When the NSA Feared Psychics

A VERSION OF THIS STORY ORIGINALLY appeared on Muckrock.com.

A classified government document opens with “an odd sequence of events relating to parapsychology has occurred within the last month” and concluded with an alarming question about psychics nuking cities so that they became lost in time and space. If this sounds like a plot out of science fiction, it is – but it’s also a NSA memo from 1977.

The first “event” raised by the NSA note is a CIA report which mentioned KGB research into parapsychology. According to this, the KGB used hobbyists and non-governmental researchers to talk to western scientists. This allowed the KGB to collect useful information without putting themselves into a position to accidentally leak confidential information to westerners. According to the NSA note, this tactic yielded “high grade western scientific data.”

The next event described by the NSA note was what appeared to be a Russian provocation, though exactly what sort was a matter of some debate. In June 1977, an American journalist was detained in Russia for receiving a Soviet paper on parapsychology. The paper allegedly documented “PSI” (i.e. psychic) particles within the living cell, allegedly providing a physical basis for parapsychology.

This struck American intelligence as being a form of entrapment, though the goal was uncertain. Some thought it was an effort to provoke radio chatter which the Soviets could trace to get a better idea of the U.S.’s interest and activities. Another theory was that it was simply a warning to the West to stay away from sensitive Soviet research. A third theory was that it was “a double-think ploy to pretend interest in a clumsy manner to make us think that this was really just a deception to trick the West into believing there was interest when there really was none.” While this last theory might sound paranoid, this is how denial and deception operate – and it’s something that Russian counterintelligence has long excelled at.

The section concluded with a note that there had supposedly been a successful demonstration of “telekinetic power” in a Soviet military sponsored research lab, and the alleged discovery of a new type of energy “perhaps even more important than that of Atomic energy.”

The third event was the apparent postulation by “some physicists along with the famous evolutionist, Teilhard de Chardin” that the universe was more of a “great thought” than a “great machine.” According to this view, “the ‘unified field’ on ground of reality is awareness.” The note cited telekinetic experiments and postulated that “awareness focusing” could produce “a new form of energy that moves or perhaps alters matter.”

The report cited British scientists experiencing “poltergeist phenomena” after testing Uri Geller. Objects allegedly left the room, some of which apparently reappeared later. Supposedly, this didn’t surprise unnamed scientists who found it no harder to believe that objects could disappear and reappear than it was to believe in the “detected particles emerging from energy and dissolving or disappearing back into energy.”

From these premises, two types of telekinetic weapons were hypothesized: a telekinetic time bomb and the equivalent of a psychic nuke that could dislodge a city in time and space.

The first involved a member of the command and control staff being kidnapped and subjected to trauma that would allow him to be “suggestively programmed to develop telekinetic effects under stress at work.” The theory was that when an emergency situation arose and the officer was subjected to stress, objects would begin to move and disappear independently “and communications would become impossible.”

The second hypothetical weapon was even more elaborate and potentially terrifying. Citing a prediction of “a massive change which will alter the direction, time, space and energy-matter relationship of our world,” the note wondered what would happen if a group of psychics were brought together. If ten people who were “evidencing disruptive telekinetic phenomena” were brought into one area, would it “cause a chain reaction, causing much matter to reverse direction and sink back into a sea of energy or be displaced in time and space”? The memo concluded by wondering if such an event reach a “critical mass” and affect an entire city.

By an interesting coincidence, the “Philadelphia Experiment” hoax bears some superficial resemblance to the theorized weapon in the NSA note. According various versions of the hoax, the USS Eldridge was temporarily rendered invisible or transported through time and space. The incident is even listed on NSA’s webpage of paranormal topics that they don’t have records on. However, there were other papers prepared on the perceived potential of weaponizing psychic abilities, some of which will be explored later. For now, you can read the NSA note here.

Endorsement from David Huddle

“A considerable achievement… powerful
and elegant… morally complex and challenging.”

Wilderness of Mirrors is “about the events of 9-11 and the War on Terror, but of course it’s also generally about many other topics—religion, history, international politics, the American intelligence community, the psychological make-up of a dedicated intelligence agent, conspiracy theory, and American foreign policy… the novel provides a scathing critique of the CIA and the NSA and their roles in moving the country toward the precarious place it now occupies in international affairs.”

– DAVID HUDDLE, former military intelligence specialist and award-winning author of The Story of a Million Years and My Immaculate Assassin

CIA Use of Overseas Personnel

Central characters in the novel Wilderness of Mirrors work for the CIA under cover as clergy or journalists. Some readers have made inquiries about whether or not the CIA ever actually sent officers into foreign countries disguised in this manner.

In fact, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities — in 1975 — demonstrated that the CIA regularly used both journalists and members of religious orders to gather information and to control and deliver secret government activities, including the overthrow of governments.

Read for yourself here: This is the complete Senate Select Committee Report on Intelligence Activities. This kind of covert activity, using U.S. citizens, was relatively common practice, leading to great distrust of the United States by people around the world.

There were, of course, unintended bad effects of such activity. For example, the report clearly calls out the downside of using journalistic cover: “The danger of CIA propaganda contaminating U.S. media—”fallout”— occurs in virtually any instance of propaganda use. The possibility is quite real even when the CIA does not use any U.S. journalist or publication in carrying out the propaganda project. Where a CIA propaganda campaign causes stories to appear in many prestigious news outlets around the world, as occurred at the time of the Chilean elections in 1970, it is truly impossible to insulate the United States from propaganda fallout.”

