Tuesday, May 26, 2020

More History of 'Pentagon Woo' from Annie Jacobsen - Part 2

Continuing the Discussion of Annie Jacobsen's 2017 book Phenomena
Continued from Part 1

  • "The potential of prophecy as a military intelligence tool was also being investigated by the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Sun Streak banner," Project P (p. 336)! It was "a utility assessment initiated to determine a remote viewer's ability to function effectively in a purely predictive mode."
  • Another innovative project undertaken by Sun Streak was "Written Remote Viewing" (WRV, p. 340). Some remote viewers objected that this amounted to "channeling," which of course it did. But I don't see how you can maintain that spoken descriptions constitute valid "Remote Viewing," while written descriptions are bogus and mystical.
  • Project "Sun Streak" was later changed to "Star Gate," which would "identify people with 'talent'... The concept of Extraordinary Human Functioning developed by Albert Stubblebine and John Alexander in the early 1980s would be reintroduced" (p. 362).
  •  "In 2014, the Office of Naval Research embarked on a four-year, $3.85 million research program to explore the phenomenon it calls premonition and intuition, or 'Spidey sense,' for sailors and Marines... The Pentagon's focus is to maximize the power of the sixth sense for operational use" (p. 380). This description was published in 2017; did this program attain its goals by 2018? Was it extended, and still ongoing?
    A scene from the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats (to test using  'psychic powers' to harm enemy soldiers). This actually was done. Jacobsen mentions this only in an endnote, calling the book "satirical" (it was indeed funny, but also factual). She notes that the book and the movie "enhanced negative perception of remote viewing" ("deservedly," I would add).

  • "Starting in 2011, as part of a research program called Power Dreaming, soldiers plagued by PTSD-related nightmares have used biofeedback techniques similar to those studied by Colonel John Alexander in the Intelligence and Security Command's Beyond Excellence program, under Geneeral Stubblebine" (p. 382)
  • "The Pentagon currently [2017] supports more than fifty qigong-based programs for soldiers and veterans, the majority of whom suffer from PTSD" (p. 383). "Qigong" is based on "chi," an ancient Chinese belief in mystical energies that has no basis in science. I would think that soldiers and veterans deserve treatments based on solid medical science, not ancient quackery.
  • "Since 1985, Hal Puthoff has been chief scientist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin, in Texas... The Institute's Research arm, Earth Tech International, manages thirty-two subcontracts, mostly military and intelligence related" (p. 388). One of the researchers at Earth Tech is astrophysicist Dr. Eric Davis, who formerly worked for Bigelow's NIDS, and stayed at the Skinwalker Ranch trying to study its supposed paranormal phenomena. Davis told reporter George Knapp that one time a poltergeist followed him home from Skinwalker Ranch! (I hate it when that happens.) Davis also also the author of five of the 38 papers on Weird Science paid for by AAWSAP, on subjects like "wormholes" and "anti-gravity."
  • "Sources at the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed to me that Earth Tech International has for years maintained a Defense Department contract to investigate what are known as 'excess energy' claims" (p. 389). "Excess energy" is a euphemism for "energy from nothing," or "a perpetual motion machine." Puthoff says that the Defense Department comes to them to "disprove" extraordinary excess energy claims. "So far we have disproven all of them." I'm glad to hear that, but I don't see why the Defense Department needs to spend taxpayer money refuting such claims. But in any case, Puthoff is a big proponent of "zero-point energy," or 'free energy' from the vacuum of space. "To harness zero-point energy could, Puthoff posits, lead to a general theory about ESP and PK phenomena" (p. 390). Fortunately, Jacobsen also took the trouble to consult physicist and CSI fellow Dr. Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known skeptic. Kraus told her (correctly, in my view) that "Zero-point energy is the lowest [energy] point in the universe. If you could extract energy out of it, there would have to be a lower point. There isn't a lower step on the staircase."  
  • The supposed "Atacama humanoid," which was identified by Dr. Nolan.
  • "Dr. Green teamed up with Nolan lab at Stanford University, run by Gary Nolan, one of the world's leading research scientists specializing in genetics, immunology, and bioinformatics" (p. 398). Gary Nolan was a member of To The Stars Academy's Advisory Board when it was founded in 2017. However, Dr. Nolan resigned in October of 2018, citing "conflicts" with his other work agreements. However, he added that he still is "fully supportive" of TTSA and its goals. Nolan also was responsible for the genetic analysis of the so-called Atacama humanoid, which was being promoted by Steven Greer as a likely ET. Nolan reported that, alas, this specimen, while deformed, was nonetheless a female human fetus
Jacobsen trveled to Detroit to do an in-depth interview of Dr. Kit Green. Much of this interview has been excerpted on her Blog by by Pauline Wilson. Those who are concerned about possible 'unauthorized secret medical experiments' at the Skinwalker Ranch need to read this interview. Green tells us exactly what he is studying:
Using the technology available to him. Green orders brain scans, specialized blood, DNA and endocrine test and compiles the results. At present he has more than one hundred active patients. His original hypothesis was that a majority of his patients had "been exposed to technology from black programs," he says, that is, advanced state-of-the-art, high-energy technologies developed in Special Access Programs. "Nonlethal weapons programs. Holograms. Cloaking devices. Drones. Twenty five percent of my patients die within five to seven years of my diagnosis, and I have no idea of how any programs I knew about years ago can do these things," Green says....In effect, Kit Green and Gary Nolan are searching for a gene for paranormality. Or, as Green prefers to say, "The genomics of supernormality" (p. 400).
"Supernormality," as in Uri Geller or Ingo Swann - what combination of genes supposedly convey psychic super powers?.

