EPISODE 69

PSYCHIC SPIES

PSYCHIC SPIES

Dr. Edwin May is an unusual scientist, a physicist who researches psychic phenomena. For decades he worked with psychics who believed they could ‘foresee’ events like potential terrorist attacks, which raised an interesting question: if you can see the future, are you condemned to experience it?

True Spies Episode 69 Psychic Spies

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? 

EDWIN MAY: Our data show very clearly that if you can see the future, you're not condemned to experience that future. For example, you have a psychic dream on the way to work that you're going to get hit by a truck and die. Stay home, have breakfast, take the day off. You'll survive just fine, thank you very much.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies Episode 69: Psychic Spies. It was December 1981 in the winsome medieval city of Verona, Italy. Nearly a week before Christmas. Brigadier-General James L. Dozier was enjoying a peaceful evening at home with his wife, Judy, when… that’s odd. The Doziers weren’t expecting anyone. On the other side of the door, a male voice said there was a leak in the building that would need to be fixed. He was a plumber. The general opened the door. And that’s how two members of the Red Brigades, a Marxist terrorist organization, entered the home of General Dozier, pointed a pistol at his head, and threatened his life. The men taped over Dozier’s mouth, bound his ankles, put him in a trunk, and loaded him into a van. They left his wife behind, bound and gagged, her eyes covered with tape. The general was held captive for over a month. Thousands of miles away, in Fort Meade, Maryland, a man named Joe McMoneagle was conducting something called ‘remote viewing sessions’. He was able to ‘see’ the general locked up in the Italian town of Padua - all the way from the other side of the world. Not with computers, or hidden cameras, or any other technology. No. According to McMoneagle and his colleagues, the only tools he had in use were his own psychic abilities.

EDWIN MAY: What he did was describe, at least phonetically, the town he was in and what his circumstances were. He was chained to a steam radiator with handcuffs.

NARRATOR: Forty-two days after the attack, General Dozier became one of the few people to survive capture by the Red Brigades when he was found in chains above a Padua grocery store and finally released. The results of McMoneagle’s remote-viewing session never made it to Italy, but they did make it to the CIA. And they raised serious questions about the role that psychic functioning could play in modern espionage - $20m questions, as one of the world experts puts it, Could McMoneagle’s remote viewing be trusted? And could the information he gathered save the general before it was too late? These are the sorts of questions that the US government's psychic spying program endeavored to answer.

EDWIN MAY: If you're going to ask the genie a question, you better make damn sure you know what the question actually is. My name is Edwin Charles May and everybody calls me Ed. In 1968, I was awarded a Ph.D. in experimental nuclear physics - shooting particles at targets, and what have you - and measuring what bubbles off. And in ‘68, when I graduated with my degree, I joined the University of California at Davis, California, in their nuclear physics lab as a postdoctoral fellow.

NARRATOR: No, this week’s true spy isn’t, in fact, a spy. He’s a scientist - a physicist, to be precise. But his curiosity and a series of chance encounters led him down a path that would intersect with the highest echelons of American intelligence in a field of research that was, and remains, highly controversial. Enter into the world of Dr. Edwin May and you’re likely to hear something about ‘eight-martini results’. You see, Ed is a researcher, and his subject is psychic phenomena.

EDWIN MAY: You know what the three most important words of all of science are? “I don't know.”

NARRATOR: Over nearly half a century in the field, a lot of his research has been... well, rather unremarkable. That’s par for the course for any scientist. But some of Ed’s research has produced astounding results. Eight-martini results. The kind of results that call for not just one strong drink, but several. As the former director of the Stargate project and a practicing researcher to this day, Ed says he has no doubt that psychic functioning, or ‘psi’, exists. And he suspects we can mine traditional scientific disciplines to learn how it works.

EDWIN MAY: I'm exploring, along with my colleagues, that we yet do not have to give up physics, and physiology, and neuropsychology to explain our phenomena. And we're working in that direction just now. Have we finished it? Nowhere close. But until the materialist perspective begins to fail in the laboratory, I'm sticking with it.