In terms of clergy, the CIA was forthright to the committee (as far as we know), but not so forthright when they sent pastors into the field as CIA operatives. “The CIA has informed the Committee of a total of 14 covert arrangements which involved direct operational use of 21 individuals…. in six or seven cases, the CIA paid salaries, bonuses, or expenses to the religious personnel, or helped to fund projects run by them. Most of the individuals were used for covert action purposes. Several were involved in large covert action projects of the mid-sixties, which were directed at “competing” with communism in the Third World.”

Given this report, and all that we know about the CIA around the world in the 1960s-1990s, it seems clear that my use of CIA personnel under clergy and journalistic cover is a pretty mild treatment of a well known activity, described in the Church report excerpted here:


Research – Government FOIA Requests

The following works were referenced by me in the writing of this novel. In the research, I have depended heavily on U.S. government Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, as well as on the work of other writers, from James Bamford to Norman Mailer to T.E. Lawrence. I have listed the following books in the order of their usefulness to my novel, not in the proper alphabetical order.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda & the Road to 9-11. Lawrence Wright. Random House, 2006.
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden. Steve Coll. Penguin, 2004.
The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency. James Bamford. Penguin: 1982.
Declare. Tim Powers. New York: Random House, 2002
Night Heron. Adam Brookes. NY: Hatchette/Redhook, 2014.
The Official Senate Report on CIA Torture. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.
The Armies of the Night. Norman Mailer. New American: 1968.
“The World According to Dick Cheney” Film Directed by R.J. Cutler, 2013.
Chatter: the Echelon Surveillance Network & the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping. Patrick Keefe. Random House, 2006.
Intelligence Wars. Thomas Powers. New York: Harper, 2003.
Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy. Lindsay Moran. Berkley, 2005.
A Colder War. Charles Cumming. London: Random, 2013.

Hong Kong and Macau. Steve Fallon. Lonely Planet Guidebooks: 2004.
The Man Who Stayed Behind: An American in China’s Wars. Sidney Rittenberg and Amanda Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Holy Warriors: The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet. James Morrison, 2002.
An Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Qigong Forms from the Ancient Texts. Beijing: Singing Dragon Press, 2013.
A Translation of the Ancient Chinese the Book of Burialzang Shu by Guo Pu. Juwen Zhang. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
The Secret of Everlasting Life: The First Translation of the Ancient Chinese Text on Immortality. Richard Bertschinger. Beijing: Singing Dragon Press, 2011.
Foundations of Theory for Ancient Chinese Medicine: Shang Han Lun and Contemporary Medical Texts. Guohui Liu. Beijing: Singing Dragon Press, 2015.

Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society. Margaret Nydell. New York: Hatchette, 2012.
Living with Djinns: Understanding and Dealing with the Invisible in Cairo. Barbara Drieskens. Beruit: Saqi, 2008.
The Arab Mind. Raphael Patai. New York: Amazon Publishing, 2007.
The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Ibn Khaldun. Istanbul: The Olive Press, 2015.
Beauty in Arabic Culture. Doris Behrens-Abouseif. New York: Marcus Weiner Editions, 1905.
Arabic Culture and Society. Hazza Abu Rabia (Editor), Maha Darawsha. NY: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2013.
T.E. Lawrence. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. New York: Bybliotech, 2013.
The Holy Qur’an. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. London: Wordsworth Edition, 2014.

IRAQ: The logic of withdrawal. Anthony Arnove.
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007.
CBS News What We Saw: 9-11. New York: CBS, 2002.
“Leap.” Brian Doyle, The American Scholar, 2003.
World Trade Center: The Giants That Defied the Sky.
Peter Skinner. New York: Metro Books, 2002.
Men of Steel: The Story of the Family That Built the World Trade Center. Karl Koch. NY: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
The World Trade Center: The History of the Construction, Destruction, and Rebirth of a New York City Landmark New York: Charles River, 2016.
The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan.
New York: Random House, 2011.
The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.


Interview: James Angleton


I asked the dying man how it all went so wrong. 
With no emotion in his voice, but with his hand 
trembling, [CIA spymaster James] Angleton replied:
“Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence 
were liars…Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they 
had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things 
that, in looking back on my life, I regret. You know,
the CIA got tens of thousands of brave people killed… 
We played with lives as if we owned them… You were in a 
room full of people that you had to believe would 
deservedly end up in hell.” Angleton slowly sipped his 
tea and then said, “I will see them there soon enough.”

 – Joseph Trento, The Secret History of the CIA

James Angleton

Veterans of the NSA’s psychic wars

By M Best (Patreon)
A version of this article appeared previously on Glomar Disclosure

There’s quite a bit of information out there about the CIA’s foray into extrasensory espionage. Now there’s more information from the veterans of the NSA’s psychic wars, which they foresaw being waged well into the ’90s and beyond.

The NSA document, dated from early 1981, calls for a number of steps to be taken, including identifying the potential for mind control.

Once the individuals had been identified, the Agency wanted to create “cadre’s of talented synergized gifted people … for special problem solving tests.” However, the NSA was afraid that these people could be hard to control “Consciousless [sic] or morbid people of talent must be strictly screened out of active programs because of the danger of severe mental illness and unscrupulous violation of security.”

Beyond personnel available to the NSA, the Agency wanted to build a database of psychics around the world.

Additional NSA documents, produced by the government later in the year after MKULTRA had been shut down and all mind control programs had been disavowed, show the government’s continued interest in researching mind control techniques, no matter how esoteric they seemed.

A number of predictions were made about the development of psychic warfare, including that subconscious mind control through telepathy would be possible “by 1990.” The report concluded grimly that “there is no known countermeasure to prevent such applications.”

At least one prediction came true – CREST documents show psychic trials still being performed as late as 1992.

The NSA’s guidelines are embedded below:

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Image via National Security Agency