Clearly, Annie Jacobsen is a "believer" that there was value in the government investigations of PSI functions. She hints that a better-managed program might turn up something of real value. She mentions a few skeptics, always in an unfavorable light, especially James Randi and Martin Gardner. She depicts Randi as a rather closed-minded, spiteful person who has an obsession with Geller. I have known Randi for over forty years, and I can assure you that this is not true. Like many magicians, Randi was appalled to see the media attention - and even credulous scientific attention - given to Geller, who was obviously performing the same spoon-bending and other tricks that are the magician's staple. Jacobsen tells how she visited Geller in Israel, where he is  a big celebrity recognized everywhere, and asked to bend a spoon, which he usually does. She shows no skepticism about Geller's magic powers.

At the CSICOP Conference in Buffalo, NY, 1983: Standing, Philip J. Klass. Seated: Pip Smith and Dick Smith
of Australia; the author; John Merrell; Randi. Note that Randi's fork has mysteriously bent!

Here we see the big problem with the book - Jacobsen falls for Geller's spoon-bending tricks, and thus considers Puthoff, Green, etc. to be scientists on the verge of making great discoveries. Sorry, but I have seen too much of the 'other side' to find that convincing. I used to hang out a lot with the late Bob Steiner, magician and CSICOP Fellow. Steiner used to love to do impromptu magic tricks practically everywhere he went, and the old spoon-bending trick was one of his favorites (as it was with Randi, also a close friend of Steiner). I should perhaps note that time spent with Randi and Steiner was pretty much nonstop jokes and fun. Truly fine times!

Uri Geller did a show in San Francisco in 1984. The Bay Area Skeptics went out in force to observe, and take notes. We clearly saw him cheating. I have just now placed BAS' full analysis of Geller's performance on-line.
Steiner always used to say that there were plenty of ways to bend spoons, so he was reluctant to show people any one method. They might say, "But Geller didn't do it that way, so his powers must be real!" Nope.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Not-So-Brief History of Pentagon Woo, With a Familiar Cast of Characters

Nearly all of the discussion about UFOology these past two and a half years has centered around Tom DeLonge and his "To The Stars Academy" (TTSA), The Pentagon's supposed UFO program AAWSAP/AATIP, with the supposedly "haunted" Skinwalker Ranch a distant second, but gaining fast. I have just finished reading Phenomena, a book about government funding of ESP, Remote Viewing, Psychokinesis, and other such miracles by Annie Jacobsen that was published in March 2017, just months before TTSA burst on the scene. And I found the book surprising for two reasons:
(Little, Brown & Company, 2017)

First, I knew that the Pentagon had funded research into ESP and Remote Viewing, but I had no idea that it was so vast in scope, and so long in duration. "For seven decades, the CIA and the Department of Defense have been actively conducting research on anomalous mental phenomena" (p. 377).

