Project Stargate: The CIA’s Human Experiments with Mind Control

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Project Stargate sounds like something out of this world — and it kind of is. No, it doesn’t refer to wormholes or the exploration of other planets, but rather a CIA-funded program focusing on psychokinesis and Extrasensory Perception (ESP).

Project Stargate was a multi-million-dollar program enacted by the CIA at the height of the Cold War to try and get ahead of the Soviet Union on powers of the mind. This program explored reading someone’s thoughts, telepathy, predicting the future, and the ability to view a place or time remotely, without actually being there.

Cold War Origins:

Project Stargate was the result of rumors about the Soviets that were swirling around the CIA in the 1970s. The CIA believed that the Soviet Union was spending crazy amounts (60 million rubles annually, to be exact) on ESP and mind-reading projects for espionage purposes.

It is still unclear whether or not the Soviet Union was participating in ESP projects as they continue to be more guarded in the release of official documents from the Cold War. What is clear is that the CIA believed that the Soviet Union was participating in this type of project and moved to create their own, American prototype of similar research and experiments.

Although this might seem silly today, it is important to remember the context of the time. In both the United States and the Soviet Union, one thing was clear — if one country was trying something new, the other country tended to follow suit to make sure they didn’t fall behind with any sort of technological innovations.

Thus, in 1972, the CIA released funding for a program known as SCANATE, and government-funded research on mind control was officially underway.

Testing Uri Geller

Remote viewing research and testing quickly got underway in 1972 at The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California. Physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff began testing people they deemed “gifted individuals” and psychics.

One of the best-known individuals tested in this first phase of Project Star Gate was celebrity psychic Uri Geller. Known for his ability to bend spoons, the CIA recruited him to because of his purported psychic abilities. For eight days in August 1973, Geller was locked in a room while the CIA did various experiments on him to test his supernatural abilities.

These experiments tested Geller’s ability to “see” hidden drawings, find buried metal, and bend spoons with his mind. As a result of Geller’s “success” in this experimental period, the CIA concluded that Geller had demonstrated his “paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and ambiguous manner.”

Drawing done Uri Geller
Drawing done by Uri Geller during his 1973 experiments. (Photo Credit: Central Intelligence Agency)

This apparent success with Geller garnered extra interest from the U.S. Department of Defense. After Geller’s initial tests were done by the CIA, University of Oregon psychology professor Ray Hyman was asked to go to the SRI and personally evaluate Geller. After meeting with and evaluating Geller, Hyman concluded that Geller was a fraud and could easily spot the loopholes and inconsistencies in Geller’s acts that Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff had apparently missed.

Uri Geller bending a spoon
Uri Geller attempting to bend a spoon with his mind, circa 1978. (Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/ Corbis via Getty Images)

Operation Grill Flame

In the late 1970s, the CIA shut down its work with ESP, and the program moved from California to the U.S. Army’s Fort Meade in Maryland. Although initial tests throughout the 1970s were not necessarily promising and totally inconsistent, the project continued to receive funding from Congress.

In 1979, during a discussion of remote viewing in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Charle Rose stated that the program “seemed like a hell of a cheap radar system. And if the Russians have it and we don’t, we’re in serious trouble.”

By far the most successful case of Operation Grill Flame was that of the location of a Soviet airplane that had crashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which was then known as Zaire). Rosemary Smith, who was a young woman working with the program, was given a map and marked a very specific spot where she perceived the aircraft might have gone down.

Map technicians then converted her notation into geographical coordinates, which were sent to the CIA station chief in Zaire. Two days later, the Soviet plane was found using the coordinates provided by Rosemary Smith, and the CIA was able to extract valuable technology from this downed aircraft.

left side of Soviet Tu-22M.
Soviet Tu-22 aircraft. This was the type of aircraft that Rosemary Smith located in Africa. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This program continued to recruit remote viewers after their success with Rosemary Smith. One notable recruit was army veteran Joseph McMoneagle who became known as “remote viewer no. 1.”

He worked with Project Stargate from 1978 to 1984 and was involved in some 450 missions. McMoneagle specialized in near-death experiences, out-of-body travel, and unidentified flying objects. According to McMoneagle, a typical day of work meant being presented with envelopes and being asked to supply information about whatever was inside.

One of the most bizarre experiments that McMoneagle was involved in was his 1984 “trip to Mars.” During the experiment, McMoneagle was presented with a sealed envelope containing the information “the planet Mars,” with the time of interest being “one million years B.C.”

McMoneagle, without knowing the contents of this envelope, reported seeing very large, thin, people wearing “some kind of strange clothes,” obelisks, and pyramids. Afterward, when he learned what the envelope contained, McMoneagle believed that he genuinely did travel back in time to Mars.

Stargate Flaming Out

In 1995, the project was transferred back to the CIA who commissioned a report done by American Institutes for Research. This report concluded that remote viewing had not been proved to work by a psychic mechanism and that it should not be used operationally. Subsequently, the CIA canceled the program.

In 2017, the CIA declassified some 12 million pages of records that detail previously unknown aspects of Project Stargate. The program was featured in the 2004 book and subsequent 2009 film both titled The Men Who Stare at Goats, although Project Stargate wasn’t mentioned by name in these fictional pieces.

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Although Project Stargate was created to help with Cold War espionage, its practices remain popular in American society even today. Overall, roughly 6 in 10 American adults believe in one “New Age” belief — including reincarnation, astrology, psychics, and the presence of spiritual energy.

While Project Stargate flamed out, its core beliefs remain popular still.