Picture the scene, steps from the Hayward Executive Airport, located in Northern California, a brunette woman in hiking boots and jeans scans the area, looking for police officers. In her hand she has a canister of liquid nitrogen that weighs 13 pounds. As she unhooks the lid, she pours it into a cooler filled with 2000 tiny aluminum balls. The liquid which is negative 320 degrees below zero will cause a reaction. Within moments the woman has disappeared as a thick white cloud pops and cracks below the control tower at the airport. The woman and her SUV have vanished.
Over the years, this same woman has repeated this ritual three dozen times at different locations. This includes a dozen in San Francisco. Without permission and without warning she releases a nitrogen gas cloud. She has hit a fire station, a Catholic church, a government center, an even a water tower. This smoke bomb has moved her from Palo Alto to Alameda as the concoction has found its way into busy city parks, near lakes, an even in subway lines.
Though some may consider her part of a cult or just a less intelligent terrorist, her mission is actually highly improbable. It is all part of an experiment run by a former Pentagon scientist that is trying to prove the existence of ESP.
Over 25 years ago, the CIA released a report that had an odd, yet unassuming title, An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications. Few would think much of this lengthy, 183- page white paper, but it should have been considered a white flag. This article was the CIA’s public announcement that even though it had been speculated on for years, they were in fact using a type of ESP, termed remote viewing, to collect military and intelligence secrets. This had gone on for two decades with government agencies. To the tune of approximately 20 million dollars, the program actually employed psychics that would visualize hidden extremist training camps an describe how Soviet submarine designs that were new, then pinpoint locations for US hostages that were being held by foreign kidnappers.
The report that was conducted by an independent research institute went beyond confirming that the classified program existed. It declared Star Gate, the code name for the program, as a bust. The CIA researchers were able to validate some Star Gate trials with the finding being that “hits occur more often than chance” and that there was something beyond statistical errors occurring, but ultimately declared that ESP was useless when it came to military intelligence. This was largely because information was ambiguous or vague so actionable intelligence was not available. This was rapidly picked up by media outlets in which the headlines seemingly wrote themselves.
Nightline on ABC News allowed for a face off between Robert Gates, a former CIA director, and Edwin May, the scientist in charge of running the ESP research program. Gates made a comment to the effective that there was not a single documented case in which ESP activity significantly informed a policy decision or even informed the policy makers in an important way. May responded by saying that in the lab there had been dramatic cases in which the Pentagon psychics accurately sketched targets thousands of miles from where they were even though they had never seen them. This was not enough though and the already embarrassed Aldrich Ames was to be exposed as he had been spying for the Russians for a decade or more. This caused the CIA to shut down the Star Gate program. By May 1996, May was out of a job with his lifetime of work discredited. Although the trained scientist was 55 and could have just walked away or become a teacher, he instead chose to increase his ESP work.
More About May
May stood out even as a young boy. Born in Boston he was a Navy brat that moved often with his family. After WWII the family settled on a ranch just outside of Tucson. He is quoted as saying, “I grew up as a Jewish Hungarian cowboy in Arizona” while he enjoyed a large portion of country ham. Since he was obsessed with the Russian language, he taught himself the Cyrillic alphabet and then fell in love with physics at a private boarding school that happened to be local. He then headed to New York for college, jokingly saying he was the only guy there that lettered in calf roping.
Graduating in 1962, May being working on a doctoral degree which did not last long as he flunked out. He attributes this to fast nurses and learning to play the bagpipes. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War was ramping up and the Army came calling. Nearly drafted, May enrolled in the University of Pittsburg and earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics in only four years when he buckled down and really got to work. By 1968 with the counterculture movement at an all time high, May authored a thesis entitle Nuclear Reaction Studies via the (Proton, Proton Neutron) Reaction on Light Nuclei and the (Deuteron, Proton Neutron) Reaction on Medium to Heavy Nuclei.
Though May found work post-doctoral at the University of California where he conducted tests with cyclotrons, life outside the lab offered its own pull. May moved to San Francisco an became what he called a “professional hippie”. He began attending lectures on parapsychological research while also experimenting with drugs. May took off for India with the typical ponytail and beard hippie look. He was searching for the miraculous, expecting to find Nobel Prize winning discoveries, but came home with nothing of value. No one he met fit into his scientific framework and was a psychic.
By 1975, May had a career after a friend recommended him for a prestigious job at the Stanford Institute in Menlo Park. He was conducting psychokinesis experiments but he did not know yet that many were secretly funded by the CIA. This originated when three years earlier, the CIA had embraced ESP after the Soviet’s showed a growing interest in parapsychology. To begin with, these tests were low key with CIA agents doing things like hiding a random object in a box and then asking the psychic to describe it. Then, they got serious and ordered a pilot study that would be funded by $50,000. This study was to determine whether psychics could use remote-viewing to visualize then sketch target sites that were around San Francisco at the time.
