Was fugitive drug smuggler Charlie Jordan nabbed after a CIA “remote viewer” helped pinpoint his location in northern Wyoming? Does this supposedly successful use of psychic phenomena (or “psi”) by the intelligence agency’s then-secret Stargate program indeed represent “one of their more memorable cases” (Morris 1998)?
For an episode of the television series Mysteries (which subsequently aired in England November 23, 1998), I was asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to examine and comment on claims made about the case. Not surprisingly, I found much more information than my brief on-air comments allowed me to relate, and I have since learned even more about the matter.
The story of the Jordan case-which involved the psychic-spy program in 1989-actually has its roots in cold-war-era paranoia. In 1970 the book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain touted the Soviet Union’s allegedly “significant breakthroughs in psychic research”-a field, the authors noted, that was “usually ignored by Western science” (Ostrander and Schroeder 1971, xix). In 1972, U.S. analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issued a report warning that Soviet “psi research” might eventually permit the adversaries to learn the contents of secret documents, divine the movements of troops and ships, discern the location and purpose of installations, even “mould the thoughts” of American leaders or-presumably through the reputed powers of psychokinesis (mind over matter)- possibly to “cause the instant death of any US official at a distance” or remotely disable “US military equipment of all types, including spacecraft” (Lamothe 1972).
Late in 1972 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided an initial study grant of $50,000 to a California think-tank called Stanford Research Institute (SRI). SRI was to determine whether there was any validity to a form of alleged extrasensory perception (ESP) termed “remote viewing.” When the program failed to show promise, despite an annual budget expanded to between one-half and one million dollars, the CIA abandoned it in the late 1970s. However the DIA soon took charge of the program, operating it as a secret project code-named Stargate until it was finally suspended in 1995 and declassified.
Stargate had three components: one attempted to track other countries’ psychic warfare projects; another provided six (later only three) “remote viewers” to any government agency desiring to use them; and the third continued the laboratory research initiated at SRI (and subsequently transferred to another think-tank at Palo Alto, California, called Science Applications International Corporation) (Schnabel 1997; Hyman 1996). The term remote viewing was coined by Harold Puthoff who, with his colleague Russell Targ, ran the psi project at SRI. The alleged ability to see distantly using psi is known as clairvoyance (“clear seeing”). But that term seemed dated and loaded with undesirable connotations, evoking gypsy fortunetellers, spiritualist mediums, and flaky visionaries. Instead, Targ and Puthoff experimented with more modernesque, technological-sounding terms, until Puthoff’s “remote viewing” caught on. (Targ has suggested “remote sensing” would be more accurate because other senses than sight may supposedly be involved.) (Guiley 1991; Schnabel 1997, 141-156) Remote viewing (RV) is actually a more specific term than clairvoyance, describing a particular type of alleged psychic sensing called “traveling clairvoyance” or, alternately, “telesthesia.” As distinguished from some other types of clairvoyance such as retrocognitive and precognitive perception (alleged past and future sensing, respectively), remote viewing describes “seeing remote or hidden objects clairvoyantly with the inner eye, or in alleged out-of-body travel.” Said to be “one of the oldest and most common forms of psi,” it is also “one of the most difficult to explain” (Guiley 1991).
The best of the secret remote-viewing experiments involved a group of three “gifted” viewers, all of whom were involved in each experiment. Typically, The remote viewer would be isolated with an experimenter in a secure location. At another location, a sender would look at a target that had been randomly chosen from a pool of targets. The targets were usually pictures taken from the National Geographic. During the sending period the viewer would describe and draw whatever impressions came to mind. After the session, the viewer’s description and a set of five pictures (one of them being the actual target picture) would be given to a judge. The judge would then decide which picture was closest to the viewer’s description. If the actual target was judged closest to the description, this was scored as a “hit” [Hyman 1996].
With this procedure, one hit could be expected by chance in 20 percent of the attempts. A consistently higher score was considered evidence of psychic ability.
After the experiments were suspended in 1995, the CIA commissioned the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to evaluate the twenty-year results. To assess the laboratory component of the remote-viewing research, AIR hired psi-believer Jessica Utts, professor of statistics at the University of California at Davis, and skeptic Ray Hyman, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a CSICOP Fellow. The two worked independently and produced separate reports.
Both Utts and Hyman agreed that a group of the ten best experiments did produce “hit” rates that were consistently above chance. However they also agreed that the studies were flawed in that they involved a single judge, who was also the main investigator, and that it needed to be demonstrated that significant scores would still be obtained when independent judges were employed.
