Why The CIA Nixed Remote Viewing – Or Did They?

cia nix remote viewingHey guys,

I just came across an article that you might find interesting. Jim Schnabel examines the reasons why the government may have nixed their remote viewing program – and evidence to suggest that some remote viewers are, in fact, still doing work for the government. This article is from forteantimes.com and I’m republishing it here in full for your convenience.

Psychic Spies: Whatever happened to America’s remote viewers?

By Jim Schnabel

On the last day of June 2009, a 23-year-old US Army private, Bowe Bergdahl, carrying only a compass and a bottle of water, disappeared from his unit’s forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan.

Why and how he had done this wasn’t clear. But the risk that he would fall into the hands of the Taliban was obvious. As soon as his absence was discovered, senior US military officials at Bagram Airbase in Kabul sprang into action. They scoured the airwaves and the nearby terrain with the latest surveillance technology, sent out patrols to try to find Bergdahl, and even distributed leaflets to Afghans in the area, warning them to inform the army if they saw him.

And eventually, they called John Alexander.

Alexander was a retired army colonel, living in Las Vegas. In the 1980s, as a staff officer at the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), he had been one of the insiders in the Pentagon’s remote viewing programme. The programme had been shut down in the mid 1990s – largely for political reasons, some said – and its trained psychics had gone on to conventional assignments or into retirement. Now the military, out of other options, wanted to see if remote viewers could help.

It was not an official project, just an informal request. “They were saying, we’ve tried everything else, why not this?” recalled Alexander.

He agreed to do what he could. And, with some difficulty, he did arrange, via a third party, for several trained remote viewers to target the missing soldier. In accordance with the usual procedure, each viewer was told merely that there was a target of interest, and that he or she should provide whatever impressions came to mind.

The Result?

“Most of the input that came back was pure garbage,” said Alexander. “They gave location information that could have been anywhere within hundreds of miles. And they had an impression of somebody standing on a balcony. It was so non-specific; what could you do with it?”

In the end, Alexander decided not even to forward the remote viewing data to Bagram.

Private Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban, and is apparently still being held by them.


In 2007, Paul Smith, a former Pentagon remote viewer with his own remote viewing company in Austin, Texas, organised a similar search – in this case for Keith Maupin, a US Army private who had been captured by Iraqi insurgents three years earlier.

“We were approached by some folks,” Smith told me. “And I thought the project was fairly successful.”

The remote viewing data produced by Smith’s team was detailed enough to indicate that Maupin was probably dead. Smith’s analysis of the data was that Maupin’s “remains are located near a cluster of structures somewhat isolated from others in a mostly desert-like setting, with one particular structure of interest that features curved or arched openings nearby – perhaps an abandoned or disused mosque.”

Unfortunately, as in the Bergdahl case, the inform ation did not strongly suggest a particular location, and wasn’t used. “The task force whose job it was to look for Maupin knew the source of the data, and apparently were dubious of it,” Smith said.

As these cases illustrate, remote viewers clearly have continued to do work for the government in the years since the official programme was killed. “Espec ially after 9/11, a lot of the individual remote viewers [from the programme] were re-contacted by various federal authorities and asked for help,” said Hal Puthoff, who ran the scientific side of the programme at SRI International (previously the Stanford Research Institute) in the 1970s and early 1980s.

There have been commercial and law-enforcement projects too. But, at least for those projects discussed publicly, success seems to have been mostly elusive. The results of a recent corporate espionage project, Smith told me, “at least according to the client, were kind of disappointing.” Lyn Buchanan, another former military remote viewer, set up a project in the late 1990s – the Assigned Witness Program – in which a team of remote viewers would solve crimes, but apparently has since abandoned it. Other remote viewers have aimed their techniques at esoteric targets such as UFOs, or have used them to make dramatic predictions about world events. Ed Dames, a former member of the military remote viewing unit who is now a fixture on late-night para normal-oriented talk radio, claimed recently, on the basis of his remote viewing data, that President Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii; that the Antichrist – a male politician – is alive today; and that Israel will attack Iran by… October 2009.


