The United States Government's involvement in remote viewing is real. At one time or another, the Army, the Navy, the CIA, NASA, and the NSA have all funded remote viewing projects. As Major General Ed Thompson, Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence from 1977 to 1981, once said, "I never liked to get into debates with skeptics, because if you didn't believe that remote viewing was real, you hadn't done your homework."
Q. What is remote viewing?
A. At its most basic, remote viewing (or RV) is the ability to experience objects, events, and people from a distance. What kind of distance are we talking about? Well, remote viewers have correctly described small objects hidden in film canisters, secret military instillations on the other side of the world, and the surface of the moon.
In some ways, the term "viewing" is misleading, or at least incomplete, since experienced viewers are able to describe not just visual impressions, but also sounds, smells, textures, tastes, and—in the case of human targets—emotions. It's also important to note that targets can be "remote" in both time and space. That's right; a good remote viewer can "view" objects and events in the past. Interestingly, RV is less effective against future targets, which seem to involve too many variables and possibilities to be reliably accurate.
Q. How did the United States Government get involved in remote viewing?
A. U.S. Government interest in the phenomenon dates back at least to World War II, when captured documents revealed some fascinating German experiments in the application of the paranormal to military intelligence. But it wasn't until the 1970's, when the U.S. discovered that the Soviet Union was investing heavily in "psychic" research that U.S. Government interest really took off.
Afraid of being left behind in a "psychic arms race," the CIA funded a research proposal from two laser physicists at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It was these two scientists—Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff—who developed the first protocols and coined the term "remote viewing," largely to get away from having to use words like paranormal, psychic, and clairvoyance, which tended to make the Government uncomfortable.
While SRI continued to train remote viewers for the Government, many of the day-to-day taskings took place at Ford Meade, where the Army maintained a well-documented RV unit until 1995/96. But many other branches of the military and the government—the Navy and Air Force, as well as NSA and NASA, invested in remote viewing. Their programs are less well known.
Q. How is a remote viewing session structured?
A. In the "cleanest" applications of the technique, a remote viewer is run against a target by a tasker or monitor who is personally ignorant of the nature of the target.
The remote viewer relaxes into a deep state similar to that achieved by experienced meditators or yoga practitioners. Once this state is reached, the monitor will begin to ask questions designed to lead the viewer to describe the target, such as, What do you see? or, Describe your sensory impressions.
Remote viewing is frequently described as a "right brain" activity; the less interference there is from the more analytical portions of the brain, the better the results tend to be. Remote viewers typically sketch what they are "seeing," since drawing a target frequently produces more accurate results than a verbal description.
Q. I've heard that anyone can remote view. Is that true?
A. Yes, it is. In fact, the scientists out at SRI typically dealt with skeptical visitors from Washington by inviting the visitors to try it personally.
A beginner's first remote viewing sessions is often hazy, but nevertheless fairly reliably accurate. Oddly enough, after that first session, untrained viewers frequently find it difficult to reproduce their initial successes. It's as if the mind suddenly becomes aware that an unguarded door has been left open and immediately slams it tightly shut. But with training, that door can be pried open again.
Some people, however, seem to be "natural" viewers. In a sense, remote viewing is a talent, much like playing the piano or dancing. Everyone can learn to do it, but some people have a greater innate affinity for it.
Q. How does remote viewing work?
A. Many people have theories, but no one actually knows. Interestingly, brain imaging techniques have shown similarities between what is going on in the brains of remote viewers, and Buddhist monks deep in meditation.
But there is a reason the most important, scientific work on RV has been done by physicists. Quantum physics has undermined many of our comfortable old ideas about time and space, and new concepts like superstring theory and M-theories seem to offer tantalizing clues into what may be going on during a remote viewing session. Theories like the idea that time is not linear, or that a little-understood energy vibrates throughout the universe, connecting everything, look promising. But at this point, it's all still conjecture. There is much about the human mind, consciousness, and the true nature of reality that science has yet to explain. Remote viewing is one of those things.
Q. Is remote viewing dangerous?
A. We believe it can be, yes. An unusually high number of those involved in the RV programs of the seventies and eighties died young, of heart attacks and cancer. Why?