NARRATOR: For 23 years, beginning in 1972, highly classified research projects like Ed’s helped put psychic spies to work for the United States government. If you’re a skeptic, that alone might have you reaching for a stiff drink. For the moment, put your skepticism aside. Let’s hear Ed’s side of the story. How did a nuclear physicist find himself working in the realm of the paranormal, in the shadowy world of secrets and spies? For Ed May, it all began as a postdoctoral fellow in Davis, California.

​​EDWIN MAY: While I was still at Davis, what happened to me is, I was bored. I was 31 years old and I saw a flier advertising a weekend conference on something called ‘out-of-the-body experiences’. I had never heard of out-of-the-body experiences. I had never heard anything about extrasensory perception or psychics. It was all brand new. So, why not? I got nothing else to do. And I'm sitting there listening to this sort of businessman-looking character, talking about some of the most amazing things that I have ever heard. And I was completely convinced it couldn't possibly be true.

NARRATOR: To understand one of the biggest challenges faced by psychic researchers, you have to know a key concept in parapsychology - that is, the study of unexplained mental phenomena. You see, the field of psychic research, with all of its critics, is divided into two camps: the sheep and the goats. Sheep are people who believe in it, or at least who believe in the possibility that it could exist. And goats - they’re the naysayers. They think it’s all a waste of time and resources. Ed is a physicist. He identifies as a hard-line materialist, but he isn’t a goat. 

EDWIN MAY: I'm a physics guy. I'm a terrible theorist, definitely not a theorist, and certainly, if you make a list of eminent philosophers, I'm at the bottom of the list, always, but I have a very strong interest in how the world works. Not the way I'd like it to work, but how it actually works. So here are some anomalies that... gosh, if this is real, we're overlooking some aspect about how the world looks. And that's what got me into parapsychology and that's what's keeping me in it right now.

NARRATOR: So when Ed stumbled on the concept of out-of-body experiences, he bought a book on the subject. He was not convinced. But he was still open to learning more. 

EDWIN MAY: Some time passed, I was at the University of California at Berkeley still doing physics. And I ran into another flier, this time by a guy named Charles Honorton. And I had nothing to do again. I went and listened to him and, my golly, he was talking really hard-nosed science. I asked Chuck out for dinner and he had all the good scientific questions answered for me, and I was amazed. For most of his life, until he passed away unexpectedly, he was my mentor.

NARRATOR: Honorton was a pioneer researcher in the field of psychic phenomena, also known as ESP, or simply ‘psi’. Ed went to work in Honorton’s lab. Then, through a chance encounter with a psychic research subject, he was invited to take a job as a physicist at SRI. Formerly known as Stanford Research Institute, but now no longer affiliated with Stanford University, SRI received funding from the US Department of Defense. Ed would go to work with the quantum physicist Hal Puthoff. What Ed didn’t know was that the results of Puthoff’s work had attracted the attention of the CIA. Under extreme secrecy, the CIA was now sponsoring SRI’s psychic research. But let’s back up. Why would the United States government be interested in psi in the first place? To understand that, you have to think back to the 1960s and early ‘70s and get into a Cold War mindset. Everyone knows about the space race between the United States and Russia to be the first nation to put a man on the moon. But when the US caught wind of Russian efforts to improve intelligence gathering with the help of psi, it kicked off what’s been called the ‘psychic arms race’. 

EDWIN MAY: The basic research back in those days was done mainly from the point of view of: "Well, we heard the Russians are doing this. Let's do some research to see whether that's real or not.” 

NARRATOR: Ed makes this sound rather casual. In fact, declassified documents show that government officials were frightened about all sorts of possible applications of psi. What if the Russians could not just read their minds, but influence their thoughts? What if they could stop their hearts from beating just by concentrating hard enough? Clearly, targeted research was in order. Beginning in 1972, the various psi programs had three chief goals, according to Ed.

EDWIN MAY: First of all, if this could work, can we gather intelligence by spying, if you will? 

NARRATOR: So, goal one: scope out the possibilities for psychic intelligence gathering. How could it be done? How reliable was it? Was there any way to guarantee reliability or, at least, to give it a boost?

EDWIN MAY: The second aim was, well, if we can spy on them - meaning the Soviets - they can spy on us. So a second part of the three-pronged technique was to say: “Okay, can we protect ourselves against being spied upon by remote viewing?”

