CIA Details Use of Psychics in 1980 Iran Hostage Crisis

Most Psychic Intelligence Was 'Entirely Incorrect'

Last month, the CIA released a collection of documents on their interest in the paranormal and attempts to employ “magicians” in an attempt to gain supernatural advantages during the Cold War. Today, the CIA released a new collection of documents on their use of psychics during the 1979-1980 Iran hostage crisis.

According to the documents, Operation Grill Flame at Fort Meade saw half a dozen psychics employed to keep an eye on where the hostages were being held, how heavily they were guarded, and what their health was. Officially the operation was part of Army intelligence, but appears to have involved cooperation with multiple agencies.

Edwin May, who oversaw parts of the program, defended the idea, insisting that it was valuable to know the health conditions of hostages as they were released, allowing them to bring the right sorts of doctors to treat freed hostages quickly.

Well over half of the 202 “psychic reports” were described as “entirely incorrect,” unsurprisingly, and only a total of seven reports, about 3 percent, were ultimately correct. Another 59 contained information that was either “partly correct” or at least couldn’t be conclusively proven as incorrect.

Those figures would suggest that the program as a whole didn’t work, with the rare right answers likely attributable to dumb luck. Officials, however, defended the program, saying psychics were the only method of obtaining such intelligence, and that the degree of success was “at least equal” to other methods generally used.

Which is perhaps the scariest lesson of all from these reports. That psychics aren’t a thing is not particularly surprising, naturally, but that something which objectively didn’t work was considered to “at least equal, if not surpass” other intelligence gathering by the United States is an extremely bad sign.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.