Secret CIA Psychic Recruitment Program

A massive 930,000-document collection declassified and released online by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2017 reveals that the agency attempted to recruit psychic spies to carry out telepathic surveillance as part of the “Stargate Project.” A 32-page report that was part of the 12 million-page document dump detailed tests performed Uri Geller, one of Britain’s most famous television personalities at the time.

Geller, an illusionist, magician, and self-proclaimed psychic, gained fame for his spoon-bending tricks on British TV in the 1970s. The CIA research involving Geller explored “remote viewing,” the extrasensory perception of distant or unseen targets. Geller was frequently derided in British media in the ensuing years based on his claims. But he managed to convince CIA personnel of “his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.” The Stargate Project was terminated in 1995.

The recently released CIA report outlines Geller’s testing sessions at California’s Stanford Research Institute, conducted from Aug. 4-11, 1973. In a series of tests, Geller was confined in an acoustically, shielded, locked room and tasked with copying random pictures drawn by examiners in a different room up to a half-mile away. The examiners were confident that no “sensory leakage” was occurring between the two locations.

For the tests, examiners chose a random word from the dictionary. The first word picked for the first test was “fuse,” so an examiner drew a firecracker. “Geller was notified via intercom when the target picture was drawn and taped on the wall outside his enclosure,” the report states. “His almost immediate response was that he saw a ‘cylinder with noise coming out of it.’ His drawing representing his response to the target was a drum, along with a number of cylindrical-looking objects.”

The second word examiners selected was “bunch.” According to the report, “[T]he target [image] was a bunch of grapes. Geller’s immediate response was that he saw ‘drops of water coming out of the picture.’ He then talked about ‘purple circles.’ Finally, he said that he was quite sure that he had the picture. His drawing was indeed a bunch of grapes. Both the target picture and Geller’s rendition had 24 grapes in the bunch.”

The tests went on for eight days. On the second day, one word was “devil,” and the target image depicted a man holding a trident. In response, Geller drew multiple images, including the Ten Commandments tablets, an apple with a worm coming out of it, and a trident.

According to the report, “The inability on Geller’s part to draw the devil may be culturally induced. Geller did draw the trident from the target picture, but he did not draw the man who was holding it. From this it seems clear that Geller does not just copy lines from the target picture, but rather he apparently performs some mental processing before drawing them.”

On the fifth day, examiners drew a flying seagull. The report notes that Geller nearly immediately said he saw a swan flying over a hill. He drew several birds and said he was sure that his drawing was correct, which it was.”

The next day, Geller was able to draw images and elements of images that had been produced and stored on a computer, “so that no visible evidence was available in the computer room after it was stored.” The examiners were not able to determine conclusively if Geller was receiving information directly off of the computer, or if it was coming from the subconscious of “people in the computer room, all of whom knew the nature of the target that was stored.”

Geller passed some tests even though he reported that he did not get a “clear impression.” The report concluded that he performed more accurately when no skeptical observers were present. There also were multiple unsuccessful attempts.

Geller later told a reporter that he’d been requested by an international agency—which he refused to identify by name—to attempt to kill an animal using only the power of his mind. “I was asked to stop the heart of a pig,” Geller said. “It was probably so they could stop the heart of Andropov, who was head of the KGB.”

In 2004, before the massive document release, British reporter Jon Ronson wrote the nonfiction book The Men Who Stare at Goats. He generally concluded that the CIA’s effort to stay a step ahead of its rivals using the supernatural powers of “psychic warriors” was a failure.

A satirically dark comedy movie of the same name was made in 2009. The movie was a fictional account in which George Clooney played a psychic recruited by the CIA to join a special forces unit that sought to use supernatural powers as a weapon to clandestinely battle against unsuspecting enemies all over the world. “George Clooney basically played me in that film,” Geller later said. “It wasn’t a goat, it was really a pig.”