NARRATOR: Goal two: threat assessment. If the Soviets are using psychic powers to spy on their adversaries, how could the US take psychic countermeasures to spy on them in return?

EDWIN MAY: And thirdly was to figure out how it works, although for probably the first almost 10 years of the program we had very little money to do that.

NARRATOR: Goal three: get to the bottom of all of this unexplained phenomena. Crack a mystery that has puzzled people for millennia. A worthy goal, if a far-off one. The highly classified effort took many forms over the two decades it was in operation. Today, these are most often referred to with the catchall name ‘Stargate’. Over the years, the primary aim of these programs was to solve issues of national security for the country’s military and intelligence services.

EDWIN MAY: Now, Stargate is just the last name out of about seven or eight nicknames. It's an unclassified nickname, so that you could call up somebody on an open line and say: "Hey, I'm coming to Washington next week. I want to discuss Stargate.” As opposed to: "I want to discuss psychic functioning.”

NARRATOR: When Ed joined the SRI team in 1975, he had no idea that the CIA was behind their work.

EDWIN MAY: I didn't know who was funding it. I know the US Navy funded the magnetometer experiment because that wasn't classified. But when I got my clearance, I knew that the CIA was funding it. Now, keep in mind, we had something close to $20m. The CIA gave us funding for about one percent of that so they were not a major funder.

NARRATOR: That might sound like a footnote in this story. But funding, or a lack thereof, is key to the history of the American government’s interest in psychic research. After all, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Intelligence and Security Command - these are huge bureaucracies. And, as in any bureaucracy, politics played a major role. The project received less than $20m in funding over its many years of existence, the vast majority of which came from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the US Army Medical Research and Development Command. And the esoteric nature of the work raised the hackles of a number of US government officials.

EDWIN MAY: When I became the director of the research project, I spent about 40 percent of my time doing admin work in Washington. If it weren't for a handful of people who protected us, kind of a shield between the sharks coming after us, so to speak... One of those was the former secretary of defense, William Cohen. When he was on the intel committee. John Glenn, who I met in Cohen's office once, said: "This is really fascinating work. If you ever have any troubles, please give me a call.” So I tried to get hold of him and his chief of staff wouldn't let me anywhere near the guy because of this giggle factor. But we prevailed.

NARRATOR: The ‘giggle factor’, as Ed calls it, also factors into the researchers’ relationship with the rest of the scientific community.

EDWIN MAY: Scientific atheists don't like what we do because they believe, incorrectly, that what we're pushing is transcendence, that we need God in our equation to make all this stuff work. Another issue is we've written papers claiming that all the information gathering is with one phenomenon only: precognition. 

NARRATOR: Precognition - meaning, knowing something in advance.

EDWIN MAY: And that gets the scientific community’s undies in a bunch because it appears to them that this must violate causality. If you're going to ask the question: "If you can see the future by some means, by precognition, are you condemned to experience that future?” And if you are, that plays heavily into the philosophical notion of free will and those kinds of important issues. Our data show very clearly that if you can see the future, you're not condemned to experience that future. For example, you have a psychic dream - on the way to work you're going to get hit by a truck and die. Stay home, have breakfast, take the day off. You'll survive just fine, thank you very much.

NARRATOR: When Ed was brought on to the project, he became privy to years’ worth of classified information about past psi research. And what he learned, he says, was nothing short of extraordinary.

EDWIN MAY: I was blown away. I said: “Look, why are we having so damn much trouble getting this stuff approved when these are small miracles that need to be closely examined?”

NARRATOR: One of these small miracles was an instance of remote viewing, a technical, more military-friendly term for clairvoyance - psychic spying. The spy in question was a former police officer named Pat Price. In the early 1970s, Price was given a set of geographic coordinates and asked to describe what was there. Unbeknownst to him, the coordinates belonged to the summer home of a colleague of one of the researchers, a cabin hidden away in a West Virginia forest. But it wasn’t a cabin that Price saw. It was something else.

EDWIN MAY: A few kilometers away, what Pat found was a very, very top-secret listening post that was not to be known by anybody and described exactly what was there. 

