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The Talking Issue
A Psychic Spy
From left: SRI researchers Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ, retired police commissioner Pat Price, and CIA contract monitor Christopher Green in 1974 at an airport immediately after testing Price’s remote viewing capabilities from a glider. Photo courtesy of Russell Targ.
Russell Targ is a preternatural brainiac who developed a government-funded psychic espionage program in the 70s. Using a process called remote viewing, he taught hundreds of ESP-inclined individuals to transcend time and space using only their minds so we could find out how the Commies were trying to kill us. It’s based on physical theories like nonlocality and quantum interconnectedness, but those things become as boring as Einstein’s sex life once you’re told that remote viewing allows strangers to fuck on the astral plane. Russell wouldn’t really elaborate on that part, but everything else we asked about was fair game.
Vice: How did you first become interested in parapsychology and psychic endeavors?
Russell Targ: I grew up in New York City in the Village during the late 40s. I was hanging out on 42nd Street, visiting the shooting galleries. In the basement, there was Hubert’s Flea Circus. They had a magician along with hermaphrodites and strongmen and other amazing things. I was drawn to magicians because of my poor vision. As someone who’s legally blind it was often not clear to me what I was actually looking at, so the idea of illusion appealed to me. I got interested in ESP through magic because while performing mind-reading tricks on the stage I often found myself knowing things beyond what the trick is capable of telling you—impressions that allow you to describe what the person’s house looks like, what their rooms look like, and other things.
How did that initial seed blossom into a collaboration with Stanford University and the military?
It happened a bit later in my life. In ’72 a man named Hal Puthoff and I met at Stanford. This was right after my decision to leave the field of laser research after 15 years. I was interested in teaching people how to expand their awareness and become psychic. I even built an ESP-teaching machine. Shortly after, Hal and I created a program for the Stanford Research Institute. I had a meeting with Wernher von Braun, Arthur C. Clarke, and the director of NASA, Jim Fletcher. They helped facilitate the funding for what would turn into a 25-year research program on parapsychology and remote viewing.
The CIA took a particular interest in the program. They even sent some spooks over to train in remote viewing for intelligence purposes. That seems like a pretty legitimizing thing, but today you’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of official funding for something like this. Why is that the case?
We had more scientific acceptance at that time because we had more money. The CIA spent $25 million on us. We had a lot of respectability, but by and large the public didn’t know what was going on. The great psychic Ingo Swann taught a woman named Hella Hammid and I how to do remote viewing. Hella and I taught six people from army intelligence how to do it and from there it just spread. In a way, the army is responsible for teaching the world. Now there are over a million websites about remote viewing. On the flipside, there are fewer people publishing papers about remote viewing, so it has less of a footprint in the scientific world.
What were some of the secrets you helped uncover?
An ex-cop named Pat Price was one of our most gifted viewers. He helped discover a Russian weapons factory where they were manufacturing a particle-beam weapon to shoot down satellites.
Get the fuck out of here.
Another time we looked in on a failed Chinese atomic-bomb test. Ingo Swann was able to predict that the tests would fail three days in advance and that’s exactly what happened. Also, we monitored the health of the American hostages in Iran, and we were able to accurately predict that one of the very sick people would be released immediately. A few days later Vice Consul Richard Queen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and set free. Another discovery was a downed Russian airplane in Africa that had Soviet codes and perhaps an atomic bomb on it. We found it in Africa before the Russians reclaimed it. Jimmy Carter commended us for it. One of the psychics we trained, Joe McMoneagle, described a Soviet submarine under construction that was 500 feet long. The intelligence community thought it was crazy because it was three times bigger than any known submarine. He drew detailed pictures of what it looked like and how it would be launched. It was a typhoon-class submarine and we were the first ones to discover it—half a year before it became operational.
Have your remote travels ever led you to really weird, unearthly places?
I once visited a UFO, which was somewhat frightening. I saw an array of bodies lined up under violet light and things that looked like hair dryers. Nobody was around but it seemed very menacing. I described this to Pat Price, who told me I was in a body-storage area and I was lucky I didn’t get grabbed. There is the possibility that it might have been a hallucination.
Hey, if remote viewing is so accurate, why haven’t you guys figured out where Osama bin Laden is hiding?
Because nobody has asked us. Let’s say Ingo Swann quieted his mind and said, “OK, I see, he’s in northern Pakistan in a cave between two mountains.” What would he do with that information? Nobody would believe him. Unsolicited psychic information is never looked at.
We didn’t have the space to get into how Russell is legally blind yet somehow has a fucking motorcycle license, but you should read about it in his new book, Do You See What I See?: Memoirs of a Blind Biker. It’s out now.