The CIA Recruited ‘Mind Readers’ to Spy on the Soviets in the 1970s

During the tense period of the Cold War, the U.S. government sought to deploy a potent new weapon against the Soviet Union: mind-reading.

In a highly classified project conducted first in a California research lab in the 1970s, and later at an Army base in Maryland, the CIA, Army and Defense Intelligence Agency recruited men and women claiming to have powers of extrasensory perception (ESP) to help uncover military and domestic intelligence secrets.

In 2017, the CIA declassified some 12 million pages of records revealing previously unknown details about the program, which would eventually become known as Project Star Gate. By the time the program was shut down in 1995, psychics known as “remote viewers” had taken part in a wide array of operations, from locating hostages kidnapped by Islamic terrorist groups to tracing the paths of fugitive criminals within the United States.

The roots of Project Star Gate go back to 1972, when a classified report made waves within the U.S. military and intelligence communities by claiming that the Soviet Union was pouring money into research involving ESP and psychokinesis—the ability to move objects with the mind—for espionage purposes. In response, the CIA began funding its own top-secret research, headquartered at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California.

Psychic Uri Geller led ESP investigations.

Late that year, the research team at SRI invited Uri Geller, an ex-Israeli paratrooper who had become internationally famous for his psychic powers, to Menlo Park for testing. Though Geller was best known for his alleged ability to bend metal cutlery with his mind, the CIA was much more interested in another of his professed skills: the ability to read other people’s minds, and even control their minds with his own.

As Annie Jacobsen writes in her book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis, the declassified documents show that CIA analysts wanted to probe Geller’s abilities in the area of “mind projection” and its possible use for national security purposes.

According to Jacobsen, Geller played a key role in setting into motion the U.S. government’s investigation into ESP and psychokinesis. In the winter of 1975, she writes, Geller even took part in a series of classified psychokinesis tests at a lab in Livermore, California, where scientists were developing advanced nuclear warheads, laser systems and other emerging weapons technologies.

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