The Essential Guide to Remote Viewing: The Secret Military Remote Perception Skill Anyone Can Learn, by Paul H. Smith

Reviewed by Steve Hume

Paul H. Smith is a retired US Army Major who began a seven year involvement in the US military’s, then secret, Remote Viewing (RV) program in 1983 at Fort Meade, Maryland. Although Smith’s own involvement is discussed in brief, this book is a potted history of the wider RV program itself (its controversies and successes) and a guide to how one may develop RV skills, oneself. The latter element, as suggested by the title, is a major theme of the book. Since details of the RV program became declassified in 1995, many former military remote viewers have developed further the RV protocols and training techniques. There are now a bewildering variety methodologies and a large number of practitioners who claim to be able to train people to use them.

Smith sensibly attempts to base his guide upon a firm and distinct definition of RV. It could be said that he, quite literally, ‘wrote the book’ on the subject, given that he authored, in 1985/86, the US Defense Intelligence Agency manual from which he quotes when giving the following military definition: “The acquisition and description, by mental means, of information blocked from ordinary perception by distance, shielding or time” (p. 19). As he notes, this could just as easily describe any of the other forms of psychic abilities. Indeed, Smith is unhappy with this definition for that reason, observing that, for example, ‘clairvoyance’ (or, at least, the occultist/Spiritualist meaning of that term) means ‘clear seeing’. Yet he continues:

… remote viewing involves…elements relating to other senses as well, such as hearing, touch, smell, and even taste. Some aspects of remote viewing even seem to include telepathic elements (p. 21).

I’m sure that Spiritualists, for example, would point out that ‘mediumship’ encompasses these elements too – only labelled in more granular fashion as ‘clairaudience’, ‘clairsentience’ etc. They might also baulk at a further claim of Smith’s that:

Remote viewing differs from all other ESP-based disciplines in that [it] recognizes the problem of mental noise and offers some technique or process for dealing with it (p. 21).

This is not strictly true. Spiritualist ‘development circles’ for example, often teach students methods of discerning between the constant chatter of their conscious minds and what are believed to be psychic impressions. In addition, most occult traditions recognise the problem in various ways.

Smith’s simpler definition of RV as being ‘remote perception’ combined with more distinct protocols, and methodologies, that are put in place around extra-sensory information acquisition, is probably closer to the truth. But, for me, that would have done on its own. As it is, it seemed to me that he (probably unintentionally) was straying perilously close to giving some an excuse to regard RV as being a distinct phenomenon in its own right – rather than being, purely, a methodology: old wine contained in more efficient new bottles, designed towards a very specific and utilitarian end.

It was also slightly disconcerting to see physicist Edwin May, who headed the RV program from 1985 to 1995, included in a list of contemporaries who favour a quantum explanation for psi phenomena, when May actually takes the exact opposite view. In fact, he described the idea, quite recently, as being little more than ‘a seductive metaphor’. (See: Quantum Theory and Parapsychology with Edwin C. May).

Nevertheless, putting such grumbles to one side, I found this to be an extremely engaging book, written in a clear and unassuming, yet authoritative style. It is apparent throughout that Smith has a considered passion for putting the record straight. Now that the subject has been in the public domain for almost a quarter of a century, and former army operatives, such as Smith himself and Joseph McMoneagle have devoted their acquired talents to consultancy and teaching work; many less qualified people have, predictably, made exaggerated (and sometimes fraudulent) claims about their own qualifications and what RV is capable of.

Smith provides a useful outline of each of the many phases of the US military program from its inception in 1972, when the CIA first approached physicist Harold Puthoff to investigate the possibility of psychic abilities as an intelligence gathering tool. Until 1995, when the program ended, control of it was passed between various government agencies before returning to the CIA, who promptly cancelled it. According to Smith, this was purely for political, rather than operational, reasons (see also May, 1996). As if to emphasise this point, Smith then returns to the famous ‘Shipyard 402’ case, which he mentions briefly at the start of the book.

