Mind Over Missile
First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union
and Anthony Lake, then the National Security advisor, later the head of the CIA,
Senator Claiborne Pell, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee
I was as surprised as anybody else to open the 4 May 1987 issue of US News World Report and read the following on the ‘Washington Whispers’ page:
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Claiborne Pell last week reserved a vault in the attic of the Capitol – a room often used to examine top-secret documents. Purpose: Assemble government officials to hear Israeli psychic Uri Geller reveal what he has divined of Soviet strategic intentions. Geller, who claims to be able to bend spoons with mental force, once briefed former President Jimmy Carter.
I was not surprised by yet one more untrue story about me in the press. This one was true. What surprised me was seeing it in print.
I do not know who leaked the story. I only know that it was not me. As many eminent people in all walks of life could testify, when I am asked to keep quiet on a sensitive matter, I keep quiet.
There was no indication in the brief item of why anybody would have thought I had anything useful to say about Soviet strategic intentions. Not surprisingly, the world’s media decided to find out for themselves. First off the mark was Newsweek, which sent a reporter to my home in England, where I had only just returned after a very tiring three-week promotion tour for the hardcover edition of this book in the US, and where I was hoping for some days of recuperation in the spring sunshine.
I had no such luck. By the time the 11 May issue of Newsweek was on the stands (several days before the cover date) there had also been a full-page feature in the News of the World (3 May) and even a fifteen-column-inch story on the front page of Britain’s leading Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Times. Again, all three of these major stories were substantially accurate, though again most of the information they contained did not come from me.
The truth was gradually emerging: that I had met the head of the Soviet arms negotiating team in Geneva and also his US counterpart, Ambassador Max Kampelman, in addition to the highly respected five-term US Senator Claiborne Pell, plus quite a distinguished cast of supporting characters.
I was even given the honour of an item in the weekly BBC radio satirical programme ‘Week Ending’ (1 May) in which I was supposedly introduced to President Reagan as the fellow who was going to use ‘his awesome psychic powers against the Soviets’. Sample dialogue:
Reagan: Baloney! I bet you can’t tell what I’m thinking right now.
Me: You’re thinking, ‘Bet you can’t tell what I’m thinking right now’.
Reagan: That’s good. This guy’s genuine. OK, Geller – you’re on!
It was all good fun, although the actor playing my part did not sound like me. (I also never met President Reagan and I never use my ‘awesome powers’ against anybody or anything except maybe spoons.)
The New York Post published the cartoon reproduced opposite, with its row of contorted Soviet missiles.
I enjoy a good joke, including those made at my expense. World peace and nuclear disarmament, however, are serious matters, and now that a good deal of the story of my brief involvement in this area has been made public by others, let me tell you what really happened. I particularly want to set the record straight in order to avoid speculation that might harm the careers of some of the finest public servants of the United States – and maybe also of the Soviet Union.
I do not know how it all started. I do not know who said what to whom, when or where, so I cannot tell you the whole story. I can only put on record what I know.
With the first publication of this book in Britain in October 1986, I soon learned that there was a sudden revival of interest in me. Scraps of information coming my way from friends, and from friends of friends, led me to believe that some of my former colleagues in the US defence and intelligence communities were asking themselves why they had let me go, and why they no longer asked me to do anything for them.
‘COMRADE GORBACHEV, I THINK URI GELLER HAS MADE AN ARMS DEAL WITH THE AMERICANS’
8 Cartoon from the New York Post, May 1987.
Then, late in December 1986, I received a most unusual telephone call. The dialogue, to the best of my recollection, went like this.
‘Mr Geller? My name is Casey. You may have read about me in the papers lately. I’ve known about you for many years.’
Somebody had to be kidding me. The only Casey I had been reading about was the newly appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the late William Casey. I forget what I replied, but my voice must have betrayed my suspicions.
‘If you’re psychic you’ll know this isn’t a joke,’ said the caller. He sounded to me like an elderly man of some authority. He could well have been the CIA chief, so I decided to go along with him and see what developed.