Nevertheless, Utts concluded that-taken with other parapsychological experiments-the results were indeed evidence of psychic functioning, while Hyman (1996) observed that “The history of parapsychology is replete with ‘successful’ experiments that subsequently could not be replicated.” Pointing out that remote viewing and other alleged forms of ESP were defined negatively-that is, as an effect remaining after other normal explanations had supposedly been eliminated-Hyman noted that a mere glitch in the experimental data could thus be counted as evidence for psychic phenomena. “What is needed, of course,” he says, “is a positive theory of psychic functioning that enables us to tell when psi is present and when it is absent.” He adds, “As far as I can tell, every other discipline that claims to be a science deals with phenomena whose presence or absence can clearly be decided.”
Other evaluators-two psychologists from AIR-assessed the potential intelligence-gathering usefulness of remote viewing. They concluded that the alleged psychic technique was of dubious value and lacked the concreteness and reliability necessary for it to be used as a basis for making decisions or taking action. The final report found “reason to suspect” that in “some well publicised cases of dramatic hits” the remote viewers might have had “substantially more background information” than might otherwise be apparent (Mumford et al 1995).
Seeking a Fugitive
Such criticisms are clearly raised by the Charlie Jordan case. Charles Frank Jordan had been an agent for the U.S. Customs section of the Drug Enforcement Agency in south Florida. Once a trusted employee who had helped fight drug smuggling in the southern coastal areas of the state and in the Florida Keys, Jordan became a “Customs rotten apple.” He was found to be “taking bribes to let other people bring drugs in” (Green 1998). When he learned he was suspected, he fled, evading an intensive search for two years, during which he was even featured on the television series America’s Most Wanted (Graff 2000).
In spring 1989, the Customs Service sought the help of the DIA’s remote-viewing unit. The psychics “saw” the fugitive in a variety of locales, including south Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. One, however, supposedly “narrowed down his location” to an area of northern Wyoming. Although the alleged “information” was never acted on, Jordan was captured some weeks later at a place that allegedly tallied with the envisioned Wyoming site (Graff 1998; Schnabel 1997).
Some sources do not give the psychic’s name, but she was in fact Angela Dellafiora, a former civilian analyst for the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) in Latin America. Seemingly dissatisfied with that work, she had been increasingly drawn to the mystical and joined the remote-viewing unit in early 1986. Although she had tried the psychic sensing technique employed by the others in the unit, Dellafiora soon found she obtained better results by relying on alleged spirit communication. She would lapse into a “trance,” whereupon one of her entities-known as “George,” “Dr. Einstein,” and, most often, “Maurice”-would possess her body and manipulate her writing hand to produce responses to questions her monitor posed to the entity.
So Dellafiora was not actually practicing remote viewing as it is usually understood. Although her automatic writing technique came to be called “written RV,” Jim Schnabel correctly observes (1997, 342), “it was essentially a form of spirit mediumship-in modern parlance, ‘channeling.’” The males in the program were unhappy with the involvement of “spirit guides” (Morehouse 1996, 128), referring disparagingly to Dellafiora’s spirit entities as “the boys” or even “The Three Stooges.” They saw the unit regressing from “high-tech wizardry back to archaic and vaguely feminist witchery” (Schnabel 1997, 343-344). To skeptics, their attitude may seem a case of the pots calling the caldron black.
Some thought Dellafiora had “achieved an undue influence on the unit when she began to give personal channeling sessions” to some of the DIA officials, “featuring advice on the most intimate matters of their lives” (Schnabel 1997). One of the psychic viewers groused, “They were told all the nice things they wanted to hear, which reinforced Angela’s position within the unit” (Riley 1995).
More to the point, most of the other remote viewers reportedly thought Dellafiora “was prone to wild errors.” For example, in the case of Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, who was kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in 1988, Dellafiora envisioned him alive, believed he was held in an underground location, and reported he was soon to be released. In fact he had probably been kept in a Lebanese house, and before long his tortured corpse was recovered.
Moreover, even when Dellafiora’s channeling seemed successful, her remote- viewing colleagues suggested that sometimes the results were not entirely due to paranormal ability. They felt she “was too often inadvertently coached towards targets by her customers’ questions and answers” (Schnabel 1997, 345). By asking for and obtaining feedback, which enabled her to correct course, she was naturally able to more accurately describe a given target. “Seeing” Charlie Jordan Such criticisms have serious implications to the Charlie Jordan matter. Accounts of Angela Dellafiora’s touted success in that case typically fail to mention such problems and, indeed, offer conflicting claims about what really happened. Most versions seem to stem from Dale E. Graff, the originator and former project director of Stargate and author of Tracks in the Psychic Wilderness. Obviously referring to the Jordan case, Graff writes (1998, 14): We were asked to locate a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employee who was a fugitive wanted for drug-smuggling cooperation. One of the Stargate remote viewers narrowed down his location to northern Wyoming near a campground. Although our data was not acted upon, the fugitive was captured a few weeks later at a campground in northern Wyoming. This data was totally contrary to the DEA expectations. They believed he was hiding somewhere in the Caribbean region.