When, in 1979, conventional US intelligence gathering had failed to determine the use to which the Soviets were putting a huge new building that had appeared at one of their shipyards (Shipyard 402) in northern Russia, the US Navy turned to the RV unit. After being given only a set of coordinates to go on, the two viewers (McMoneagle and Hartleigh Trent) gave a detailed description of the building and its contents: in short, it was being used to build a new class of massive ballistic missile submarines – of novel design. This sounded ridiculous to the intelligence services because the building was not actually linked to the sea. Nevertheless, it proved to be accurate when, about one year later, the Soviets dug a channel from the building to the sea, and the first of the Typhoon class super submarines emerged.

Smith then continues by describing various uses to which RV has been put since the military program ended, such as Business Intelligence, ‘Forensic’ RV (assisting law enforcement agencies), ‘Making Money’ (predicting stock market movements), Archaeology, and a number of other emerging uses, such as medical diagnosis.

Following on from there, the various types of RV are examined. Smith explains that the earliest attempts at RV were relatively unstructured attempts to use psi to acquire information during the first decade of the RV program. Smith coins the term Generic Remote Viewing (GRV) to describe this earlier phase. The subsequent methodologies all grew out of an attempt by Puthoff and the psychic Ingo Swann to develop a training methodology “… that would pass the skill along with a shorter learning curve.” Simply put: it had been found that the vast majority of people could perform RV with some degree of success but there was a need to develop a structured way to bring this out that was based on how the subconscious appeared to process the acquired information to pass it on to conscious awareness. The result was ‘Controlled Remote Viewing’ (CRV), which was initially called ‘Coordinate Remote Viewing’ because it used only geographic coordinates as targets. A CRV session consisted of up to six highly structured and purposeful ‘stages’ during which the remote viewer would gradually build up a picture of the target using a number of techniques. Smith writes that all subsequent RV protocols (of which there are now a bewildering variety) are descended from CRV. Technical Remote Viewing (TRV), Scientific Remote Viewing (SRV), Extended Remote Viewing (ERV), were all modifications of CRV instigated by remote viewers from the military program or their students.

Smith gives a detailed synopsis for each of these variants, along with advice about how one should approach assessing which method would be best suited to oneself; how to judge the claims of the multitude of RV teachers, and what one should expect from RV itself. It is, perhaps, this last point that is the most valuable aspect of this book because Smith devotes an appropriate amount of space to explaining the limitations of RV. Much emphasis is placed on the value of being critical of one’s results and acknowledging one’s failures just as strongly as the successes, which Smith presents as being a critical part of the learning process. RV is shown to be a collection of learned skills that require development through practice. Chief amongst the obstacles to be overcome is being able to distinguish ‘noise’ from the true signal … the most pernicious form of noise being ‘analytical overlay’ or the tendency of the conscious mind to hijack the process by prematurely deciding, in advance, what the target is.

And there is much more, such as the importance of only using ‘real-world’, verifiable targets; a basic explanation of statistical analysis, and the importance of using blind and double-blind procedures.

A few other striking examples of successful ‘missions’ from the RV program are given. One of these was an example of, relatively rare ‘predictive’ RV when Smith, himself, was the remote viewer. This was an unexpected missile attack on the American warship, USS Stark by Iraqi aircraft in 1987.

As for the field in general, and the public perception of RV, Smith offers pointed criticism of both committed ‘Skeptics’ and ‘Believers’ in a chapter entitled ‘Critical Thinking for Skeptics and Believers Alike’. Although I found myself in total agreement with Smith’s arguments here, I did feel that he could have provided more specific information about the history of the debate from the perspective of critics. I doubt very much that the inclusion of only literature sympathetic to the subject in the notes section for this chapter (excellent though those books are) will be appreciated by them. The debate about the merits of the RV program has been long, indeed. Yet it is difficult to argue with the logic of Smith’s recommendation to Skeptics that they should try RV themselves, if they wish to assess whether it is effective, or not.

At the end of the day, though, this relatively short book is clearly not intended to be the ultimate source reference about the subject. As an ‘essential’ compendium to the pertinent facts about RV, however; from the perspective of someone who was closely involved with operational aspects of the military project, it succeeds amply in its objective to give advice to those who wish to try RV themselves. There is enough information contained within the main text, and the notes, for the book to be used as a good first base for further enquiry. It is a valuable addition to the literature.

May, E. C. (1996). The American Institutes for Research Review of the Department of Defense's
   STAR GATE Program: A Commentary
. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 10, 89-107.