Thirty years ago, one might have thought that remote viewing was on its way to becoming the ultimate intelligence-gathering technology. The RV programme had offices in the huge Department of Defense complex at Fort Meade in Maryland, with dedicated staff that included analysts as well as the remote viewers themselves. There were standard lines of assigning tasks and distribution, as well as a substantial research arm, run by one of America’s most respected defence and intelligence think-tanks. Thus institutionalised, remote viewing was an ongoing source of information to agencies throughout the US intelligence community.

The programme had supporters at virtually all levels, from junior intelligence analysts and operations officers up to senior agency officials and even key senators and their staff. “If you didn’t believe that remote viewing was real, you hadn’t done your homework,” a retired major general, Edmund Thompson, once told me. Thompson, as the Army’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, had directed the establishment of the Fort Meade unit in the late 1970s, based in part on the results of an earlier CIA project.

Thompson and other champions of the programme believed it made sense for two clear reasons: first, there was ample evidence that the Russians and the Chinese, among other potential adversaries, had been trying to make use of ESP and other psi phenomena for espionage purposes; second, there was evidence that ESP could be of real use.

Some of the targets said to have been “remote viewed” with sensational accuracy in those early days included a secret US government communications-monitoring facility in the Appalachian mountains; a suspected low-yield nuclear test facility in Soviet Kazakhstan, with features confirmed only later by a spy satellite; the location of a Soviet bomber that had crashed in the jungles of Zaire; the construction of a new kind of Soviet ballistic missile submarine; the activities of a Soviet intelligence officer in Washington, DC; and the code room of a foreign embassy. Puthoff memorably told me that at times senior military and intelligence officials “wanted to push butt ons and drop bombs on the basis of our information”.

Yet for all its promise, the remote viewing programme eventually lost support, and was terminated. Later, it was almost entirely declassified – as if to emphasise that US intelligence agencies would never venture into the parapsychological realm again.

To understand what has happened to remote viewing since the death of the programme, it helps to understand why the programme was killed.

One set of reasons, obviously, had to do with embarrassment and entrenched scepticism. Scientists and engineers in the intelligence community tend to reflect the wider culture of science and engineering, which long ago effectively rejected parapsychological phenomena as spurious and “pseudoscientific”. Supporters of RV were constantly running into this attitude. In the 1970s, for example, the one agency where the programme really seems to have belonged – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – threw up a wall of scepticism and refused to get involved, despite pleas from CIA officials and a pile of classified evidence that remote viewing worked.

The CIA itself terminated its direct involvement with remote viewing research in 1975, not because it hadn’t enjoyed success with RV but, rather, in spite of its success. The Agency itself was coming under scrutiny from Congress for some of its questionable activities in the 1950s and 60s, and wanted to distance itself from anything else that might cause embarrassment. The CIA would continue to have access to the programme but, like many other agencies, it didn’t want to take responsibility for it.

That fear of embarrassment (the “giggle factor”, some called it) would follow the remote viewing programme wherever it went, and despite periods of relative stab ility, it was always a bureaucratic hot potato. Initially tossed from the CIA to the Air Force, it thereafter went from the Air Force to the Army, from the Army to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and then from the DIA back to the CIA, which finally declined to catch it. Robert Gates, the CIA director (now Secretary of Defense) who effectively killed the programme in 1995, had long been sceptical about its potential.

The demise of the programme didn’t prevent people from continuing to practise remote viewing. The technique required little in the way of equipment and expense. But the loss of organisational support meant that remote viewing projects effectively had to be ad hoc, arm’s-length ventures. And few could afford to do it full-time. “Finding people who’ve consistently kept up with their remote viewing practice is a challenge,” Smith told me. “And even when you find someone who has been practising, it can be hard to arrange anything at short notice. They’re like, ‘sorry, I gotta take the dog to the vet, I can’t get the session done today.’”

