The CIA explored the use of psychic vision for intelligence gathering

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? For the CIA, they apparently wanted psychic vision, and they won’t wait for magic to happen, nor will they try to recreate Professor X’s Cerebro to gain ESP powers. From 1972 to 1995, they investigated the potential of psychic abilities in military and domestic intelligence applications. The classified project went by various codenames, one of which was Project Grill Flame.

The idea was born

It started in 1970, in the geopolitical tension of the Cold War era, when the United States believed that the Soviet Union was working on psychotronic research and was spending around 60 million rubles a year on it. Thinking they wouldn’t spend a huge amount of money on something that wasn’t a breakthrough, they thought the Soviets were getting positive results from this whole psychotronic thing.

In turn, the CIA began funding the SCANATE (coordinate scanning) program, and remote viewing research immediately followed in 1972 at the Stanford Research Institute. Research proponents Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff said the required minimum accuracy rate of 65% required by customers was often exceeded in the latter parts of the experiment.


Now, to better understand what exactly they were trying to achieve with this remote viewing research, let’s look at how they define it. As written in Springer’s summary,

Remote viewing is the supposed faculty that allows a percipient, placed in a closed room, to describe the perceptions of a remote agent visiting an unknown target site. Providing a convincing demonstration of such a faculty poses a series of experimental and practical problems, particularly if feedback to the receiver is allowed after each trial. The necessary precautions are elaborate and inconvenient; many potential loopholes need to be plugged and the temptation will be strong to relax the standards, requiring exceptional discipline and dedication on the part of experimenters.

Their “vision” for the project

Two of the psychic abilities studied in this experiment, in an attempt to make them scientific, were clairvoyance and out-of-body experiences.

Fortune telling is the ability to obtain information about something or someone or a physical event using extrasensory perception and without being physically present to obtain this information. Imagine using clairvoyance to eavesdrop on your enemies’ meetings as they discuss their top secret plans. Yeah.

out of body experience, on the other hand, is a phenomenon when a person sees the world from a place outside their physical body. Simply put, your soul jumps out of your body and travels to another location while your true physical body is sleeping soundly in your bedroom.

Russell Targ (photo taken by subject’s wife (Patricia Targ), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

During the duration of the experiment, more than 22 active military and civilian viewers contributed data, including Uri Geller, who would later become a celebrity. They reported that the results were promising, the U.S. Department of Defense became interested, and Air Force psychologist Lt. Col. Austin W. Kibler instructed University of Oregon’s Ray Hyman to visit the Stanford Research Institute to investigate, which he did. His finding: “total fraud”.

Harold (Hall) Puthoff. (

Because of this, Targ and Puthoff lost their government contract and they had to seek private funding so they could conduct further research into Geller’s potential.

In 1977, the Systems Exploitation Detachment (SED) of the Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI) created the GONDOLA WISH program to evaluate the potential of remote viewing in adversary applications . In mid-1978 this was formalized as an operational program called GRILL FLAME. In 1991, it received its final name STARGATE, when the majority of the contract was transferred to Science Applications International Corporation.

The unexpected closure

In 1995, a report by the American Institutes for Research stated that remote viewing had not been proven to work through a psychic mechanism and could not be used operationally to their advantage. To the dismay of the project’s promoters, the CIA canceled and declassified the project.

As Associate Dean of the Center for Institute and Principal Investigator of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Joe Nickell wrote:

Other evaluators – two AIR psychologists – assessed the potential usefulness of remote viewing for intelligence gathering. They concluded that the alleged psychic technique was of questionable value and lacked the concreteness and reliability to be used as a basis for making decisions or taking action. The final report found “reason to suspect” that in “certain cases of well-publicized dramatic successes” remote viewers may have had “significantly more background information” than would otherwise appear.

Just like that, the $20 million project was halted. They should have seen it coming.

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