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01/05/2004 Archived Entry: "Psychics in the CIA"

Your tax dollars at work: it seems that, as recently as 1995, the U.S. intelligence services used psychics. Well, tried to use psychics. From reading the article, it appears the quality of information was less than adequate.

Any reader of The Skeptical Inquirer should be able to recognize the tricks by which psychics give a "cold reading," but evidently the whiz-kids in charge of the Stargate Project were easily duped:

McMoneagle said planning for the Iran hostage-rescue operation was so sensitive that only a few people knew about it; the psychic spies accidentally became aware of preparations through extrasensory perception, he said.

"It was one of the most sensitive secrets," McMoneagle said. "In our remote viewings, it started to pop up. We started seeing American soldiers stockpiling weapons inside Tehran, to include trucks and munitions and things. We started seeing some of the safe houses."

Yes, and right now I "see" some Iraqis preparing an improvised explosive device. Duh. The key to a psychic prediction is to be vague and let your audience supply the details. When the psychic has to provide the details, the charade falls down:
Psychic spies might get lots of information about a particular situation, but it's not always necessarily what is relevant, he said.

"In the military projects, they would want to know what the agents were doing on the second window over," McMoneagle said. "They would get everything but what the agents were doing. They would get a detailed, perfect picture of this tower. They'd say, 'That's a miss. You didn't tell us what the agents were doing.'"

A miss, indeed. Mark Twain knew how to evaluate psychics, as he illustrated in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:
Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing? Yes. He told them what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing. Then he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at; also what the King of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on; and with each new marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose higher and higher. They thought he must surely strike an uncertain place some time; but no, he never had to hesitate, he always knew, and always with unerring precision. I saw that if this thing went on I should lose my supremacy, this fellow would capture my following, I should be left out in the cold. I must put a cog in his wheel, and do it right away, too. I said:

"If I might ask, I should very greatly like to know what a certain person is doing."

"Speak, and freely. I will tell you."

"It will be difficult -- perhaps impossible."

"My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it is, the more certainly will I reveal it to you."

You see, I was working up the interest. It was getting pretty high, too; you could see that by the craning necks all around, and the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed it:

"If you make no mistake -- if you tell me truly what I want to know -- I will give you two hundred silver pennies."

"The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would know."

"Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand."

"Ah-h!" There was a general gasp of surprise. It had not occurred to anybody in the crowd -- that simple trick of inquiring about somebody who wasn't ten thousand miles away. The magician was hit hard; it was an emergency that had never happened in his experience before, and it corked him; he didn't know how to meet it. He looked stunned, confused; he couldn't say a word. "Come," I said, "what are you waiting for? Is it possible you can answer up, right off, and tell what anybody on the other side of the earth is doing, and yet can't tell what a person is doing who isn't three yards from you? Persons behind me know what I am doing with my right hand -- they will indorse you if you tell correctly." He was still dumb. "Very well, I'll tell you why you don't speak up and tell; it is because you don't know. you a magician! Good friends, this tramp is a mere fraud and liar."

It's a pity that such skepticism has vanished from the media. Certainly there was none in evidence when the Bush Administration was touting (but not showing) their "evidence" of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. A useful reminder: when you hear a government official crowing about the quality of their "intelligence sources," remember the Stargate Project.


P.S. Thanks to Antiwar.com for the news link.

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