NARRATOR: Not only that, Price was able to identify file names, code words, and minute details that he only would have known if he had actually been inside the building. And that’s how Pat described his information gathering. He went there. In the mind. From a distance.

EDWIN MAY: To quote Pat, in his transcript: "I mushed my head inside the safe.” And he read off special code names on very sensitive projects.

NARRATOR: While Price’s head was ‘mushed inside a safe’ he had stumbled upon Sugar Grove, a top-secret facility run by the National Security Agency. It was a breakthrough for the researchers but it rattled the CIA.

EDWIN MAY: That spawned one of the largest - probably ever - CIA internal investigations of a leak of sensitive information. And it wasn't a leak. It was real data. And, when I saw that report, it was astounding to me. Truly astounding. That's probably the most remarkable thing I had ever seen.

NARRATOR: Put yourself in Ed’s shoes. You hold a Ph.D. in physics, yet you’ve given over your career to a field that simply cannot be explained. Wouldn’t you want to know what was at the root of all those miracles you witnessed, both in classified records and with your own two eyes? Ed came on as a researcher in the classified program at SRI in 1975. Then, after 10 years, he inherited the program and became its director. Ed and his research team wanted to find out not only if psi was real, but if it was ever reliable. And if it wasn’t reliable, were there ways of improving its accuracy for the purposes of intelligence gathering? Could researchers create conditions in which psychic spies would collect superior data?

EDWIN MAY: The main research we were doing is what would we do for a participant, a psychic, to enhance the likelihood of his being right, he or she is being correct or not? 

NARRATOR: Then there’s the question of psi’s practical applications for the US government. If psi really works - and May and his colleagues are convinced that it does - is it a job only for a few gifted individuals? Or could anyone tap into their psychic abilities? Could someone be trained to gather intelligence for their country?

EDWIN MAY: Three big questions in parapsychology research today - none of which do we know the answers to - and they are critical. Number one is: who is psychic? Is that the experimenter or the subject? That's a big problem. Number two is: the psychics do not have control over when they're psychic. For example, if psychics have access to information across all space and all time, bloody forever, and you were conscious of that, to use a technical term, you'd go bull-goose loony in a heartbeat. You would not be able to function. So, I mean, for example, if you and I were having a conversation over dinner at a crowded restaurant, we can understand each other because we are attending to each other. And the fact that somebody drops a whole tray full of dishes catches our attention, and then we get back to our conversation. Well, all right. If the question then becomes: what opens the door to this vast amount of information from the future and what closes it? We do not know the answer to either of those. We suspect that the tasking opens that door. So I say: “Day after tomorrow, come to my lab. We're going to do an experiment.” Already that's opening the door for you, even though you're not aware of it. What closes the door is more complicated. We don't know the answer to that.

NARRATOR: In other words: Ed suspects it’s easier to tap into one’s own psychic ability than to tap out of it, or snap out of it.

EDWIN MAY: Suppose I have a magic pill here and I say: “If you take this pill, you will be a perfect psychic.” Would you take it? And the answer, when we informally do surveys with this, most people would not take it because there's no off switch.

NARRATOR: Think about it. Would you really want to know the unknowable? Sure, it might make for a fun party trick. But imagine not being able to switch the knowing off. Fortunately, Ed says, that’s not a problem that any non-psychics have to grapple with.

EDWIN MAY: Let's look at other forms of human behavior that are really excellent. For example, high jumping in the Olympics. And so the question is, could you train me to be an Olympic star high jumper? And boy, you can train me forever and I will clear six inches, not feet. And there's no way that I don't have the innate native skillset to be able to learn to play tennis well enough to compete at Wimbledon or to be on the PGA Golf Tour and so on. So it turns out that it is the same with psychic ability. There are some people that have an innate ability. It becomes challenging to find out who those people are, but you can train them up to their point of what their innate ability is because there are some tips you can give. But I can't turn everybody into a superstar by training them. 

NARRATOR: But how do you find those superstars? They’re hardly a dime a dozen. One of Ed’s major challenges was to recruit potential psychic spies. That was no easy feat.

EDWIN MAY: I wish we could say that we had some mechanism to select out of the population at large. What we found, over time, about one percent of selected populations meet the qualities of being a good psychic spy or experiment participant. I wish I had some way of mechanically doing that other than just testing them to be psychic.

