WASHINGTON -- In an effort to boost the nation's security, the Pentagon spent millions of dollars on an intelligence unit at Fort Meade that employed officers claiming psychic powers.
After functioning 17 years under the Defense Intelligence Agency, the program was transferred in July to the CIA, which now wants to kill it.
Under the Fort Meade program, the psychics were secluded on the base and were asked, according to a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to "divine -- or whatever the process is -- where things were, or information of interest."
The psychics at Fort Meade were given specific intelligence tasks, but they usually produced only general answers, according to a CIA-sponsored report on the program. The experiments were part of a $20 million program, conducted mainly at Fort Meade and at two laboratories in California.
Despite criticism that it was scientifically insupportable and had produced no concrete results, the program continued to be financed by Congress.
Of particular interest to federal agencies, ranging from the Defense Department to the Drug Enforcement Agency, were such insights as the locations of U.S. hostages, the whereabouts of Libyan leader Col. Muammar el Kadafi and the routes of drug-smuggling boats in the Caribbean.
In recent years, three intelligence or military officers, all of whom claimed to have developed psychic powers, were attached to the DIA unit at Fort Meade. Earlier in the program, up to seven officers were involved. The technique they used was known as "remote viewing."
Dale Graff, director of the remote viewing program at Fort Meade from 1989 to 1993, said the psychics would be charged with an intelligence task and then either go into seclusion or meet with an interviewer.
"It is pretty much like daydreaming," Mr. Graff said in an interview last night. "It's very relaxing. You let your subconscious surface. Primarily, we relied on people to draw their impressions or write them."
The sessions usually lasted 45 minutes to an hour.
"At the end of the time, they have a compilation of pages and sketches," said Mr. Graff, now retired and living in Prince Frederick. "Some analyst looks at it as to whether there is anything that makes sense."
After more than a decade of experiments, an independent review panel recommended that the program be scrapped. Any further psychic experiments, the panel said, should be conducted by the scientific, not the intelligence, community.
"We didn't render a definitive judgment about psychological phenomenon per se, although we are pretty skeptical," said David A. Goslin, head of the American Institutes For Research, a nonprofit organization in Washington. The AIR assembled the panel to assess the program for the CIA.
The AIR report concluded: "Evidence for the operational value of remote viewing is not available, even after a decade of attempts. Second, it is unlikely that remote viewing -- as currently understood -- even it its existence can be unequivocally demonstrated -- will prove of any use in intelligence gathering."
The psychics at Fort Meade produced only vague answers, said Michael D. Mumford, co-author of the AIR report.
"You would say, 'Tell me where Muammar Kadafi is,' " he said. "They would say: 'I see sand. I see water. I see a mosque.' How do you use that information? When you get to real intelligence issues, they absolutely have to have hard, concrete, specific, verifiable information.
"We really can't find any documented cases of effective use being made of the information."
One of the psychics at Fort Meade, Joe McMoneagle, took issue with the report. Mr. McMoneagle was recruited to the unit in 1978 when he was a chief warrant officer with Army intelligence.
Mr. McMoneagle said that when he retired in 1984, the U.S. Army awarded him the Legion of Merit "for providing information of critical value unobtainable from any other source on over 200 specific targets," ranging from the whereabouts of Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier, who was kidnapped and later rescued in Italy in 1982, to the location of a plane downed overseas.
"For someone to say there is no utility in it is a foolish statement, otherwise I would not have gotten the award," he said. "I am very consistent, very reliable. I have been at this over 17 years. This is a very valuable tool."
Of his work at Fort Meade he said: "It was like going to work in a normal office. We came in at 7:30 and got off at 5:30." During that time, the psychics might be given up to two tasks.
"Say they were looking for a downed aircraft," said Mr. McMoneagle. "They would go to the person sitting at the desk. They would say, 'We have in this envelope a description of something we are looking for. Tell us where it is.'
"When I did my remote viewing, I tried to get myself somewhat centered from a meditation standpoint, then allow information to flow into my mind in reference to whatever the particular target was."
In a 1987 report for the Army Research Institute on how to enhance military performance, the National Research Council rejected the use of parapsychological phenomena as "scientifically unsupported."
Retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. of the Air Force, the DIA director until August, said yesterday that he and his three predecessors had all tried to kill the program.
"It just didn't feel appropriate for DIA to be doing anything like that," he said. "It was just too far out at the leading edge of technology to maintain very well as an ongoing intelligence activity. But we got directions [from Congress] every year in our appropriation and specific language to sustain the operation."
Lt. Col. Stephanie Hoehne, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said all the records of the DIA research program had been transferred to the CIA. At the CIA, a spokesman, Dave Christian, said the agency would recommend ending the research.
The critical AIR report on the program reflected the views of two experts on psychic phenomena, one a skeptic, the other a believer.
The skeptic is Ray Hyman, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene and a former magician who co-wrote the AIR report. He has been studying psychic phenomena for 25 years.
The believer is Jessica Utts, a statistician at the University of California at Davis, who bases her convictions on psychic phenomena that she says occur more frequently than should happen by accident or chance.
They agreed that while there was "no compelling explanation" for some of the results of the military experiments, the tests did not provide compelling evidence for the existence of remote viewing as a psychic phenomenon.
Mr. Hyman said yesterday that some of the results from the psychic experiments were "better than chance," but he said he remained doubtful about the program because the tests were done in secret with no strict scientific methodology.
Ms. Utts, in an interview yesterday, said: "Some of the evidence from single trials is very convincing." She cited an experiment in which a remote viewer at a lab in Menlo Park, Calif., drew the exact surroundings through which a psychic sender was driving in the Altamont Pass, miles away.
"He actually drew a picture of rolling hills with a whole bunch of windmills," she said, noting that the pass is the site of a mass of wind generators. She said the person could accurately depict remote scenes about 50 percent of the time -- at least double the frequency of success likely to be achieved by simply guessing.