Second, we find many of the same people involved in Pentagon woo (a term used by skeptics to designate far-out woo-woo stuff - "woo" is a noun, "woo woo" is an adjective) that we now find prominently figuring in TTSA and Skinwalker Ranch. The same cast of characters, in a different comedy.

I realize that Annie Jacobsen has some credibility problems that continue to  pursue her. The "explanation" she published for the supposed Roswell UFO Crash - that it was a disinformation project involving Stalin and the evil Dr. Mengele - is simply Cukoo for Cocoa Puffs. And in 2004 she created quite a scare by claiming that a group of Syrian musicians on a cross-country flight were actually terrorists making a dry run at assembling a bomb on-board. The men were investigated by the FBI upon landing, and it was confirmed that they were in fact booked to perform as backup musicians for singer Nour Mehana at the Sycuan Casino Resort near San Diego two days after arriving in Los Angeles. "The passenger, later identified as Annie Jacobsen, was in danger of panicking other passengers and creating a larger problem on the plane, according to a source close to the secretive federal protective service."

However, Phenomena appears to be solidly sourced, most of it based on interviews with the persons directly involved, or on government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. Those pursuing FOIA documents in UFOlogy might want to carefully check out what she has obtained; useful tidbits of information are bound to be found in them. I did spot a few things that look like mistakes in the book, but they are minor ones (like calling Harry Blackstone Sr. "Henry Blackmore, Jr." (p. 93.) Page numbers refer to the Bay Back paperback edition of the book. (Emphasis has been added to a few statements).