Studies have shown that any kind of sensory overload—exposure to constant loud noise or bright lights, for instance—physically stresses the body and can lead to illness. It is possible that "extrasensory" overload can have a similar effect.
It is also true that many of those involved in the various remote viewing programs—even battle-hardened colonels and generals—appear to have become mentally unbalanced by their experiences. One well-known former Army remote viewer quite publicly predicted that pregnant Martian females were about to hatch from the bowels of the earth. Another suffered a complete breakdown and had to be physically restrained and hospitalized.
To borrow imagery from superstring theories: one can postulate that RV taps into an awareness, a connected universal energy that vibrates everywhere, always. Most human beings do not have normal access to this energy source; it's as if our minds have closed a door against it. One can argue that this door is normally kept closed for a reason.
Those who are gifted—often described as "natural" remote viewers—usually experience "psychic" phenomena from childhood and thus grow up learning how to control their experiences. Not only are these individuals frequently more successful in their remote viewing attempts, but they also seem to be able to "handle" the experience better. Those who are artificially taught remote viewing seem more likely to become mentally unbalanced by the experience.
Q. If remote viewing works so well, why did the Government abandon its RV programs?
A. The answer to this question has many parts.
First, remote viewing always had the potential to be enormously politically embarrassing. Any time the Government starts venturing into territory already staked out by the likes of tarot card readers and channelers, people with their professional careers on the line tend to get nervous.
Second, there is no way to tell when a viewer is "on" or "off" target. Some results turned in by viewers at Fort Meade were amazing—detailed descriptions of secret Soviet weapons programs and installations later independently verified as totally correct. But some of the viewers' reports, especially in later years, were embarrassingly awful—such as when they located a ship in the middle of a desert, or interpreted a prank tasking against Santa Claus as a nuclear attack.
The remote viewers in the various government programs always performed best when asked to describe, say, the inside of a foreign embassy or a weapons factory. They were typically less successful at "search" problems, such as finding fugitives, or hostages, or missing objects. Yet as time went on, viewers were increasingly being asked to find things. The more the remote viewers were set against search problems, the more their success ratio went down.
Another problem comes from the fact that, by its very nature, the kind of information produced by remote viewers is typically unverifiable. This is a serious problem in the intelligence field. False information has the potential to be even more dangerous than no information at all—as we all saw in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, when unverified information (remember the forged yellow cake letters?) helped convince the American people to go to war. Furthermore, in the 1980s and early 90s, the U.S. began to turn its attention away from standard "human intelligence," or humint, and focus on "technical intelligence," investing heavily in computer systems, satellite imagery, and sophisticated electronic intercepts. Remote viewing is a form of humint.
Finally, the remote viewing programs were in many ways inadvertently sabotaged by certain personalities involved. The first remote viewers—men like Pat Price, Joe McMoneagle, Skip Atwater and Mel Riley—were naturally talented, and produced some truly amazing results. But as time went on, power conflicts and overactive egos began to take their toll. Because "natural" viewers tended to resist the efforts of certain individuals to codify and control the process, there was a deliberate decision to select candidates without any natural talent. Not surprisingly, the results produced by these later generations of viewers were not as good.
When the CIA hired the American Institute for Research—an intel-industry contractor—to conduct an evaluation of RV programs in 1995, the evaluators were only shown the results from the last few years of work at Fort Meade, much of which was frankly garbage; earlier work by viewers like Price and McMoneagle remained classified. It was as a result of this review that the RV programs were officially canceled.
Q. Is government involvement in remote viewing dead?
A. Maybe, maybe not. There are reports of renewed interest in the phenomenon since 9/11. There are even reports of "psychic assassins" being trained at Fort Bragg, and other disturbing developments. All current programs are classified.
Q. Can you recommend any further reading?
A. A lot of people were involved with the various remote viewing projects over the years, and many of them have written books. All literature on the subject should be approached with caution, since self-aggrandizement, sensationalism, and outright fabrications are common. Three books we particularly recommend are: Joe McMoneagle, Mind Trek; Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats; and Jim Schnabel, Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America's Psychic Spies.