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BOOK REVIEW:
Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America's Psychic Spies, by Jim Schnabel, 1997

Published by Dell Publishing: New York

(Clicking on image takes you to Amazon.)


Jim Schnabel's book, Remote Viewers, is an in-depth look at the history of the original military remote-viewing project.


Remote Viewers is a bit of an odd book for Jim Schnabel, a science writer who has previously published work that could be described as highly skeptical of some things "out of the ordinary." In fact, when Mr. Schnabel was doing his research for this book he asked me for an interview, which I refused to give him because I considered him a "knee-jerk debunker." Considering the outcome of his research, this turns out to be a fortuitous endorsement of Mr. Schnabel's claim of objectivity. In the best traditions of investigative journalism, Schnabel takes an open mind and tunnels into much of the military remote-viewing community, revealing that the remote-viewing phenomenon was considered very real by the U.S. intelligence services, and a phenomenon worthy of high-level funding and research. Mr. Schnabel tells how the goal of this research was no less than to deploy a psychic spying unit with unbelievable capability.

Remote Viewers is divided into three parts. He calls each part a "book," and this is to emphasize the distinct nature of the three realms of early government sponsored remote-viewing research. The first part of the book is about the original U.S. military program to develop a psychic spying unit that worked out of Fort Meade, Maryland. This was an Army unit that worked under the code name "Grill Flame" (among other names). Principal players in this program were Joe McMoneagle, Mel Riley, Skip Atwater, Major General Edmund R. Thompson, and others. The story of how this early program began and later evolved is exceptionally interesting. Mr. Schnabel has a real knack for writing in a way that brings the reader into the scene, and most readers will appreciate his attempt to convey the seriousness with which the early participants approached their remote-viewing assignments. But this is not a dry tale, and Schnabel's account of this early work will keep most readers turning the pages with glued attention.

Contemporary readers of this book will want to pay particular attention to how difficult it was for participants in this early program to be taken seriously by many others in the military and political establishments. This resistance to their work was not universal, but it was intense when it surfaced. It flew in the face of extensive evidence that their work was both highly effective, and improving with time. Even in the military, where programs would assumedly be approved on the basis of merit and results rather than prejudice, intensely personal battles were fought that affected both funding and promotions. Despite the now increasingly widespread acceptance of the reality of the remote-viewing phenomenon, such battles are still common fare. But one can only imagine the intensity of the earliest efforts to operationalize any paranormal technology, especially within such a conservative institution as the U.S. military.

These early participants developed and used a method of remote viewing that has come to be known as "Extended Remote Viewing," or ERV. This normally entailed a "cool-down" period of, say, half an hour, followed by a session in which the remote viewer would be resting horizontally on a couch in a dimly lit room. There would also be another person in the room called a "monitor" who would give the remote viewer instructions on where to shift his or her perceptions and what to view. The monitor sometimes also doubled as a technician who would record the sessions. Most of the data was obtained by the remote viewer speaking.

The second part of Mr. Schnabel's book chronologically parallels much of the first part. But here the focus is on the early scientific work done at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI, International) under the primary guidance of Dr. Harold Puthoff and Mr. Russell Targ, both physicists. This is the story of how these and other researchers at SRI interacted with the now legendary remote viewers, Pat Price, Ingo Swann, Uri Geller, Hella Hammid, and others. But this is also the story of how the CIA became so deeply involved in the SRI remote-viewing project.

The real tension in this part of the book is the constant threat of research funds drying up, combined with the demands of the U.S. government to have the research produce operationally useful remote-viewing data right away. This is an unusually gritty story of personal commitment among the primary investigators (mostly Dr. Puthoff), commitment that enabled the research program to continue with exceptionally skimpy funding. Dr. Puthoff could easily have had a smoother professional ride studying lasers, one of his original scientific interests. That he left this more lucrative path to beg for meager funding in support of such a controversial area of research speaks volumes with regard to both his appreciation of the reality of the remote-viewing phenomenon, and of its ultimate potential that extends well beyond its use as a military espionage tool. Mr. Schnabel has done us all a service by documenting these efforts so well.

The third part of Mr. Schnabel's book involves the U.S. military's remote-viewing program between 1978 and 1986. This is after the CIA officially stopped funding remote-viewing research. From this point on, most of the new research was being funded by the Defense Intelligence Agency (the DIA). Again, Joe McMoneagle and Ingo Swann are major players, among others. (Pat Price had died by this time.) This is also a somewhat "messy" time in which governmental officials sought to push the remote-viewing technology far faster than it could be pushed. Misunderstanding and frustration, always present with government funded remote-viewing research, increased to crescendo levels. Personalities were strong and fights were huge, yet funding (always precarious) oddly moved into more respectable figures.

Ultimately, this final part of the book tells of the collapse of the U.S. government's foray into remote-viewing research circa 1986. What Mr. Schnabel is not able to say in this volume is how the government could later bury its remote-viewing project more deeply, keeping it off the books and out of the public's eye. It is public knowledge that a large amount of current U.S. military funding is for "black" projects, projects that do not get close to congressional or even civilian scrutiny. It is hard to believe that as pragmatic an institution as the U.S. military would ever fully abandon research into any potentially useful technology that had previously been demonstrated to work. One can only wonder how long it will take before Mr. Schnabel or his successor has a chance to tell this still evolving story. As exciting as the past is, the future is undoubtedly where the real action resides.