Here are some of the interesting things Ms. Jacobsen tells us:
  • The celebrated Dr. J. B. Rhine of Duke University (1895-1980), well-known as a pioneer of the study of parapsychology, "was working on numerous classified ESP research programs with the Deaprtment of Defense... Declassified documents reveal that in 1952 the Army initiated a secret program with Rhine's Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory involving ESP and animals. Army commanders wondered, "Could dogs locate land mines buried underwater, under conditions that gave no normal sensory clues?" " After some initial reported success, apparently they could not. (p. 42-43).
  • Dr. Andrija Puharich (1918-1995) is best known as the man who "discovered" Uri Geller and brought him to the US for study. "Classified documents indicate that [Puharich] worked on a  research program described as an effort "to locate a drug that might enhance ESP" " (p. 44-45). Puharich apparently is credited with being the first to actually identify the hallucinogenic "sacred mushroom" used by certain sects in Mexico, having made several field trips to investigate, some with the "psychic" Peter Hurkos (p. 48-49).He was described as "The once-brilliant medical doctor and research pioneer whose Puharich Theory had set the CIA and the Defense Department's psychic research programs in motion in the early 1950s." Puharich's Theory was that "extraterrestrials were trying to send messages to humans through psychic people, and that extremely low frequency, or ELF, waves were responsible for the sicknesses of the age" (p. 372).
  • The CIA was very interested in the alleged super-powers of "psychic" Uri Geller. However, for various reasons the CIA didn't trust Puharich enough, and so "[Dr. Kit] Green would soon become Uri Geller's handler" (p. 99). Kit Green has played a major role in matters concerning AAWSAP, Robert Bigelow's NIDS, Skinwalker Ranch, as well as the SERPO Hoax. "The decision to test Geller was a decision made by CIA director Richard Helms," said Green (p. 99). In 1975 when Geller was tested at the Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, "Kit Green served as the contract monitor for the CIA" (P. 178).
  • The well-known tests of Uri Geller's supposed powers by Dr. Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ at SRI in the 1970s were, in fact, paid for by the CIA. Puthoff is, of course, now a major player in TTSA and AAWSAP, as well as also being involved in the SERPO hoax. "Green supported Puthoff and Targ in their conclusion as physicists, in what the CIA called in memos the Swann-Geller effect" (referring to Ingo Swann, another alleged psychic and Remote Viewer, p. 148).
  • Because the CIA considered Puharich to be "unsavory,"  a "shell entity needed to be created through which Geller-related funds could flow and Puharich could be paid - ideally an organizarion or a person of solid repute. Puharich knew exactly the right person. His name was Edgar Mitchell, the astronaut and Apollo 14 crew member," the sixth person to walk on the moon (p. 99). Mitchell (1930-2016) famously attempted an ESP test from space, scoring at chance level (p. 116).
Ray Hyman does a card trick for
CSICOP, 1983.
  • "An ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency] project manager named George Lawrence, accompanied by two civilian psychologists, Robert Van Castle and Ray Hyman, traveled to SRI to test Geller on their own. Their conclusion, later reported in Time magazine [March 12, 1973], was that anyone who believed Geller's powers was falling for the "ridiculous." " (p. 145). Ray Hyman is a founding member of CSICOP (now CSI), a psychologist, magician, and a longtime critic of parapsychology. 
  • "One day in late April 1973, [Ingo] Swann was eating lunch in the SRI cafeteria with a colleague of Puthoff's, a computer scientist and astronomer named Jacques Vallee" (p. 152). Of course, Vallee is and has been one of the best-known names in all UFOology, for more than fifty years. Vallee suggested to Swann that remote viewers needed "an addressing scheme," similar to network addresses. Thus the idea of coordinate-based remote viewing began. Jacobsen wrongly states that Vallee worked with Dr. J. Allen Hynek on the Air Force's Project Blue Book. While Vallee and Hynek were close friends and colleagues, Vallee was not involved with Blue Book. 
  • Ms. Jacobsen notes that in 1973, Geller had "recently been unable to demonstrate psychokinesis on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show" (p. 174). But she does not inform us why that happened. It was because Carson, himself a onetime magician, enlisted his friend James "The Amazing" Randi, to supervise controls in the studio, to prevent Geller from cheating. As described in this account of "10 Epic Magic Trick Failures, "when Geller was due to perform on the Tonight Show in 1973, Johnny Carson asked Randi to help make sure that Geller couldn't use misdirection in his act. Randi kept all of Geller's people away from the set before the performance, and without their help, Geller's act was a flop. During his segment, you can see Geller hedging as his tricks go awry on live television. He left humiliated."
  • Joe McMoneagle worked with Puthoff and Targ on Remote Viewing. He was sent to SRI for training, then he was sent to Ft. Meade, Maryland to do experiments for Army Intelligence. He was reportedly successful, and he was designated "Remote Viewer 001" (p. 232). Nowadays, McMoneagle is mixed up in a lot of far-out stuff, as described in the book "Remote Viewing UFOs." It tells "Joe McMoneagle and Ingo Swann’s views on Remote Viewing Extraterrestrials." There is also a chapter on "The Carlos Diaz Photos." I know who Carlos Diaz is. He is one of the biggest phonies I have ever met, and to call him the "George Adamski of Mexico" would be pretty accurate. The ETs are his friends.
    John B. Alexander (left), with UFOlogist Lee
    Speigel at the 2014 National UFO Congress.

  • Major Ed Dames was also a Remote Viewer for Army Intelligence. Dames loved to talk about "space aliens and UFOs," according to one of his Army colleagues (p. 301). "Dames began sending viewers to what would become known as anomaly or chimera targets... places like 'alien bases' beneath the desert in Phoenix or on Mars" (p. 328). Dames also asked his remote viewers to search for Atlantis, and the Ark of the Covenant (p. 338), and he believed that "a group of extraterrestrials called the Supreme Galactic Council of Aliens was working to control Earth." In recent years Dames has appeared on late night Coast to Coast radio, offering training seminars for remote viewing, and warning about a solar "Killshot" that would "end life as we know it on earth in the near future." But if you learn remote viewing, somehow you can avoid the disaster.
Here is an email ad I received in 2013 from Ed Dames, warning about a solar "Killshot" threatening earth.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

New: Panel Discussion/Debate - Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Sheaffer, and Ivan Stang (1991).

