Remote viewing involves attempting to use psychic abilities to locate individuals and items. The technique was developed at Stanford Research Institute in the Seventies, but the US military quickly realised the potential value of this work and, concerned by reports of Soviet research into parapsychology, set up their own classified projects. The most famous was codenamed Project Stargate and involved the use of psychics to try and locate targets such as US hostages, weapons and drugs shipments, terrorist headquarters and patrolling Soviet submarines.
Although remote viewing was never in Nick Pope's formal terms of reference, he was frequently approached by people who claimed to have psychic abilities and who wanted to volunteer their services as 'psychic spies'. Nick discussed this with various colleagues in the MoD and carried out some basic testing of people claiming to be psychics, but was not sufficiently impressed by the results to take the matter any further.
In 2007 the Ministry of Defence released a study into remote viewing, in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act. It showed how in 2001, shortly after 9/11, the MoD had attempted to recruit psychics to track down targets which almost certainly included Osama Bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction.
Nick Pope was interviewed about the MoD study on BBC 2's Newsnight, wrote a feature article for the Daily Express and has discussed the issue in numerous media interviews.
The MoD Study
A link to the MoD study. Note the clever way that words such as psychic, clairvoyant and ESP are carefully avoided in the summary:
Nick Pope's Daily Express Article
Traditional methods of gathering intelligence include using satellites, intercepting communications and recruiting agents. Now, secret documents have emerged revealing that the Ministry of Defence ran a covert project to recruit psychics, in the hope of tracking down people and items of interest to the government and the military.
The technique is known as remote viewing and a search for the phrase on Google reveals nearly a millions hits. Remote viewing is a technical term, but what it really means is trying to use psychic ability - extra-sensory perception - to find things. Uri Geller claims to have undertaken work for companies keen to see if he can help them locate previously unknown oilfields and mineral deposits. But the technique has also been used by intelligence agencies, though details of the British study have only just emerged.
The term remote viewing was coined in the Seventies by researchers at the Stanford Research Institute, in America. Their work soon attracted the attention of US intelligence officials. The Americans knew that the Soviets were studying parapsychology and were worried that the USSR might make a breakthrough in an area where the US had no expertise. In the language of risk management, this was a classic case of "low probability/high impact". There was no corporate belief in ESP, but if the technique worked and could be used by the government, the potential benefits were huge. And if somebody else got there first, the consequences were unthinkable.
Both the Pentagon and the CIA funded remote viewing programmes, which went by codenames that included Grill Flame, Sun Streak and Star Gate. A few documents have previously been released under the US Freedom of Information Act and some of the former remote viewers have spoken out about their government work, which included searching for hostages, arms dumps, drugs caches and terrorists, as well as attempting to identify the location of Soviet ballistic missile submarines.
In the Nineties, when I was running the MoD's UFO project, I found myself on the receiving end of all sorts of other strange reports. Within government, there was nowhere else to send them, so although such things were technically outside our terms of reference, I found myself getting drawn into subjects as diverse as alien abductions, crop circles and sightings of ghosts on military bases. I was contacted by a handful of people who claimed to have ESP abilities and who volunteered to become 'psychic spies' for their country. I set them a few tests and recall being unimpressed by their abilities. I think I mentioned this to colleagues in the Defence Intelligence Staff, but so far as I recall, we put nothing on paper and the idea of running an MoD remote viewing programme went no further. In 1994 I left the UFO project for another MoD post and gave no further thought to remote viewing. Now it transpires that the MoD did sanction a remote viewing project after all.
Proof of the highly classified study's existence was obtained last week by Timothy Good, an author and researcher recognised as one of the world's leading authorities on UFOs and the unexplained. He used the Freedom of Information Act to ask that the MoD release any documents the department held on remote viewing. His request took several months to process because of the sensitivities involved, but last week the MoD responded, releasing a 168 page report which had formerly been classified UK Secret. Large sections of the report have been blacked out because the MoD believes their release would compromise defence interests in relation to the working practices of the Defence Intelligence Staff. Other sections have been blacked out because the MoD judge that release would undermine international relations. This is almost certainly a reference to the US, because the report draws heavily on American research and is likely to include details of liaison with the US intelligence community.