‘OK,’ I replied. ‘I believe you. How can I help you? I’m quite astonished and flattered that you’re calling me out of the blue like this. Did anybody tell you to get in touch with me?’
‘No, no, Mr Geller. I just wanted to ask if you could do something for me over the ‘phone, just for my personal satisfaction?’
‘Well, I’ve done it in the past, but I don’t know if it’ll work.’ I gathered he wanted to do some kind of telepathy test, and I remembered that my first contact with the CIA had been very similar to this one.
‘I’m looking at something,’ he went on. ‘Can you describe it for me?’
I closed my eyes and went through my usual visualisation method. Then I drew what I had picked up and described it to my caller. I told him I had seen a dagger with an ornamental tortoise-shell or ivory handle.
There was a long silence. I wondered if we had been disconnected. Then came the reply.
‘I’ll – be – darned! You got it. OK, OK, that was enough for me. It was nice talking with you, Mr Geller.’ And that was that.
I had already met Senator Claiborne Pell socially. He and I turned out to have close friends in common, so there was nothing unusual about our initial meeting. It came about when an old friend of mine, Princess Luciana Pignatelli, introduced me to a member of the British Royal Family, the German-born Princess Michael of Kent.
During my conversation with the Princess (which was private and as far as I am concerned will remain so) she mentioned the Senator as an old friend who not only had a very distinguished public career – he was now chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee – but was also very open-minded towards psychic and spiritual matters. Although I did not know it at the time, the Senator’s interests were on the record back in 1984, when an article in the New York Times (10 January) quoted him as having ‘discussed the parapsychology field with Soviet researchers during a visit to the Soviet Union in August . . .’
We got along very well from the start. I found Senator Pell to be a man of great dignity and wisdom, and although he could be described as a member of the old school of politics, he also struck me as one of the most forward-looking and open-minded statesmen I had ever met. What especially impressed me was that he wanted above all to know if I thought psychic power could be used for peaceful purposes.
We had a very pleasant meeting. I bent a spoon for him and reproduced a drawing he had made out of my sight, of a smiling face. Nothing specific was arranged, and I never imagined that we would meet again so soon or in such sensitive circumstances.
Not long after that mysterious telephone conversation with a man who claimed to be the head of the CIA, another call came out of the blue into my home. The caller was secretary to Ambassador Kampelman, who told me very formally that the ambassador would like to meet me, and could I suggest a suitable venue?
I assumed he would not want our meeting to be too public, to put it mildly, so I hastily arranged to borrow the boardroom of a London company owned by a friend I could trust to keep quiet, and that was where we duly met – just the two of us.
Max Kampelman was one of the few people who have asked to see me and then not asked me to bend a spoon or read his mind. He struck me as a man not fond of wasting time, and I believe he had been well briefed on what I could do. He was particularly keen to know if I thought that a human mind could influence others at a distance in a positive way, and as with Senator Pell I found him to be a person of great warmth and constructive intentions. Our talk lasted about an hour, during which we also touched on the question of Soviet Jews, which was naturally of interest to us, and when we shook hands out on the pavement nothing was said about any further meeting.
By February 1987, the German-language edition of this book had been published by Ariston, a publisher with its headquarters in Geneva. They arranged an extensive promotion tour for me in Germany, Austria and the German-speaking areas of Switzerland, and it was while I was in Zurich that I received yet another of those out-of-the-blue ‘phone calls inviting me to come at once to Geneva.
The US/Soviet disarmament talks were already under way, and I was to attend a function at the US Mission. The date was 27 February, and the invitation came from Ambassador Kampelman’s aide. (Whether the invitation originated with the ambassador, I do not know:) It was agreed that if the press spotted me I was to be described as an entertainer, although whoever heard of entertainers at disarmament talks?!
So, almost as soon as I stepped from the plane at Geneva, I found myself on centre-stage in a real-life drama that could have had immense international consequences.
