Psychic Spies: Any Truth in 'Men Who Stare at Goats?'

Former officers discuss covert program to train unit in the paranormal.

ByABC News
November 9, 2009, 7:37 AM

Nov. 9, 2009— -- Major Paul H. Smith calls it his "Men in Black" moment.

It was 1983 and he was working as a Middle East analyst at Fort Meade, Md., when a fellow intelligence officer approached him with a highly-classified, so-called "black project."

They couldn't tell him what it was. They just said that as an intelligent, accomplished, open-minded and creative person, he fit the profile.

Intrigued, Smith agreed to take the tests thrown at him. And when the results confirmed his competence for the top-secret task, he was invited to try his hand at a new mission: To uncover details about places and activities around the world without stepping off of a U.S. military base.

"We're basically asking you to become a psychic spy," Smith, now retired, said he was told.

At first, the skeptic in him resisted. But when the recruiter revealed that the military was actually funding an ESP-type program, he thought, "There's got to be something to it. At that point, I had to know what there was to it."

For seven years, Smith took part in a congressionally-funded program focused on training officers in "remote viewing," or a paranormal skill that supposedly allows a person to see a target despite the restrictions of space or time.

And though the program was shut down in the mid-1990s after 20 years, stories of it and other allegedly paranormal military activities are at the heart of the new George Clooney movie "The Men Who Stare at Goats," and the Jon Ronson book upon which it was based.

In the movie, the paranormal is played up to the extreme. Soldiers attempt to become invisible, walk through walls and even kill a goat just by staring at it.

Smith and others familiar with the actual events upon which the movie and book are based say they only loosely reflect reality. But they also say that in ways both formal and informal, the military did dabble in the paranormal. And, they claim, they had some success.

Remote Viewers Explored Russian Targets

"Remote viewing was a legitimate program funded by Congress," Smith, now president of the International Remote Viewing Association (IRVA) and his own private training service, told

Started by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1972 and, eventually, moved to the Defense Intelligence Agency, it trained about 25 viewers over 20 years, he said. Smith and others selected for the program were chosen because in addition to the analytical, left-brain skills possessed by most military officers, they were also accomplished in the fine arts, music, language and other "right-brained" activities.

"Remote viewing is more of a right brained facility," he said. "The left hemisphere explains, interprets. It tends to get in the way of the process."

While in the program, Smith said he and his colleagues were frequently tasked with uncovering the purpose of Soviet sites. For example, if the military knew the Russians maintained a large facility on the far side of the Ural Mountains but couldn't get close enough to discern what was happening inside, Smith said he and his colleagues might be brought in.

"They knew what the target was, but couldn't get spies in. We were kind of the last resort," he said. The remote viewer wouldn't see clear pictures, but might describe his impressions in very broad strokes.

If he saw big containers holding a viscous, harmful substance, Smith said it might be determined that the facility houses biological weapons.