The first director of the program was Harold Puthoff, a laser physicist. The CIA psychics drew seven detailed sketches under controlled lab conditions. Later on, a psychic sitting in California was able to visualize inside an NSA post in West Virginia and sketch a picture down to the words on file folders with great accuracy. The CIA project director considered the visualization results as mixed because while the psychic got the code name for the site and the layout, the names of people working there were not accurate. Nonetheless, this caused interest in the intelligence community to spike. When the same remote view was given map coordinates and an atlas and then asked to describe a specific site, they were able to describe new building, a massive construction crane, and a hidden Soviet nuclear weapons facility. Even though most other details were incorrect, multiple agencies wanted ESP studies.
A few year later, two New Zealand university psychologists called Puthoff a rube. In a journal called Nature, the two revealed having read the CIA original transcripts for the experiments. The psychic who had been reported as seeing inside the NSA outpost and the nuclear site had been fed cues over the years and it had been impossible to duplicate any of the results thus far. Puthoff disputed these findings and continued running the ESP experiment until 1985.
Even though the CIA had stopped funding ESP research seven years earlier, the Air Force, Defense Intelligence Agency, and even the Army kept writing checks. The program’s secret based came to rest at the Army’s Fort Meade base. By 1995, Congress called for the CIA to evaluate remote viewing and either control it or end it completely. With the DIA at the helm, Congress bankrolled the program and continued to protect it for years. There were well known defenders of the program, including Senator Claiborne Pell and Representative Charlie Rose. They felt if the Russians were using remote viewing, we should as well. Senator William Cohen was also a lesser known supporter an explained that even if the results were inconsistent the exploration of the mind’s power was an important endeavor.
When thinking of May, this was an understatement. May was an actual parapsychologist for his admirers, but far from it to the critics. For ten years, from 85 to 95, May served in the California based research director for the ESP program. He was a rare combination, trained as a proton probing scientist, but choosing to be a paranormal prophet and then becoming a full time ESP researcher with a large salary from the US government.
As May has aged, he is reminiscent of an old folk singer who will discuss about anything until someone says remote viewing is voodoo. This causes him to be short tempered, almost as much as his former psychics peddling junk like mood rings or warning others about aliens and the apocalypse. He feels this type of behavior causes people to doubt real abilities.
In 1995, when the CIA was completing a program review, May offered what he felt was the strongest support through ten experiments. One CIA agent, though in the minority, was sold on the abilities, feeling the experiments were supported by scientific criteria.
May currently defends ESP saying it has “already been proven” like someone who ranks it as important and obvious as gravity. He can list off a barrage of evidence in order to strengthen his case. He will even go as far as mentioning or referencing a now declassified report from 1984 that produced about 50% of usable information accurately. Gates on the other hand, stands by his original report and no longer speaks to media. May fully believes and is committed to his belief about ESP.
As recently as 1994, May is doing ESP research as funded by a pharmaceutical company out of Portugal. Focusing on physical and spiritual perspectives as a source of intelligence, the Bial Foundation is interested in learning more. The most recent experiment had to do with a thermodynamic release making it easier for remote viewing to occur, which is what was alluded to in the beginning of the article. To put it plainly, it is believed that a sudden thermodynamic change will signal a psychic to connect. This would require something sudden like a rocket launch or in the case of the study, a cooler that suddenly smokes and pops due to a reaction. The locations were randomly fed into a computer and one was chosen. That information was share with the brunette from the beginning, but not the psychics or May.
May worked with psychics one on one in a quiet room. He blindfolded each one and told them to access and describe the first thing they saw when the blindfold was removed. They were blindfolded on average for 30 minutes in which they created a relaxed state or trance. The description was entered into the computer an assigned a number based on the objects in the description. The computer then determined the accuracy. After a session was complete, May either drove the psychics to the site or offered a picture. May found with relative accuracy that liquid nitrogen worked and the psychics could remote view with clarity.
A huge skeptic for May is Ray Hyman a professor emeritus of psychology. He is an avid critic of those things that science cannot explain, including parapsychology. When the pair met in the 70s, he was encouraged a bit because of respect for May’s rigor and ethics in science, but both now agree those early tests were not well designed. When May began running the ESP program, Hyman felt that May being the only arbiter was problematic. So, when Hyman was chosen to evaluate the program, it was obvious he would shut it down. However, Hyman still greatly respects May, even though he feels ESP has never been proven scientifically.
This may all sound confusing and some may still feel that ESP is or is not real. May offered a demonstration with his ace psychic in which he asked the remote viewer to draw a picture of the photograph he would see a couple minutes later. The psychic had not seen the photo, as it was randomly generated from a program on May’s computer and two were chosen. The psychic drew and described his picture and then the photos were randomly selected. A coin was flipped and the observer’s choice of heads or tails was represented. May was not made aware of the choice ahead of time.
At the point of the big reveal, the psychics drawing was completely wrong. May tried to explain that by the alternative theories in existence, psychic powers come and go and that intention, expectation, and attention can affect remote viewing. The psychic only focused on the fact that he had never gotten a waterfall picture. It was a definite fail, but was written off as only a demonstration.