Although evidence of paranormal prowess was (and continues to be) nonexistent, the Pentagon spent millions during the Cold War training so-called remote viewers to spy, from a vast distance, on the U.S.S.R., which was, of course, conducting its own studies of psychics. The study of remote viewers, who claim to be able to visualize distant events, was the centerpiece of a CIA program known as Stargate. Launched in the early 1970s at the Stanford Research Institute and greatly encouraged by former President Ronald Reagan (who once said, to the United Nations General Assembly: “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world”), the controversial program closed in 1995, after 20 years and $20 million worth of classified studies.
But recent events may have caused the government to renew its interest in remote viewing. Several media outlets have reported the claims of a West Coast psychic named Prudence Calabrese, who says the FBI has contacted her several times in the wake of Sept. 11. Other psychics have also reported being contacted by federal officials, who are apparently looking for all the help they can get in finding Osama bin Laden. The FBI and CIA have refused to comment on the reported use of paranormal operatives, but the agencies admit that Attorney General John Ashcroft has urged them to “think outside the box.”
All of which galls Bay Area Skeptics President Tully McCarroll, who would prefer the government use more shoe leather and fewer 800 numbers in the search for terrorists. “When you think about Reagan making global decisions based on his horoscope, it's just heart-rending,” McCarroll says. “People have tried and tried to prove these things for millennia, since the beginning of recorded history, and no one has ever been able to prove anything. If all of this is true, why hasn't anyone gotten rich off this?”
Ah, but some people have — via government contract.