Order our new book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
Mini book

The Time When the U.S. Conducted Telepathic Experiments at Fort Meade

Our government’s dip into the paranormal is a matter of public record.

Looking across government buildings in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo: Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)

Conspiracy theories about secret government investigations into seemingly-science fictional phenomena are a dime a dozen. What’s rarer is actual, documented proof of governmental tinkerings with these forces.

But for nearly 20 years beginning in the 1970s, a secret army unit, working in conjunction with the Defense Intelligence Agency, conducted research and experiments in which they attempted to test the existence and application of so-called “psychoenergetics” for use in military operations. And it’s all a matter of public record.

With the $20 million Stargate Project—a collective name for a series of programs with codenames like GRILL FLAME and SUN STREAK—the U.S. government was training an army of telepaths. Or, at least, they were trying to.

These programs, based out of a base in Fort Meade, Maryland, primarily focused on “remote viewing,” the practice of using extrasensory perception to gain information about locations that, because of distance or other impediment, can’t be seen by the human eye. In some cases, this included using remote viewing for the purposes of precognition– seeing into the future.

The Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters in 1988, when the Stargate Project was still ongoing. (Photo: Public Domain)

In typical Stargate experiments, psychics personnel were asked to do things like “access and describe” locations such as the U.S. Library of Congress, a distant lighthouse, and Stonehenge. In many cases, they were believed to be successful.

Reportedly, Stargate boasted as many as 22 of these psychics, comprising both civilian and military personnel, over the course of its operations. Many had been recruited by by Lieutenant. Frederick Holmes “Skip” Atwater, who was an aide to Major General Albert Stubblebine, and claimed to have experienced his own psychic insights since his early childhood.

It wasn’t all just experimentation either, either. According to retired U.S. Army officer Joseph McMeonagle, who worked extensively with Project Stargate from its early days until 1984, the team’s psychics sometimes assisted with actual intelligence operations when all other methods failed. Supposedly, their methods were used to locating Brigadier General Joseph L. Dozier, who had been kidnapped in Italy in 1981.

Other assignments included ascertaining the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, gathering information about Russian submarine capabilities, and searching for plutonium in North Korea.

Night settles on Fort Meade. (Photo: Bossi/CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many inside the project considered it a success, and believed that their findings provided proof of the effectiveness of psychic techniques for military uses, these claims were later refuted. After the project was transferred to the CIA in 1995, the CIA convened a panel with the American Institutes for Research, who issued a report saying that Stargate had been an expensive failure, and cited sloppy methodology as the reason for most of its supposed positive findings.

The Stargate Project was shuttered and declassified in September of that that year. By that time, there were only three remaining psychics, one of whom reportedly had a shockingly unscientific method of divination: tarot cards.

These articles are brought to you by Netflix's Stranger Things. All Episodes Now Streaming.