If you could have one superpower, what would it be? For the CIA, they apparently wanted psychic vision, and they won’t wait for some magic to happen, nor would 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 code names, one of which was Project Grill Flame.

The Idea Was Born

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

In turn, the CIA started the funding for the SCANATE (scan by coordinate) program, and remote viewing research immediately followed in 1972 at the Standford Research Institute. The proponents of the research, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, said that the minimum required accuracy rate of 65% that the clients required was often exceeded in the later parts of the experiment.


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

Remote viewing is the supposed faculty which enables a percipient, sited in a closed room, to describe the perceptions of a remote agent visiting an unknown target site. To provide convincing demonstration of such a faculty poses a range of experimental and practical problems, especially if feedback to the percipient is allowed after each trial. The precautions needed are elaborate and troublesome; many potential loopholes have to be plugged and there will be strong temptations to relax standards, requiring exceptional discipline and dedication by the 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.

Clairvoyance is the ability to get information about something or someone or a physical event using extrasensory perception and without being physically present to obtain such information. Imagine using clairvoyance to listen to your enemies’ meetings as they discuss their top-secret plans. Yep.

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

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

In the duration of the experiment, there were over 22 active military and civilian remote viewers providing data, one of which was Uri Geller, who would later become a celebrity. They reported that the results were promising that the US Department of Defense became interested and that Air Force psychologist Lt. Col. Austin W. Kibler tasked the University of Oregon Psychology Professor Ray Hyman to visit Stanford Research Institute to investigate, which he did. His finding: “complete fraud.”

Harold (Hal) Puthoff. (earthtech.org)

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

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

The Unforeseen Closure

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

As Center for Institute associate dean and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry senior research fellow, Joe Nickell wrote:

Other evaluators – two psychologists from AIR – assessed the potential intelligence-gathering usefulness of remote viewing. They concluded that the alleged psychic technique was of dubious value and lacked the concreteness and reliability necessary for it to be used as a basis for making decisions or taking action. The final report found “reason to suspect” that in “some well publicised cases of dramatic hits” the remote viewers might have had “substantially more background information” than might otherwise be apparent.

Just like that, the 20-million-dollar project was put to a halt. They should’ve seen that one coming.