The Anomalist

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Bologna on Wry

A Commentary on the CIA's Remote Viewing Report
 by Paul H. Smith

In the federal budget language for Fiscal Year 1994, Congress directed  the Central Intelligence Agency to assume responsibility for a closely-held program  then managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Known as Star Gate, the program  was mandated to exp lore and exploit the reputed parapsychological phenomenon known  as "remote viewing" in support of U.S. intelligence activities. Star Gate's  mission was three-fold: Assess foreign programs in the field; contract for basic  research into the existence and ca use-and-effect of the phenomenon; and, most importantly,  to see if remote viewing might be a useful intelligence tool.

Before accepting responsibility, the CIA first insisted that the  program be evaluated to determine if it had any value. To this end, the Agency contracted with the American Institutes of Research (AIR), headquartered in the District of  Columbia, to perfor m a scientific survey. Two heavily credentialed scientists--one  a statistician and research specialist, the other a psychologist--were retained to  do the assessment of the research port of STAR GATE. Jessica Utts, the statistician,  is a supporter of parap sychological research; the psychologist, Ray Hyman, a professor  at the University of Oregon, is a prominent skeptic. A number of AIR employees and  associates would evaluate the operations portion.

By the conclusion of the AIR report, Drs. Utts and Hyman agreed  that the experimental portion of STAR GATE indicated some sort of phenomenon existed,  but disagreed on whether it had been proved psychic in origin. Utts thought it was,  Hyman had no alternat ive explanations but would not accept that a psi effect was  demonstrated. As for the operational side of the survey, AIR's evaluators had concluded  that remote viewing was not, and never had been of operational use. Therefore STAR  GATE was not worth wasti ng further money on.

This verdict was justification enough for the CIA to wash its hands  of the Congressional requirement to pursue remote viewing, while at the same time allowing it to integrate the dozen or so personnel spaces it had acquired from STAR  GATE into its own str ucture--a veritable windfall in an era of rampant governmental  "downsizing."

 But was the AIR survey truly the thorough and objective evaluation it pretended to  be? After my own assessment of the report, I can only conclude that it was not. In  fact, so skewed were the AIR report's conclusions, that I at first suspected a clever  tri ck by the CIA to give the impression in the public that it had dumped the program,  while in reality burying it deep inside the Agency where it could continue to perk  along quietly behind the scenes. Prepared to remain silent if a viable remote viewing  eff ort really was still under wraps somewhere in the system, I made a few discreet  inquiries among people who were in a position to find out. Alas, it now seems clear  that the program, in any incarnation, is indeed deader than a doornail.

Since I know through long experience the value of a properly-run  RV program, I was therefore quite offended by the superficiality of the AIR study  and the obtuseness of the CIA. The best antidote, it would seem, would be to expose the major faults of the review and let the public sort out what ought to happen next.  Consequently, I will explore in this article and in one to follow how AIR arrived  at its dubious conclusions.

 To accomplish its three-fold mission, STAR GATE incorporated two separate activities.  One was an operational unit with government-employed remote viewers, the purpose  of which was to perform training and actual remote viewing intelligence-gathering  sessio ns in support of customers in the U.S. intelligence community. The other activity  was an ongoing research program, maintained separately from the operational unit,  under the directorship of Dr. Edwin May. The research program resided for several  years at SRI-International, but later moved to another California-based defense contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

In evaluating the program, AIR obviously had to address both operational  and research portions. On the research side, evaluators performed an exhaustive review  of the reports from the ten most recent experiments Dr. May had conducted. To evaluate  the operational portion, the AIR personnel conducted interviews with STAR GATE's  project manager and viewers. Also, certain intelligence community activities were  recruited to levy collection tasks on STAR GATE, then evaluate the resulting inf  ormation. Finally, some of the research material that seemed to apply to operations  was reviewed. In the interests of time and space, I will consider in this article  only the operational portion of the AIR evaluation. The research portion will be  examined at another time.