I have recently posted to YouTube a panel discussion/debate I did with the late Robert Anton Wilson, well-known science fiction author and longtime gadfly to the skeptics; and Ivan Stang, founder of the satiric religion, the Church of the Subgenius, whose deity Bob promises to give you "slack." (Wilson was fondly known as "Pope Bob" in that Church.)  This panel took place at Phenomicon, Atlanta, Georgia, in November, 1991. 

Stang, Wilson, Sheaffer

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) was the author of many popular books, including The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Schr├Âdinger's Cat Trilogy, and Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. He also wrote plays: Wilhelm Reich in Hell (Wilson believed Reich to be a victim of Inquisitorial zeal by the Establishment), and his plays Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus were adapted from his books. Wilson served as an associate editor of Playboy Magazine from 1965 to 1971, where he edited the Playboy Forum letters section. He was friends with Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Alan Watts, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

While Wilson often wrote about conspiracies and conspiracy theories, he was not exactly a believer in them. He used them as examples of different ways of thinking, different "reality tunnels," and he obviously appreciated them for their humorous angles. But neither was he a complete disbeliever in such conspiracies, either. He claimed to be a "skeptic," but for him this meant being as skeptical of science as of pseudoscience. A believer in many far-out things, he wrote a book proclaiming the skeptics' group CSICOP to be a "New Inquisition" (which I reviewed in the Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989). He referred to skepticism as "Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science."  Wilson's hatred of James "The Amazing" Randi ran deep and profound, even though I'm pretty sure they never met.

I had been pretty much the only skeptic to engage Wilson and his rather absurd criticisms, which were nonetheless widely read and cited by his supporters. My review of Wilson's attack on CSICOP, The New Inquisition, will provide some background on our disputes. Wilson proclaims himself to be a "guerrila ontologist," and on the panel we discuss what that means, and whether or not that makes him a "terrorist"? ­čśĆ  From my review:
Should you catch Wilson in an embarrassing howler, he just laughs at you, hinting that the part you object to was not supposed to be taken seriously. Apparently Wilson operates on the principle that all claims should be treated as equals, whether prosaic or bizarre, and that only the dogmatic discriminate against something merely because it makes no sense. If you doubt literal rains of frogs, or sightings of a centaur, it is only because you are blinded by the conventions of your "reality tunnel." Tune in, turn on, and believe all manner of things; you might even see a "man with warty green skin and pointy ears, dancing," as Wilson did on the day following one of his "trips" on peyote.

Wilson had something of a rockstar quality to his followers. Stang has posted a related video of Wilson preaching about "Bob" at this same conference, which shows the atmosphere, and the adulation Willson inspired in certain cirtcles. Search YouTube, and you will find a great deal of Robert Anton Wilson there.

Since none of the other skeptics bothered to engage Wilson or his criticisms, I naturally became the target of his accusations of closed-mindedness. In Cosmic Trigger II (1991), Wilson wrote,
A man from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal [meaning me] recently complained that when he tells people some things in my book are batshit crazy, they tell him he lacks a sense of humor. I fear somebody in the CIA is also going to have that problem, because the CIA reality-tunnel is as rigid and paranoid as that of CSICOP (p. 234).
Wilson often used the example of the CIA as the pinnacle of establishment closed-mindedness. But the irony here is, we now know that the CIA, and other Defense Department agencies, secretly experimented with ESP and Remote Viewing in a big way. The CIA funded the testing of Uri Geller at SRI, with Kit Green, now prominent in UFOlogy because of his involvement with Bigelow, AATIP, and the Skinwalker Ranch, as the CIA's "handler" for the Geller contract (see Phenomena by Annie Jacobsen for an in-depth account from now-declassified documents of how the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSA dived into such woo).

And this one, too. I think he wanted me
to denounce it!

Wilson sent me his latest book, in 1990.

Remember this nonsense? Ivan Stang invented it.