Later, Graff (2000, 106) wrote that the psychic (Dellafiora) had said of Jordan, “He is in Wyoming, near a place that sounds like Lowell. There is an Indian burial place nearby.” Note that in this version she did not state northern Wyoming. There is in fact no Lowell in that entire state, but when a town named Lovell was found on a map, Dellafiora was then “sure that he was somewhere in the Northwest part of Wyoming, even if not exactly in Lovell.” (Other accounts say that the psychic reported “Low, Wyoming” [Topping 1999] or “Low, Low, Lowell? Lowell. Lowell, Wyoming. It’s Wyoming” [Mysteries 1998].)
Citing several Stargate sources, including Graff, Jim Schnabel states that Dellafiora located the fugitive “in northern Wyoming, near the town of Lovell and also not far from an old Indian burial ground.” Because of “conflicting information” from the other psychics in the unit, the Customs Service ignored all of the pronouncements, but later “Jordan was spotted by a ranger at Yellowstone National Park-a few dozen miles from Lovell, Wyoming-and was arrested. Under interrogation, Jordan admitted to having been near Lovell around the time Angela had psychically placed him there” (Schnabel 1997, 342-343).
Still another source, the Washington Post, reports “Jordan was found in Pinedale, Wyo., not far from Yellowstone National Park-in a campground near an Indian burial site” (Anderson and Moller 1996). Note that the Indian burying ground motif has been transposed from near Lovell (actually the nonexistent Lowell)-where Jordan supposedly was when psychically spotted-to Pinedale, where he was captured. (Pinedale is nearly 100 aerial miles south of Yellowstone or about 135 driving miles.)
One source cites an unnamed “former customs official” as confirming that “The work of the psychic was ‘instrumental’ in Jordan’s capture” (Anderson and Moller 1996). This claim is belied by Stargate project manager Dale Graff’s previously quoted statement (1998, 14) that “our data was not acted on” and by investigative writer Schnabel’s report (1997, 342) that “The Customs Service decided to ignore” the wealth of “conflicting information” provided by the remote viewers.
The unnamed retired customs officer was almost certainly Bill Green, who at the time of the Jordan manhunt was Assistant Commissioner of Internal Affairs for the Customs Service. He did tell the BBC, “I made sure that the police in Wyoming were made aware of the possibility that Charlie could be in their state” (Green 1998). However, some time before Jordan’s capture, the police had independently spotted his vehicle outside of Denver, Colorado (from where Interstate 25 would lead to the highway, alternate U.S. 14, that runs through Lovell, Wyoming). In short, authorities may already have been alerted to Wyoming as a possible area to search for the fugitive.
Yet another permutation of the proliferating tale was summed up by the narrator for the BBC Mysteries program. Although based on interviews with the principals-notably Stargate Project Manager Dale Graff and former Customs officer Bill Green-this version is incorrect in every detail: “The arrest was made in northwest Wyoming [in fact Pinedale is in southwest Wyoming, although just outside the northwest quadrant], a hundred miles from Lovell [actually 300 driving miles from there, or about 160 miles as the crow flies], next to an Indian burial ground [though not according to Graff’s account in his River Dreams, as we have seen].”
Obviously the details of the case are now badly garbled, and it is difficult to say what, if anything, Angela Dellafiora should be given credit for. One skeptic who appeared on the BBC program with me, psychologist Chris French, commented: “If we accept this case at face value, then it might actually appear very impressive; but, as a scientist, I never accept these kinds of cases at face value. The kind of questions we would need to look at further would be how much information did she have access to, bearing in mind that this particular case had been featured on the TV program in America, America’s Most Wanted” (Mysteries 1998).
In fact it now becomes apparent that there is no real way to know-no official, detailed record to specify-just what information was supplied to the various remote viewers, including Dellafiora, or precisely what “psychic” information or predictions they provided, let alone dependable information about the alleged “hits” (e.g., the Indian burial site). Referring to archived records in the matter-which have never been published or cited as documentation-Graff concedes that “some of the pieces are not in the files.” He does add, rather lamely, that “I have some in my journals so it’s not totally relying on memory” (Mysteries 2000).