 To help understand how the AIR study erred in evaluating the operational side of  the program, we must first briefly discuss the program's history. STAR GATE traces  its direct lineage to the formation of an Army program in 1977, originally created  to explo re what intelligence an enemy might be able to obtain about the U.S. by  using remote viewing. The programs indirect roots go back still farther, to the CIA's  flirtation with remote viewing under the SCANATE program in the early Seventies.  By 1978 the original Army program was given a new mission, to experiment with remote  viewing as an actual intelligence collection tool. At about the same time, the program  also moved under the administrative umbrella of the newly-created GRILL FLAME proje  ct, which was a joint effort among several agencies, but with DIA overseeing the  overall program. Over the next fourteen years, the remote viewing program went through  two more name changes--first in the early Eighties, and then once again in 1986 upon  mi grating to DIA, after a newly-appointed commanding general of the Army's Intelligence  and Security Command was directed by his superiors to divest the Army of the program.  In the early Nineties the program's status was changed from that of a SAP ("special  access program") to a LIMDIS ("limited dissemination") program and it was re-designated STAR GATE.

Altogether, over forty personnel served in the program under its  various iterations, including both government civilians and members of the military.  Of these forty personnel, about 23 were remote viewers. At its most robust (during the mid-to-late Eighti es), the remote viewing program boasted as many as seven full-time  viewers assigned at one time, along with additional analytical, administrative, and  support personnel.

From the early Eighties, two primary remote viewing disciplines  were used: The SRI-developed coordinate remote viewing (CRV) method, and a hybrid relaxation/meditative-based method known to program personnel as "extended remote  viewing," or ERV. Both meth ods had been heavily evaluated and refined before  being pressed into service on "live" intelligence collection missions.

In 1988 a new and (it turned out) less reliable method, known as  WRV--for "written remote viewing"--was introduced. WRV was a hybrid of  both channeling and automatic writing. Surprisingly, it was almost immediately adopted  as an official method for perfor ming actual intelligence missions--without the same  period of careful evaluation that either CRV or ERV had enjoyed. Many of the personnel  were dubious of the new method, and in fact a good deal of divisiveness and rancor  developed within the unit because of it. Nevertheless, for a several-year period  the organization's management made WRV the method of choice. There were a number  of reasons for this, which I lack space and time to consider here.

By the summer of 1990, attrition of quality remote viewers was  becoming a problem, through retirement, reassignment, or the departure of disenchanted personnel. Unfortunately, the higher echelons at DIA were for the most part uncomfortable  with the progra m and chose not to replace departing employees. At the time of its  transfer to CIA in June 1995, STAR GATE was down to three viewers--two using WRV,  and one CRV. Further, the program was led by a project manager who had no previous  experience in the field , and had been less than successful in gleaning insight from  the program's well-documented operational archives.

By 1995, after almost 20 years of operation, the remote viewing  program in its various guises had conducted several hundred intelligence collection  projects involving literally thousands of remote viewing sessions on behalf of nearly  all of the major play ers in the U.S. Intelligence Community (including, despite  its current vigorous disclaimers, the CIA). There were at one point more than a dozen  four- and five-drawer security cabinets containing the documentation for these projects  and the surrounding hi story of the program.

After all this, one would think that AIR had a great deal to evaluate  before passing judgement on the operational value of the unit: Drawers and drawers  of documents to examine, dozens of personnel and several former project managers  to interview, and per haps a score of intelligence consumers to poll. But that is  not what happened. Instead, AIR chose to do only three things: 1) The few remaining  viewers were interviewed as a group for perhaps two hours; 2) The project manager  was interviewed once; and 3) Six intelligence customers were recruited to provide  problems for the remote viewers to be targeted against, the results of which would  then be evaluated by the agency submitting the request. This operational test took  place during an approximately one-ye ar period near the end of STAR GATE's tenure  at DIA--a mere 12 months and six projects balanced against a roughly 240-month history and hundreds of collection projects, all well documented in STAR GATE's files! Regrettably,  AIR had made the arbitrary decision at the very beginning not to evaluate any of  the historic data predating the adoption of the "STAR GATE" project name.