Possibly an even more important reason why remote viewing undershoots expect ations today is that those expectations are too high. The programme, over its 23-year existence, generated some spectacular succ­esses, but on a day-to-day basis, RV seems to have been less than robustly useful. Somewhat like cold fusion, it was fluky, and tended to depend on the participation of certain individuals. Even the best of those, such as Ingo Swann and Pat Price at SRI, and Joe McMoneagle at Fort Meade, were inaccurate much of the time – and even within their more successful remote viewing sessions. For the suspected nuclear facility in Kazakhstan, for example, a CIA official would later write that: “[M]ost of Price’s data were wrong or could not be evaluated.”

Even Hal Puthoff, who has no doubt that remote viewing is a real phenomenon, told me: “I agree that it’s not ready to be a major intelligence source.”


In the beginning, the SRI remote viewing programme, like most parapsychological research programmes, used subjects who seemed to have unusually strong psychic abilities, and had manifested them spontaneously from an early age. Among these subjects were Swann, Price, McMoneagle, and even Uri Geller (whom SRI briefly studied in the early 1970s, at the CIA’s informal request). These “naturals” seemed able to relocate themselves to a target, in some sense, and report consciously what they perceived, often in considerable detail. (Price, to the amusement of his CIA handlers, claimed to psychically “see” better when wearing his glasses.)

Price seemed so talented that the CIA pulled him out of SRI and worked with him directly on operational missions, until he died suddenly in 1975 (see below). McMon eagle and others continued to be given tasks by multiple agencies over the years. But from an early stage, the researchers at SRI and their funders in the intelligence community wanted to move beyond the traditional reliance on gifted individuals. They wanted to systematise remote viewing, ideally so that almost any trained person could do it.

There already was evidence that many people could do it well, perhaps in the same way that many people had innate musical ability. One example was Gary Langford, a young SRI physicist who showed some remote viewing ability after impromptu testing in the mid 1970s; he later performed the Zaire bomber viewing, which reportedly enabled the US government to recover the aircraft before the Soviets could get to it.

In any case, systematising remote viewing meant discovering the factors that made it more – or less – accurate. In engin eering terms, the researchers wanted to “charact erise the information channel”.

To some people, relocating psychically to a target and reporting back seemed almost effortless. For the less gifted, considerable effort was required. Particularly for the latter, the perception seemed largely of the subliminal kind, as if the remote viewer’s sensory exposure to the target were too fleeting to be directly accessible to conscious awareness.

Even if it doesn’t enter consciousness, this kind of perception can influence one’s actions in various ways. Dowsing and automatic writing represent attempts to harness this influence; and marketeers once tried to use “subliminal seduction” techniques to get people to desire products without knowing why. Conceivably, the remote viewing faculty evolved to work this way – that is, through relatively primitive, pre-conscious, action-oriented brain circuitry, as a subtle, survival-related influence on decision-making. But could such a primitive, low-bandwidth information channel be usefully tapped to obtain detailed verbal and visual information about espionage targets?

At SRI, researchers found that when a remote viewer strained to bring target-related information into awareness, he was liable to get only the simpler features of the target, such as basic shapes and colours and emotional associations. As his brain automatically tried to fit these features into a recognisable pattern, it was likely to generate errors. If the target were a silvery, domed stadium, for example, the remote viewer might get the basic shape and colour right, but might mistakenly sense that he was perceiving a flying saucer. And of course that “recognition” would trigger a host of further mental associations, so that the remote viewer might now perceive alien occupants – and would be off on a merry chase from one set of imagined percepts to another.

Ingo Swann, who as both subject and researcher took the lead in systematising remote viewing at SRI, called such pattern-recognition errors “analytical overlay”. Remarkably, this same type of error showed up in the more detailed reveries of natural psychics, as if much of their talent lay in the ability to generate internal imagery – imagery that wouldn’t necessarily reflect a stronger psi-mediated access to the target.

