On Wednesday, the Central Intelligence Agency became more open than ever before, releasing over 11 million pages of previously declassified documents.
This trove sheds light on the CIA’s foray into analyzing people reporting paranormal abilities. A declassified document reports that Uri Geller, a popular magician and illusionist, participated in picture drawing experiments at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) for eight days in 1973. The CIA document concludes that Geller “demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.”
What’s surprising here isn’t the knowledge that Geller participated in these experiments, but that the CIA acknowledged that he had actual paranormal capabilities. In 1974, one year after the CIA document was produced, SRI researchers Russel Targ and Harold Puthoff published their findings in Nature, gaining the attention of The New York Times and securing Geller a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
This CIA document delves deeper into what the Nature article hints at. In the journal, the researchers wrote that “experiments in the area of so-called paranormal phenomena can be scientifically conducted” and that “a channel exists” where perceptual information can be transferred. Comparatively, the CIA paper — that sat classified for two decades instead of being sent to a peer review board to be judged — expressly says Geller has paranormal capabilities.
Why was the CIA so convinced? In his eight days of observation, Geller sat through “remote viewing” testing. While Geller sat locked in an acoustically and electrically shielded room, the researchers would randomly select a word from the dictionary. They would then draw the word, tape the drawing to a wall outside of his room, and ask Geller to also draw what he thought was on that paper.
Sometimes Geller couldn’t tell at all — the researchers would draw a rabbit and he would say he had “no clear impression” and wouldn’t draw a thing. Other times, he would be close — they would draw a camel, he would draw a horse; they would draw a gull, and he would draw a swan. And other times he would exactly hit the marker — exactly mirroring a drawing of grapes, or producing a “cylinder with noise coming out of it” when what had originally been produced was a firecracker.
For example, the SRI researchers drew these grapes:
And Geller produced these:
To this day, Targ and Puthoff stand by their experiments and claim what they found is comparable in description to the “discovery” of gravity — in a 2008 documentary they explain that, when it came to Geller’s powers, “We saw it working, but we also didn’t know how.” But there was considerable backlash to their Nature paper from other researchers. They were criticized for having a personal bias and emotional investment in the work that lead them to see what they wanted to see; they were reprehended for experimenting in a “poorly controlled” environment and for being unable to recreate the results. It’s also fair to say a lot of what was going on was straight-up confirmation bias.
As for Geller, he refused to recreate the results for a different panel of scientists. But Geller claims on his website that he has used his “mind power” to help the FBI and CIA erase KGB computer files, track serial killers, and convince the Soviet delegation to sign the Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty.
There’s no evidence of that work found so far in these declassified documents. But we do know that, for a time, the CIA and Geller were in agreement that he had true paranormal capabilities.