NARRATOR: Ed says that modern research suggests that there might be a neuroscientific ‘signature’ in the brain, setting psychics apart from the rest of the population. But, for now, that’s just speculation. There was no easy way for him to tell who had psi and who didn’t. There were no predictive personality factors, no clear commonalities. Yet, as Ed’s team turned out attractive results, he says the need to recruit only became more dire. If you’re a regular listener to True Spies, you likely have an appetite for adventure. High-stakes operations have taken our spies into the shadows and across the globe, putting them in serious peril. And then there’s psychic espionage. Interesting, to be sure. But, in truth, it’s kind of a desk job. Psi spies in remote viewing sessions make notes. They draw sketches. Sometimes they meditate or lie down in the dark. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. Inside Stargate, however, these spies were tangling with dangerous criminals, traveling to distant locales, and fighting battles that even the Army couldn’t take on, which is why, according to Ed, the need for psychic spies and psychic soldiers was growing.

EDWIN MAY: The Army really got interested in it. So they said: "We want to get a unit stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, so that we can find people who would be good spies.” And so, the question becomes, how the hell do you find good spies? And the answer is, we had no idea at that time. So the Army psychologist and other people got together and went to Fort Huachuca, which was the Army training center for spies, if you will, and they ended up with a large number of people that got whittled down to six individuals. And those six individuals came out one at a time to SRI to be tested to see whether they were good psychics or not, based on their not previous experiences, per se, but based on their interest in the field. 

NARRATOR: Right. Turns out not every psychic actually wants to spy for the federal government. 

EDWIN MAY: And out of the six, four were remarkable, one of whom was Joe McMoneagle, who performed extremely well. 

NARRATOR: Joe McMoneagle. We’ll come back to him in a moment.

EDWIN MAY: Another person is Angela Ford, Angela Dellafiora Ford. She had a 37-year career in the intelligence community as an analyst, and some of her work has been handed to the president of the United States, for analysis, not as a psychic. And in that 37 years, [for nine years] she was part of the Fort Meade remote viewing group. And we are still working together right now. She is marvelous at this job.

NARRATOR: Angela Dellafiora Ford’s skills weren't discovered by Ed or anyone else. She says she knew she was psychic from the time she was a child. With a process called automatic writing, in which she could shut down her conscious mind and channel words onto the page, she cracked enough cases for the Army that she became something of a celebrity in the program. In 1989, she used her extraordinary skill to spot a target on the run.

EDWIN MAY: There was a customs agent who turned bad. He started dealing drugs with the bad guys in Florida. 

NARRATOR: The customs agent in question learned that authorities were after him and became a fugitive for over three years. Law enforcement officials had a few theories about where he might have disappeared to, but they hadn’t been able to track him down, which is why they turned to the Army’s remote viewing team. 

EDWIN MAY: Smart people at the time believed that because this guy who fled loved the sea, that he must be somewhere along the coast. And Angela - it didn't quite work this way, but close - stuck a pin in a map, said: “No, no, no. He's near the south gate at Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.” 

NARRATOR: ‘Lowell, Wyoming’ were Angela’s exact words. Hardly a seaside paradise. But there was a problem: there was no Lowell, Wyoming. But there was a Lovell, Wyoming. 

EDWIN MAY: Long story short, they went there and caught him just there. 

NARRATOR: One letter off. Ford also channeled key details in high-risk situations far away from American soil.

EDWIN MAY: She was very, very good at describing what was happening around boats and there was a boat heading into Libya and she gave a very accurate description of what was on board that boat. 

NARRATOR: Specifically: a major stockpile of chemical weapons shipped by Muammar Gaddafi. A few days later, Ford learned that her remote viewing had had real-world consequences.

EDWIN MAY: And our boss at the time, a guy named Jack Vorona, told Angela: “Oh, I have initiated a submarine." She said: "No, no, you're not going to sink the boat on my data!" He said: “No, no. We're just going to follow it into the harbor.” 

NARRATOR: As it turns out, Ed says, Angela had accurately described the boat’s contents.

EDWIN MAY: Very, very useful circumstance. 