Swann developed a structured remote viewing technique that was meant to enable the remote viewer to recognise and label, and thus separate out “analytical overlay” information. In this way, he hoped, analysts would have some idea of the reliability of a given set of remote viewing data, and would feel more comfortable using it to guide other intelligence-gathering assets such as satellites or human spies.

But in the end, it appeared that Swann succeeded only partially. Whether struct ured and trained or performed willy-nilly by apparent natural psychics, RV was still highly prone to errors. Puthoff and his SRI colleagues eventually conducted electro encephalograph and even magneto encephalograph studies of remote viewers, to see if there was some deep, brain-activity signature indicating when they were on-target. But Puthoff told me he never found one: “It just reached a certain level of quality and didn’t get much better, and we never got correlates that allowed us to sift signal from noise.”

In fact the “noise” that obscured the RV signal was multifarious and mental, and bore little resemblance to the mostly random electronic noise with which engineers and physicists were familiar. Sometimes, RV noise seemed to be “ana lytical overlay” because it reflected a basic feature of the target. But at other times it seemed that the remote viewer’s attention had simply wandered off-target, like a dog finding a new and more interesting scent. On the occasion at SRI when Price and Swann described the secret government facility in the mountains, the real target had been a CIA officer’s vacation cabin in the woods several miles away. Some of the anecdotes from the programme suggested that a remote viewer’s attention also could inadvertently wander in time.

To top things off, remote viewers came to believe that they sometimes inadvertently cribbed from each other’s sessions; they called this “telepathic overlay”, and in principle it hopelessly complicated any attempt to boost the signal-to-noise-ratio by combining remote viewers’ data.

A large and systematic research programme might have enabled scientists and engineers to understand and control all these sources of error, to the degree needed to make remote viewing routinely useful in intelligence-gathering – or anyway to delineate its limitations. But the programme that did exist wasn’t very large, and couldn’t poss ibly have done all the required research. Some in the intelligence commun ity found RV useful anyway. But clearly, it wasn’t useful enough to persuade the top brass and the espiocrats that they couldn’t live without it.

“I have a problem with people who say that their remote viewing is nearly 100 per cent accurate,” Alexander told me. “It works sometimes.”


After the programme was cancelled, some of those who had served in the Fort Meade unit, including Smith, Buchanan, and Dames, set up their own remote viewing training companies. Within a few years, some of their trainees set up their own companies, and some of their trainees did the same, and enthusiasm for the phenomenon spread, particularly in the US but also in the UK and Europe.

Although there is an International Remote Viewing Association (IRVA), which publishes a monthly newsletter and holds annual conferences, RV enthusiasts’ alleg iances these days have become somewhat tribal. Alexander told me the situation reminds him of what goes on in the mart­ial arts training world: “There’s a lot of ‘who’s your teacher, and what’s your pedigree?’ And ‘my instructor can whip your instructor’ and that sort of thing.”

It’s tempting to conclude that all this emphasis on training reflects remote viewers’ failure to earn a living from more direct uses of their talents. As the saying goes, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

But this may not be a fair assessment. From browsing RV-related websites and speaking to people who are still conn ected to that world, I get the impress ion that money-oriented remote viewing – in trading and betting contexts – is an activity on the increase.

The basic protocol for this sort of thing, “assoc iative remote viewing”, or ARV, was developed at SRI in the 1970s. It is supposed to be precognitive: the remote viewer’s assistant secretly associates the possible outcomes of interest (say, stock-price-up and stock-price-down) with images or other targets (say, an apple and a banana). The ARVer then attempts to describe the target the assistant will show him when the outcome occurs – in other words, tries to remote-view his own future feedback, and in this way learn the outcome in advance.

This might seem absurd. However, experiments at SRI in the 1970s and 80s sugg ested that remote viewing forward in time – perhaps for outcomes that were in some way already determined – could be just as easy as remote viewing in the present. The simplicity of the ARV protocol also seems better matched to remote viewing’s “low bandwidth” than detailed intelligence gathering ever was.