The formal business of the day was over (I had not been invited to that) and a reception was held at the US Mission for American and Soviet delegates and their wives. It may have been no more than an informal social event on the surface, but as any diplomat will know these affairs are not held just for fun. The serious business continues at them, and I did not have to be psychic to know that I had walked into a room where some very heavy stuff was going on amid the social chatter and raising of glasses.
I was delighted to spot two familiar faces, those of Senator Pell and Ambassador Kampelman, and to be introduced to no less than five other senators: Ted Stevens, Richard Lugar, Arlen Spector, Don Nickles and a man who could well be a future US president – Albert Gore. I was even more honoured and pleased then to be presented to the First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union and head of his mission, Yuli M. Vorontsov.
I had come a long way in a short time, for the man I was meeting just a couple of months after that enigmatic telephone call from somebody claiming to be William Casey (I still have no proof that it was) was one of the three most influential men in Soviet foreign affairs, together with his minister, Edward Shevardnadze, and party secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
I liked Mr Vorontsov at once. I felt no trace of hostility from him, and we soon began a pleasant and informal conversation, ranging over world affairs in general and the abilities of individuals to alter the course of events by no more than the state of their minds and their real desire for peace.
I was sure he had such a desire. For all their history of wars, revolutions and massacres, I feel that there is a peaceful side to the Russian personality (though not perhaps to all nationalities in the Soviet Union), together with an energy and enthusiasm for life not often found in other peoples.
Vorontsov knew who I was, and since I had been brought along as an entertainer, I thought I had better do some entertaining. I began by making a seed sprout, and then picked up a spoon and began to bend it in my usual way, handing it to Vorontsov and telling him it would go on bending while he was holding it. To his delight, and my great relief, it did.
His manner towards me after my little show became even more cordial. He smiled, and said, ‘I know these powers are real’, then went on to tell me about the Soviet healer Dzhuna Davitashvili, who is thought to have treated the late Mr Brezhnev – though this was not the time to ask about that alleged incident.
After the reception, I was invited to join a group for dinner at Roberto’s restaurant, where I was seated opposite Vorontsov at the table that also included Kampelman, Pell and two other senators.
Like the reception, the dinner was more than a purely social affair, and I will not repeat any of the dialogue that buzzed around my ears during the meal. It soon became clear to me – by perfectly normal means – that both sides had come to Geneva to bargain, negotiate and discuss, not to present previously established fixed positions, as might have been the case under earlier Soviet administrations. History was being made all around me, and the well-being of tens of millions of people would depend on how well my fellow-diners got along with each other.
Throughout the meal, I kept up a steady bombardment of my own form of negotiation: intense images of peace. The previous year, I had only had a few minutes with the first ‘victim’ of my peace campaign, Adnan Khashoggi, and, as I have described, I am sure he received the message. With Vorontsov I had three or four hours, and I really let him have it. I am convinced that he too got the message.
I signed a copy of my book for Vorontsov and his wife, telling him he would have a good laugh when he read it, because he was going to think, ‘How come the US is still using him, because the book is fairly derogatory about the CIA?’
Vorontsov laughed. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘They never read books!’
Three days later, on Monday 2 March 1987, the story hit the world’s headlines. ‘West Welcomes Gorbachev Nuclear Weapons Proposal’ (Financial Times) and ‘Urgent Missile Talks Today on Soviet Offer’ (The Times) were two typical ones from the British press. In a front-page column headed ‘Soviet Offer is Genuine Article’, The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele summarized two explanations of what he called ‘Mr Gorbachev’s dramatic U-turn’ in the form of a no-strings-attached offer to remove all medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, East and West.
The ‘hard-line’ version was that it was a clever Soviet ploy to lure President Reagan into an unwise deal at a time when he faced difficulties in other areas. The ‘optimistic’ theory was that ‘Gorbachev is making an important concession’, and Steele commented: ‘I accept the second theory . . .’