The MoD's remote viewing study was undertaken in 2001 and the report into this work was dated June 2002. Details of the distribution are not known, because the MoD has withheld this information, but only three copies of the report were ever made. Some of the work was carried out by a commercial company, presumably on a contract basis. Again, details of this company's identity have been withheld by the MoD.
The initial plan was that the study should use known remote viewers. An internet search was carried out and a number of potential recruits were identified and contacted, though no indication was given that the real sponsor was the MoD. However, for a number of reasons those people contacted either failed to reply or declined to get involved. The study then fell back on the strategy of using people with no declared track record of remote viewing.
Participants were invited to be tested, but again, there was absolutely no indication that the real sponsor was the MoD. The tests took place in a property which had been commercially rented, to disguise the fact that this was a government programme. The remote viewers were given a detailed questionnaire which included such questions as "at what age did you have your first psychic experience?" and "have you ever participated in a sťance?".
The experiments themselves were carried out under rigorously controlled conditions. The remote viewers were placed in a room with a monitor, who would have photographs of six targets, which included buildings, places, events, objects and people. Below each photograph was a question such as "what is this place?", "where is this place?" or "who is this person?". The MoD has withheld details of some targets, but some have been declassified. They included photos of a wine glass, a knife, a petrol station forecourt and Mother Teresa.
The remote viewers were monitored by a sophisticated array of equipment. Each was recorded on tape and video, and measurements were taken with sensitive electric and magnetic probes, to see whether electromagnetic fields have a bearing on remote viewing, as some have suggested.
In the end, eighteen remote viewing sessions were undertaken. Much of the declassified report consists of detailed records of the individual sessions, recording the remote viewers' behaviour during the sessions and assessing the results. Some of the results were bizarre and hilarious. One subject wrote the word "rats" in block capital letters. Another failed to write anything at all. One subject fell asleep and the classified report contains the priceless sequence of comments "deep breathing. asleep?", "snoring" and "probably asleep", finishing with a reference to the monitor: "leaves and turns off recorders".
Intriguingly, while some remote viewers are adjudged not to have accessed the target, some assessments stated that "the subject may have accessed the target" or that the subject "had accessed some of the features associated with the target".
The report states that two psychologists took part in some of the initial remote viewing sessions, but says that they were unhappy about undertaking this work and refused to take part in further sessions. Again, the details of their objections have been withheld by the MoD.
The ultimate aim of this study is not apparent because much of the critical information is still being withheld by the MoD. But there is a telling clue in the documents that have been released. Reference is made to the first phase of the study, aimed at recruiting remote viewers. There is then mention of a second phase, which the report describes as being aimed at "the selection of one or more individuals who it is felt can be 'trusted' to be used for the sensitive targets".
The "sensitive targets" are not detailed, or if they are, the information has been blacked out. Another part of the report talks about the "conclusion of the task" and makes reference to "follow-up work including the search for ..." - the rest of the sentence is blacked out. So what are the targets? We can only speculate, but based on the CIA's project and bearing in mind the date of the MoD study, it would be surprising if the targets did not include Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Osama Bin Laden. Intriguingly, one page that is almost entirely blacked out obviously features a photograph of an individual. The question underneath was not blacked out, perhaps in an oversight. It reads "Asian inhabitant. What colour is he wearing?"
Sceptics and cynics will doubtless say the whole project was a waste of time and money - details of the cost of this study have been withheld. But to me, such criticism shows a lack of imagination. When I ran the MoD's UFO project I had to think the unthinkable. For three years I was in charge of the real X-Files. I discussed the possibility of carrying out a remote viewing project, but nothing came of it during my tour of duty. However, it now transpires that the study was eventually carried out. Even though we do not know whether the project continues to this day, I like to think it does. Drugs, bombs, criminals, terrorists - we live in dangerous and uncertain times. Sometimes the odds seem stacked against us. But maybe the strangest X-File in the MoD's history has a final message for the bad guys: beyond your understanding and against all odds, we're coming to get you. The psychic spies are on your trail.
When staff at Newsnight asked Nick Pope to give an interview about the MoD's remote viewing study, a BBC producer explained that they were going to complement his interview with a practical demonstration. Jules Williams, an intuitive counsellor/investigator who also practices remote viewing had been selected, in view of his extensive experience of working with police forces and private investigators. The BBC does not normally cover such matters, particularly on a flagship news programme such as Newsnight, but the producer explained that Jules had proven to be "scarily accurate".