NARRATOR: Not every psychic spying mission was a rousing success. Another one of the program’s prized spies was a man named Gary Langford. Langford, as you’ll soon learn, got a lot of things right. But on one particular occasion, he nearly led Ed terribly astray.

EDWIN MAY: Reagan was giving the State of the Union address that year, and Gary handed me about 18 pages unsolicited. I didn't ask him to do anything. And the 18 pages showed, basically, a 9/11 attack way long before that ever happened. A plane was going to fly down the Potomac River and veer off at the last minute and dive into the Capitol, and kill everybody. And it went on and detailed information about that particular event. So I went to Jim Salyer, who is a very smart fellow. He has been with our project as a representative from the Defense Intelligence Agency for years, so I know Jim very well. So I said: “Hey, Jim, what do you want me to do with this?” He had it and he read the whole thing and he said: "Are you handing this to me officially?” And I said: "Hey Jim what does that mean, ‘officially’?” He said: “If you hand this to me officially, I will take action, and God help you if you're wrong.” Oh, dear. 

NARRATOR: Oh dear, indeed.

EDWIN MAY: And I'm not exaggerating. It was the worst 24 hours I ever had in my life. I sat there agonizing, saying: "Okay, gee, what am I going to do if I don't hand this in and it happens? I'm going to feel really terrible. And if I hand it in and it doesn't happen, I'm going to probably get sacked from the program.” 

NARRATOR: What would you do in Ed’s position? You’re not a psychic. You have no way of verifying the stack of information that’s just been handed to you. Do you take the risk and make it official? Or do you run the even bigger risk of letting a 9/11-type event happen when you could have been the one to stop it? Ed was torn. Lives hung in the balance. But something about Gary’s report didn’t pass the smell test. He didn’t hand it over. And it's a good thing he didn’t. Of the entire 18-page document, Langford had only gotten one thing right.

EDWIN MAY: The only part of that 18 pages that was correct, which was unknown at the time, was that Reagan had a foreign head of state who was female, Maggie Thatcher, on the podium with him during the State of the Union address. And, in the color picture in the paper the next day, it showed her wearing a pink hat. And Gary had that in his transcript a day or two before the event. We don't know right now - if someone hands me a large amount of stuff from a single remote viewing - what part of it is right and what part of it is wrong. We clearly don't know how to do that.

NARRATOR: It certainly wasn’t all misfires for Gary Langford. He was a star psychic in the Stargate project for a reason. A few years earlier, Langford foresaw an event that would become a key victory in the remote-viewing program. It was the end of 1981. The physicist and researcher Hal Puthoff gave Langford an uncharacteristically open-ended task: to determine if an event of major importance would happen in the near future.

EDWIN MAY: Reagan was president at the time, and there was some hint there may have been a terrorist attack against Reagan at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Reagan would throw the switch and the lights would come on and all that.

NARRATOR: Langford didn’t produce an answer straight away. But a few days later, on December 15th, he came back with a detailed prediction. An American official would be kidnapped two days later, on the evening of December 17th. Terrorists would bind and gag him, put him in a trunk, and load him into a van. 

EDWIN MAY: It had nothing to do with the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, except it was right.

NARRATOR: Remember General Dozier, his mouth taped over, trapped in a trunk somewhere around Verona, Italy? Gary Langford had seen it all with astounding accuracy. It was a matter of hours before news of General Dozier’s kidnapping reached the United States. Over the course of the next several weeks, the remote-viewing team tried to zero in on where the general had been taken. The team produced a great deal of vague information that didn’t help to narrow down his whereabouts. But in one particular session, one of the Stargate spies, Joe McMoneagle, was able to pinpoint that he was in Padua, bound in chains. Meanwhile, another remote viewer had flown to Italy and was producing similar details: that Dozier was in Padua, chained somewhere above a grocery. And that’s where Italian Special Forces found him shortly thereafter when he was finally freed, 42 days after the attack. It wasn’t until later that Dozier heard how much had been known about his whereabouts, well before his capture. 

EDWIN MAY: Dozier said: "My God, how did you know all that information? The only reason you could get that information, you must have had an agent on-site knowing all that. And if that's the case, why was I held in captivity for that long?” Turns out, he was told it was done by remote viewing. He said: "You know what, we need to train generals and senior staff and congresspeople and the president what to think about when you're being held captive so the psychics can find it more easily.” That was Dozier’s opinion.