I would love to claim all the credit for this, but I should point out that Gorbachev’s surprise offer was made the very day after my dinner party at Geneva. It is true that when I said good-bye to Vorontsov, I told him to tell Mr Gorbachev what had happened, which he assured me he would and I have no doubt that he did. However, there were many indications that the Soviet leader had been planning a major initiative of this kind ever since the 1986 Reykjavik summit with Reagan – and I had nothing to do with that!
Even so, the Sunday Times’ headline in its 3 May issue was: ‘Did Uri Bend the Will of Gorbachev?’ Maybe I did? Who knows? Only Vorontsov and Gorbachev, and they are not telling.
Back home after my brief plunge into international affairs, I had plenty to do. The French edition of my book came out, calling for more promotion, and I had little time to prepare myself physically and psychically for my three-week tour of the US in April.
On 7 April, less than a week after the start of my US tour, I found that the authorities had not finished with me. I received a very high-powered invitation to a dinner party at the house of a prominent and influential industrialist in the Washington area, whose other guests included such prominent political figures as Milton Friedman, House Speaker James Wright, Representative Charlie Rose, and a handful of senators including Alan Cranston. It was a private and informal affair, and I was sure I had not been invited just to bend the spoons.
I took the opportunity to say my piece on world affairs and the ability of individuals to influence them for the general good. My little peace lecture was pretty well rehearsed by now, and I already had reason to believe that it had opened quite a few minds in recent weeks. I hope it opened one or two more that evening.
Perhaps it did, for towards the end of my coast-to-coast tour I received yet another of those invitations of the kind you cannot refuse. This was to the meeting at the Capitol at which, as US News World Report put it, I was asked to reveal to US government officials what I had ‘divined’ of Soviet strategic intentions.
I flew in from Minneapolis, and was met at the airport by Senator Pell’s aide, who drove me straight to the Capitol. As we rolled into the parking lot, I realised I was still in my usual sports clothes, and felt I ought to change into something more suitable for a top-level meeting with some of the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation. Time was running short, so I stripped right down there in the Capitol parking lot and managed to get my suit and tie on, hoping a curious cop would not stop by and wonder exactly what was going on!
The meeting was not an unqualified success for me. The audience, according to Newsweek, consisted of ‘forty government officials, including Capitol Hill staffers and Pentagon and Defense Department aides, gathered in a high-security room to hear Geller hold forth on his abilities’. That was not quite correct – I did not hold forth on my abilities, but on my usual theme of world peace and the need to invest more in the development of mental abilities. I reminded the officials that I now knew what I was talking about from first-hand experience when I said that top Soviet officials were aware of the psychic dimension. I had only recently spent an evening with the Number Three man in the Soviet foreign affairs hierarchy, and I had, I thought, left him with something to think about.
So far, so good. Then, as Newsweek reported quite correctly, ‘the psychic tried guessing – unsuccessfully – the shapes that the assembled guests had drawn on bits of paper’. I just had a bad day as far as telepathy was concerned. I was really worn out after barnstorming around the country. I had been on the promotion bandwagon since October, with very few rest breaks, and on top of that I had suddenly been hauled into a major international affair. All I could concentrate on by then was getting back to my wife, my children and my home.
Shortly after the start of my April promotion tour in the United States, I was contacted by an Israeli. He did not tell me who he was, and I did not ask him.
He was very well informed about my recent activities in areas other than those for which I am best known, and his message to me was very brief. What it amounted to was this: I could be in serious trouble, and I should watch my step.
Maybe he overstated his case, but knowing the people I assume he was working for, I would not bet on it. I became paranoid. Was somebody out to kidnap me, or to ‘terminate’ me, as they say in intelligence circles? It seemed ridiculous, but . . .
These things do happen. My good friend John Lennon was gunned down outside his own home by a mentally disturbed young man. That great man of peace Terry Waite disappeared in the labyrinths of Lebanese political intrigue after setting out on another of his brave one-man peace missions. What really happened to those three British scientists working in a sensitive defence-related industry who were all found dead in most unusual circumstances? People do get kidnapped. They do disappear. They do get terminated. There are some really sick people out there. There are also some powerful and well-financed individuals who have vested interests in preventing world peace. The victims of these perverts and warmongers always seem to be those most dedicated to peace, love and spiritiual progress.
