Stories

Ask Molly: Did CIA really study psychic powers?

October 27, 2021

Dear Molly,

Did the CIA really study psychic powers?

~ The Future is Cloudy

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Dear The Future is Cloudy,

Unfortunately my Magic 8-Ball is broken, so instead I went to the best source I know to find the answer to your question: CIA’s History Staff!

According to our historians, from very early in CIA’s history we had been interested in investigating whether “extra sensory perception” (ESP) or other paranormal phenomena (generally called “parapsychology”) exist and, if so, whether they had operational uses for intelligence.

The earliest record our historians have found on this topic is a 1948 memorandum speculating on whether hypnotized people could be used for long-distance communication.

We didn’t, however, conduct our own research into psychic phenomena until the summer of 1972. We worked with scientists and researchers to investigate whether certain people could “see” locations and objects around the world, without actually being there. This ability is known as “remote viewing.”

CIA ended this research five years later in 1977, and we turned the program over to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The project became known as STARGATE, which was actually DIA’s initial name for this program. Later, it was renamed GRILL FLAME.

In the mid-1990s, DIA handed the program back to CIA. We agreed to take another look at the program on the condition that an independent study group would evaluate it. Four researchers from the American Institute for Research published their findings in September 1995, and that report is available on the Internet: a Google search on “An Evaluation of Remote Viewing” will turn up the 183-page document.

That report’s conclusion—which echoed the assessments of the CIA officers involved in the program during the 1970s—was that enough accurate remote viewing experiences existed to defy randomness, but that the phenomenon was too unreliable, inconsistent, and sporadic to be useful for intelligence purposes. We decided not to restore the program.

Soon after, at the request of Congress, we agreed to review the program and declassify records for the public. We worked closely with DIA and the U.S. Army to gather all relevant records, and we placed the entire collection of declassified records from all three organizations on CIA.gov in the FOIA Electronic Reading Room, which you can access here.

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t consult a crystal ball. Instead, go to our website and you can read the declassified Studies in Intelligence article by Kenneth Kress, Parapsychology in Intelligence,” which sums up the CIA program pretty well.

I hope I was able to shine a light on a spookier part of our past.

Until next time,

~ Molly