It would be nice to know, for instance, whether Dellafiora made other-perhaps completely inaccurate-pronouncements in the Charlie Jordan case that have since been conveniently forgotten. Alleged psychic sleuths typically depend for their apparent successes on a technique called retrofitting. This involves giving out several vague “clues,” then-when the case is solved, usually through conventional police work-the reputed clairvoyant hopes to gain credit through after-the-fact matching. Errors are ignored or rationalized away and dubious pronouncements are interpreted as necessary to make “hits.” For example “water” can be interpreted as indicating a nearby creek, river, or other body of water; a place name, such as Riverside Drive or Lakeshore boulevard; a structure such as a water tower or hydroelectric plant; or other possibility (Nickell 1994). Credulous folk may inadvertently help the mystic through selective remembering, creative interpretation, exaggeration, and other processes.
Not only may one pick and choose among the pronouncements of a single psychic, but a similar selection process may be applied to the psychics themselves. In the Jordan case several remote viewers were utilized in eighteen sessions logged in 1989 in the attempt to locate Jordan (Anderson and Moller 1996). All of these were apparently worse than useless, except for the alleged offerings of Dellafiora. As psychic investigator Milbourne Christopher wryly commented in his ESP, Seers & Psychics (1970, 81), “Fire enough shots, riflemen agree, and eventually you’ll hit the bull’s-eye.”
In summary, the Charlie Jordan case, touted as one of the most successful examples of remote viewing in the U.S. government’s psychic-spying project is not convincing evidence of anything-save perhaps folly. Not only was the case actually an example of alleged spirit contact rather than extrasensory perception but it also illustrates the limitations of anecdotal evidence: conflicting versions, selective reporting, and lack of documentation, together with additional manifestations of faulty memory, bias, and other human foibles.
The evaluators of remote-viewing’s intelligence-gathering usefulness concluded that the technique “has not been shown to have value in intelligence operations.” They found that the information provided was vague, inconsistent (from viewing to viewing), and often irrelevant or outright erroneous. As mentioned earlier, they also stated that in some cases of touted hits the remote viewers might have had much more background information than was apparent. They determined that “remote viewings have never provided an adequate basis for ‘actionable’ intelligence operations-that is, information sufficiently valuable or compelling so that action was taken as a result” (Mumford et al. 1995). The Charlie Jordan case would seem to have been no exception.
I am grateful to several people for their help with my research, including Jayne Topping, BBC, and Tim Binga, Director, Center for Inquiry Libraries. I also appreciate the assistance of Christian L. Ambrose, a CSICOP summer intern, for transcribing the Jordan segment of the BBC’s Mysteries, and Ranjit Sandhu for typing the manuscript.
- Anderson, Jack, and Jan Moller. 1996. Military psychic unit’s ‘hits’ and misses, Washington Post, December 30.
- Christopher, Milbourne. 1970. ESP, Seers & Psychics. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co.
- Graff, Dale E. 1998. Tracks in the Psychic Wilderness. Boston: Element, 14.
- —. 2000. River Dreams: The Case of the Missing General and Other Adventures in Psychic Research. Boston: Element.
- Green, Bill. 1998. Retired U.S. Customs official, quoted in Mysteries 1998.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 1991. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 111-113, 468-469, 507-509.
- Hyman, Ray. 1996. Evaluation of the Military’s Twenty-year Program on Psychic Spying, Skeptical Inquirer 20(2) March/April, 21-26.
- Lamothe, John D. 1972. Controlled offensive behavior-USSR (DIA report), quoted in Schnabel 1997, 94-95.
- Morehouse, David. 1996. Psychic Warrior: Inside the CIA’s Stargate Program. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Mumford, Michael D., et al. 1995. An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications. Prepared for the CIA by The American Institutes for Research, September 29.
- Mysteries. 1998. Segment, “The Charlie Jordan Case,” BBC, aired November 23.
- Nickell, Joe, ed. 1994. Psychic Sleuths: ESP and Sensational Cases. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 15-16, 182.
- Ostrander, Sheila, and Lynn Schroeder. 1971. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Bantam.
- Riley, Mel. 1995. Quoted in Schnabel 1995, 13.
- Schnabel, Jim. 1995. Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Psi. Independent on Sunday (London), August 27, 10-11, 13.
- —. 1997. Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America’s Psychic Spies. New York: Dell.
- Topping, Jane. 1999. BBC research notes following phone interviews with Dale Graff and retired customs official Bill Green. Personal communication to Joe Nickell, May 24.