Most importantly, Puthoff told me, ARV works.

For a busy month and a half in 1984, he used the technique to play the silver futures market, the goal being to raise USD 25,000 to save the finances of a start-up private school that his wife had founded. “We did this for 30 market days, and corr ectly predicted the market’s movement on 21 of those days,” he said. But the USD 26,000 he netted represented only 10 per cent of the trading profits. The other 90 per cent went to the local investor who had put up the capital. “He made nearly a quarter of a million dollars,” said Puthoff. “And he was enraged that we stopped.”

Who were the seven expert remote viewers Puthoff used for this successful venture? Members of the school’s board, for whom Puthoff gave a one-evening training course.

Unsurprisingly, Puthoff’s project was followed by others, and today ARV seems far and away the most popular practical use of remote viewing. “I think some people are making some money with it but are not advertising it,” said Puthoff.

Paul Smith told me that his own ARV team, drawn from his training-course stud ents, has used the technique to predict the outcome of sports betting contests, stock index futures, and even the Texas state lottery (which awards small amounts for partially correct number-guessing). Their track record has never been perfect, but Smith has claimed that they perform consistently better than chance. He also said that his son recently did an ARV sports betting project with fellow students at his university: “Of 13 students in the group, 11 predicted the correct outcome of the game,” he told me. That quickly led to a larger project, in which a teaching assistant kicked in some capital and, in seven trades of a stock index-tracking security, he said, “They earned 18,000 dollars.”

Similar feats have been described by others in the remote viewing world. There are rumours of ARV teams that ply unsuspecting casinos, and even of hedge funds given over to ARV-guided trading.

Some of these tales can be hard to believe. It’s also a safe bet that money-losing ARV projects get little mention. But perhaps the most sobering observation one could make here is that remote viewing in gambling and trading, as in spying, doesn’t seem to offer a decisive edge over the conventional techniques of modern professionals. Consider what Bloomberg News, among others, reported earlier this year:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s traders made money every single day of the first quarter, a feat the firm has never accomplished before.

Daily trading net revenue was USD 25 million or higher in all of the first quarter’s 63 trading days, New York-based Goldman Sachs reported in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission today. The firm reaped more than USD 100 million on 35 of the days, or more than half the time…

The lack of trading losses could add to the perception that Goldman Sachs has an unfair advantage in the markets, said one shareholder.

So are psi faculties headed for evol ution’s dustbin? Not necessarily, according to Puthoff, who suggested to me that the techniques used by successful traders and other businesspeople may not be as convent ional as they seem: “People who make it to the top of the [economic] food chain are probably using intuitive abilities in making decis ions without even realising it.”

Which, even if true, leaves remote viewing pretty much where it ended in the mid-1990s; that is, still in need of a comprehens ive and conclusive research programme to find out whether it can be useful in the modern world and to understand its implic ations for the nature of reality.


He believed that he could evaporate clouds and make red stoplights turn green. At night in bed, he said, he could close his eyes and drift above the oceans of the world, spotting the dark shapes of submarines beneath the waves. Sometimes he spotted UFOs; he was convinced that their secret bases riddled the globe. He had been a gold-panner in Alaska, a Christmas tree salesman, a building contractor, and somehow a town councilman in Burbank, California.

His name was Pat Price, and starting in the summer of 1973, he got the US government’s attention. Hal Puthoff, who knew him slightly, asked him to check out a set of geographic coordinates in West Virginia. The target was informal and unclassified – a CIA employee’s vacation cabin. But Price came back with a lengthy description of something else entirely: “…large underground storage areas… Looks like former missile site… Personnel, Army Signal Corps… Folders inside cabinet labelled: Cueball, 14 Ball, 8 Ball, Rackup…”

What Price had described was a secret National Security Agency communications-intercept facility, tucked into the hills a few miles away from the vacation cabin. Ken Kress, a young CIA officer helping to monitor the work at SRI, would later write in an official memorandum that “Price, who had no military or intelligence background, provided a list of project titles associated with current and past activities including one of extreme sensitivity. Also, the codename of the site was provided. Other information concerning the physical layout of the site was accurate.”