On the surface it might seem that at least the operational test  AIR devised would be a reasonable assessment of Star Gate capability and potential.  But we must remember that at the time the evaluation was made, only three remote viewers remained of the 23 who had belonged to the unit over the years--and two of  these three used the less-effective WRV protocols--one of them even resorting to  tarot cards as a collection method. The third viewer, by self-admission, was demoralized  and cynical about the manage ment and future of the program, which undoubtedly affected  viewing accuracy. The program manager, who performed triple duty as tasker, analyst,  and evaluator, was inexperienced and unqualified to fulfill any of those functions.

Indeed, at the time of the AIR evaluation, the tasking methodology  had degenerated markedly from past practice. In previous years, to prevent contamination  of the data no "frontloading" was permitted. When in the course of a session  further guidance might prove necessary, great pains were taken to provide only the  most neutral cuing possible--and then only after the viewer had demonstrated unequivocal  site contact. Further, operational sessions were conducted as often as possible under  double-blind condit ions to prevent inadvertent cuing by monitor personnel.

At the time of the AIR investigation, however, viewers were allowed "substantial background information" before their sessions (p. C-12) which often led to viewers "chang[ing] the content of their reports" to coincide  with their own preconceptions about t he nature of the target and the expectations  of the customer (p. C-12, C-13). Complicating the matter still further, the AIR report  indicates that the person providing the tasking, receiving the reports, then providing  further guidance was usually one and the same person--the project manager--who was  all the while fully informed of the mission and had access to any site-relevant details  that were available. This is bad practice for maintaining objective analysis and  unbiased viewing results.

Sessions were conducted "solo" (i.e., no monitoring personnel  present), and the taskings provided to the viewer usually included the name of the  tasking organization and a brief description of the target (p. C-15), a practice compounding the likelihood of contaminated results. It is no wonder that the tasking  organizations--even the ones who were enthusiastic about remote viewing--found the  results ultimately unhelpful. One might argue that these were problems endemic to  the unit, and that the AIR report fairly assessed the poor utility of the operational  organization. However, AIR essentially guaranteed a negative conclusion from the  very beginning by focusing on a narr ow slice of time, late in the program's existence  when operational standards and morale were at their lowest ebb (brought on, by the  way, through the ambivalence and even outright antipathy of its parent organization).  It would have been a major surprise had AIR come to any other conclusion. In a truly  objective study, thorough, responsible evaluators would have recognized the situation,  analyzed what was going on, and dug deeper.

It should be clear by now that this ostensibly "scientific"  examination of the operational portion of the program was far too superficial and narrowly-based to justify the conclusion that remote viewing had never been of intelligence  use. In fact, there is plenty of evidence for collection missions in which remote  viewing had been of operational significance. Obvious sources would have been the  veteran remote viewers (none, as previously noted, ever interviewed, but most of  whom are eager to talk a bout their involvement), and the final reports for closed-  out projects. However, in the historical files there are also a number of customer  evaluations from the likes of the Secret Service, NSA, the Military Services, Joint  Chiefs of Staff, and-- ironic ally--the CIA, reporting (occasionally even in rather  glowing terms) the usefulness of remote viewing as an intelligence tool.

To be sure, not all the evaluations are positive; it would have  been very suspicious if they were. Remote viewing, like any other intelligence discipline (including, despite popular perceptions, satellite imagery), often falls flat on  its face. However, r emote viewing was successful often enough to have gained over  several years the interest of a number of otherwise hardbitten intelligence agencies.  Unfortunately, AIR with all its resources failed altogether to discover this on its  own.

One might draw a fanciful analogy with the early days of radio.  It's as if Marconi's official trial was arranged as a make-or-break test to decide  whether to pursue his new invention or to scrap it as a waste of effort and resources. However, Marconi isn' t present for the event, and one of his less proficient operators  is chosen to perform the test. The operator, suffering from a migraine, tunes to  the wrong frequency, producing only static. Officials in attendance, impatient disbelievers  from the very ou tset, make with great relief the immediate decision to scrap the  whole thing, and go back to something they know--the telegraph.

Continued in Part  2

Copyright 1996 by Paul H. Smith