As soon as I got home, I wrote three short letters, put them in an envelope and had this delivered to the Soviet Embassy in London. I enclosed a covering letter to the ambassador asking him to pass on the letters. One was to Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, one was to Yuli Vorontsov, and the third was to the director-general of the Soviet Committee for State Security, better known as the KGB. The contents of the letters were identical, and this is what I wrote:
After my demonstration at the US Mission in Geneva for the US and Soviet delegations, I heard rumours that the KGB might be planning to either kidnap me or kill me.
I am just a good showman and an entertainer, and I am harmless. I do hope the rumours are false.
My best wishes,
Was I over-reacting, or was that cryptic message from the nameless Israeli genuine? Knowing how people in Israeli security circles operate, I would doubt that he was wasting either his own time or mine.
Had I written to the right people, though? Did somebody else want me out of the way? I could not think of anybody, but all the same I carried out a thorough check of my security and improved it in a number of ways, making use of the best advice available anywhere.
I tried to visualise the scene when Vorontsov reported back to his government after the Geneva talks. Maybe he really did believe that the US had signed an arms deal with me? There must have been some confusion in the Kremlin – entertainers do not normally show up at disarmament talks. What was the US up to? Did they have a secret weapon: me?
To add to their confusion, I had made it perfectly clear what I was up to. I told Vorontsov more or less what I told all the other people mentioned in this chapter – that the mind is mightier than the missile, and instead of spending billions on missiles, we should put some real money into minds.
It is already clear that I am not the only one to believe this, for when the story of my visits to Geneva and the Capitol hit the headlines, there was an interesting development: I received official invitations from no less than four major countries. All of them wanted me to visit them in order to discuss ways of achieving peace with top government officials including heads of state.
When I received these invitations, I accepted them all and included a selection of articles and items about my recent activities from the press. I also included a fair selection of derogatory material written by my detractors and other sceptics.
All four countries replied to the effect that after carefully studying the material I sent them, they would still like me to visit them. Previous ‘peace conferences’ have focused on ways of reducing war. We are now putting the emphasis on ways of increasing peace, which is not quite the same thing.
Looking through my file of anti-Geller articles, I cannot help feeling once again that I have come a long way. For instance, here is the 1977 issue of The Humanist with the cover story entitled ‘Psychics Debunked’. I was one of them. of course, And here is the New Scientist (16 April 1987) admitting just ten years later that ‘despite CSICOP’s attempts to discredit Uri Geller, the spoon-bending psychic from Israel, Geller has earned up to $250,000 a day telling mining companies where to look for oil and gold.’ In 1978, you may remember, the same magazine described me as a ‘fake’. Now, at least, I have been promoted to the status of a ‘psychic’!
The issue today is no longer whether Uri Geller is real or not. It is one of much more importance: whether a wider understanding of the real power of the human mind can make for a better world.
I am proud of what I did at Geneva, and I am grateful to those courageous public figures who invited me there regardless of the ridicule they knew they could expect from their own press (although as it turned out, the episode was very objectively and fairly reported). Two of them, incidentally, wrote to thank me for my services after the story had become public.
I do not know who was ultimately responsible for getting me to Geneva, and it will be some time before we can say what effect, if any, I had on the minds of the Soviet officials I met.
My guess is that they went home with plenty to think about, and that as soon as they were back at their desks quite a number of urgent messages flew around the country, from Moscow and Leningrad to Minsk, Kharkov, Kiev, Pushchino, Krasnodar, Novosibirsk, Alma-Ata, Taganrog, Yerevan and Tbilisi – in fact, everywhere that ‘bioelectronics’ (their word for psychic functioning) is already being studied. A research budget would be increased here, a new laboratory added there, more staff taken on somewhere else . . .
The next peace summit talks could be really interesting.
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