in mind for the next couple of weeks.

The Science Digest article, as attributed by Stuckey, came about due to the publication of research papers coauthored by Puthoff and Targ detailing their experiments at SRI beginning in 1972. If Nature and the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers thought the subject worthy and well-vetted, well, that says a lot.

It was more than just good science. Remember, this was the Cold War.

James Hickman, who worked for a private lab in San Francisco that made paranormal instrumentation (maybe or maybe not for the CIA), told Stuckey, “I would have no doubt that the Russians are pursuing this area for military application. In fact, both of our governments are putting more and more funds in secret paranormal projects.”

A year later, and four years before Anderson’s first column “exposed” the subject, James Coates, a member of the Chicago Tribunes’ Washington bureau, interviewed then newly appointed CIA director Stanfield Turner (“The CIA’s crystal ball,” Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1977). The normally circumspect Turner admitted to Coates “the CIA financed a project in 1975 to develop a new kind of agent who could truly be called a ‘spook.’” The article accounts how “the agency found a man who could ‘see’ what was going on anywhere in the world through his psychic powers.”

But the final blow to Jack Anderson’s perception of himself has to be a rather lengthy article published by the Atlanta Constitution that very same day. Written by John L. Wilhelm for The Washington Post, “Psychic Spies… ‘There’s No Security Left’” lead on page 1 (albeit below the fold) and spilled over to cover most of page 4A with thick, dense text. Wilhelm’s level of detail far exceeded anything Anderson wrote, and much of it was confirmed when the DIA declassified the Stargate Project materials nearly 20 years later.

Which just goes to show you: you can’t contain a government secret and you can’t contain a reporter’s ego.

Next Week: The Stargate Folly – It’s Never About The Science, It’s Always About The Funding |

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