NARRATOR: Of course, according to Ed, this stuff can’t be taught. There’s no way you can force your brain to emit some kind of signal that makes it easy to find you, like a red blip on a radar screen. And that’s part of the reason the Stargate project was discontinued after 23 years. Officially, the program was deemed to be ineffective. A more important reason, Ed says, was a lack of funding.

EDWIN MAY: The CIA was in trouble with Congress because they were spread too thin. And so, an order came out from Congress: “You must slim down your programs because we're running out of money and the Cold War is over and you need to do that.” And so, it turns out, and we have the actual quote from the Agency, that Congress threatened literally to close down the CIA if they did not do that. So one of the programs that suffered from that closing was us, there were others as well. It wasn't because the data weren't any good, it was because administratively there just wasn't enough money to do the job properly. 

NARRATOR: Psi is a messy business. There’s no way to verify a psychic download. No way to know when the door opens and when it closes. No way to separate the signal from the noise. That leaves a lot of room for doubt in an area that’s already riddled with skepticism. But for all the unknowns, Ed says there is no doubt - either in his mind, or in the data - that psi really works.

EDWIN MAY: There were 504 remote viewing spying missions given between SRI and the Fort Meade group over the 20 years or so. Of those 504 missions, they were all spread across the usual ABC alphabet soup agencies like the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and so on. Of those 19 agencies, 17 of them came back with additional new missions. That's all you need to know. It worked. It worked well enough to keep them coming back and spending money. Suppose someone wanted to open up a new restaurant here in San Francisco. Now, that's something. They're short of restaurants - are you kidding? But, nonetheless, you've got some funding and you hire the best chef in Northern California and you have a fabulous wine cellar. And it's a small place because that's all you can afford. And it seats 19 people. All right? And on opening night, big fanfare. Nineteen people come and they fill up your restaurant. No more room for anybody else. And over the next two weeks, 17 of those original 19 people come back to your restaurant. So what would you say about the quality of that restaurant? The answer is, very clearly: “It was a mighty damn good restaurant. Why would they keep coming back? The food was excellent. The wine was a better price, right?” And so on.

NARRATOR: If you’ve ever eaten in a newly opened restaurant, you know that things often don’t run smoothly straight out of the gate. Only with time and experience does the hustle and bustle fall into a flow. Stargate officially ended in 1995, and Ed says there’s still more work to be done. But even with all its flaws, the program proved that there are plenty of gains to be made in the field of psychic espionage.

EDWIN MAY: Did it work 100 percent of the time? No. Regular spying by human spies on the ground, like in World War II, was particularly unreliable. The good news and bad news about psychic spies... The good news is we're as good as humans on the ground. And the bad news is we're just as bad as they were. So it's not a very good way of collecting data. The good news about it is, unlike spies of the old variety, the people on the ground are not put in harm's way in any way whatsoever. And it's cheap. 

NARRATOR: Ed is still at work today trying to solve the mysteries that have been at the core of his work for nearly half a century. And what about all those naysayers, the ‘goats’ who don’t believe in what he’s doing and don’t think it’s a good use of time or money or energy? Surely he’s exhausted after all these years of defending himself. Is he ever tempted just to let those perplexing mysteries remain unsolved?

EDWIN MAY: I'm having too much fun. Are you kidding? This is great fun. We're doing experiments now which have the potential of making rather large sums of money. We're doing work with neuroscience to answer some of these pressing questions. And I'll drop dead on the job one day.

NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. You can learn more about Ed May in the book ESP Wars: East and West, and about General Dozier’s kidnapping in Annie Jacobsen’s book Phenomena. Join us next week for another mysterious encounter with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Read the transcript →
Guest Bio

Dr. Edwin C. May is a physicist and former director of the Stanford Research Institute program until its closure in 1995. The Stargate project - essentially a US government ESP espionage program - was funded by the US Department of Defense and sponsored by the CIA. May is continuing his work at California’s Laboratories for Fundamental Research. He is also the author of ESP Wars.

Listen on Youtube
No items found.
No items found.