Price began to work in the SRI research program, but for operational remote viewing, he soon began dealing directly with the CIA. One of the Agency officers who worked with him coined the phrase “an eight-mart ini evening” to describe how shaken up he was after one of Price’s performances. Another, years later, would tell him simply that Price “was extraordinarily accurate, unbelievably accurate”.

In July 1975, in the midst of a lengthy CIA RV project relating to a suspected Libyan terrorism facility, Price died of an apparent heart attack while visiting Las Vegas. His death served as a convenient excuse to terminate the Agency’s official connection with remote viewing. Two years later, when CIA Director Stansfield Turner was asked about stories of the Agency’s dabbling in parapsychology, he dismissed the subject by saying that the CIA had once briefly worked with a man who appeared to have some rudimentary psychic ability, “but he died and we haven’t heard from him since”.

In a sense, though, Price has refused to lie quietly in his grave. To begin with, there were the strange circumstances surrounding his death. A so-far-unidentified individual appeared at the hospital in Las Vegas where paramedics took Price, produced his medical records, and somehow persuaded the hospital to waive an autopsy. Although Price did have a history of heart disease and unhealthy living – “he smoked, and his breakfasts were Pop Tarts and Coca Cola,” Puthoff told me – many suspected that he had been poisoned by a Soviet assassin.

A few years later, the Price story became even more complicated, after the FBI raided the Los Angeles office of the Church of Scientology. Among the documents they found were records of briefings that Price, a Church member, had routinely given to a senior Scientology official about his SRI and CIA activities. These included descript ions of highly classified operations and the names of covert Agency personnel that Price had agreed, in his CIA and SRI contracts, to keep secret.[1] (Puthoff, who was informed of all this by government officials in the late 1970s, described it to me as “the biggest betrayal I have ever experienced”.)

The FBI’s raid on the Scientology offices had been part of a lengthy investigation – eventually resulting in plea deals and jail terms – that concerned the Church’s alleged infiltration of US government offices and theft of documents. This naturally raised the question: had Price’s sensational “remote viewing” data – some of which he claimed to have generated at home, in private – been fed to him by a Scientology spy network within the US intelli gence community?

Puthoff and others have dismissed the idea, since many of Price’s remote viewing sessions were done with CIA or SRI officials present. But Kress did wonder, years later in a brief essay, whether Price’s initial remote viewing of the NSA site in 1973 had been merely “a dangle, that is, real inform ation supplied by others so that a psychic double agent ingratiates themselves and achieves a penetration which eventually returns even more important information to his handlers?”

Kress also suspected that Price had elicited some target-related information directly from CIA officers: for example, in the midst of a foreign embassy-related project by “Frank”, a CIA man, “Pat would say he liked the subdued red and green decor surrounding the stairs and Frank would respond that he also was impressed with the lavish use of Italian marble.”

At one time, Kress had been criticised within the CIA for his enthusiasm about Price and the SRI effort. By the time of his essay, published in 1999, he had become a “skeptical agnostic”, and had concluded that the most real and remarkable talent of psychics such as Price was their ability “to instil the belief in unexplained capabilities” in the unwary.


1 K Kress: “Parapsychology in Intelligence: A Personal Review and Conclusions”, Journal of Scientific Exploration 13: 1, pp69–85 (1999).

Have you heard of anyone using their remote viewing skills to find MIA or POWs in the Middle East? Leave a comment and let me know.

Talk soon,

One Response to Why The CIA Nixed Remote Viewing – Or Did They?
  1. Jaydee
    May 13, 2011 | 7:22 pm

    IMHO you’ve got the right asnwer!