This is one of those stories I didn’t think I’d ever need to write about. Seventeen years ago, the CIA declassified a silly transcript of a “psychic” probe of ancient Martian civilization, and no one paid it much mind until an online version was included in the CIA’s recent release of declassified material in its new Reading Room. I threw a copy up in my Library months ago because I thought it was amusing, but I didn’t bother to highlight it in my blog. However, thanks to the Mysterious Universe podcast, it attracted the attention of Slate magazine, and Slate decided to ask whether America really made contact with ancient Martians from a million years ago.
According to the CIA document, in May of 1984, a CIA agent asked a remote viewer to give a reading based on a location sealed in an envelope. That location was Mars c. 1 million BCE. The remote viewer’s name isn’t in the file, but Joe McMoneagle later claimed credit for the adventure in a 1993 book. A 2001 book claimed that the agent who questioned him was F. Holmes “Skip” Atwater, but McMoneagle says that it was a man named Robert Monroe.
The subject, McMoneagle, claimed to see large pyramids and a landscape decimated by a geological disaster. This landscape was populated by giants: “I just keep seeing very large people. They appear thin and tall, but they're very large. Ah...wearing some kind of strange clothes.” These people faced ruin from volcanoes, so they climbed into a flying saucer: “It looks like the inside of a larger boat. Very rounded walls and shiny metal.” McMoneagle claimed to see hibernation chambers and believed that the Martian race was going extinct due to environmental change.
Jacob Brogan of the “Future Tense” blog, a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University, became intrigued by the document and sought out the allegedly psychic remote viewer behind the project. McMoneagle is now an old man with a long track record of failed psychic predictions (such as his claim that in the early 2000s people would stop wearing clothing and turn to temporary body tattoos), but he claims to remember every detail of the 1984 session. He assured Brogan that neither he nor Monroe knew the contents of the envelope prior to the session, and both assumed he was targeting a location on Earth until the big reveal. Even though McMoneagle professes to be fascinated by ancient Martian life and to want to visit Mars, he bizarrely chose never to use his “gift” to explore Mars again, saying he didn’t “like” targeting other worlds because there is no way to “verify” the information. So that means he doesn’t trust his own psychic perceptions?
The story McMoneagle told does not entirely add up. Despite claiming to have had no knowledge of any of the details for the test, for example, he claims to know that the Army specifically requested this particular test, though he declined to speculate about why they would ask the CIA to perform it. If taken at face value, this suggests that at least some information was leaking to McMoneagle and this was not a truly double-blind experiment.
Brogan did not interview any skeptics for his story, and failed to note the striking similarities between Brogan’s vision of a Mars populated by a tall, dying race in pyramids and pop culture images of Mars from the middle twentieth century. The “Face on Mars” had recently been a big deal, and claims for vast pyramid fields on Mars were well-known among fringe types. Richard Hoagland hadn’t yet published his Monuments of Mars (1987), but discussions of the Viking images were nevertheless already popular among UFO types. David L. Chandler, for example, wrote about the “pyramids” of Mars in 1979’s Life on Mars, and in 1975, the pyramids of Mars were even mentioned in Congressional hearings on the space program, though with the caveat that “It does not follow that there are Martian Pharaohs.” (Doctor Who disagreed in the classic story “The Pyramids of Mars” in 1975.) Martin Marietta Aerospace’s 1975 book on the Viking Mars mission, published in their role as the official contractor for the mission, specifically referenced Percival Lowell’s Victorian claims of an ancient and dying Martian race and their vast constructions. From Lowell’s inspiration, science fiction writers from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Aleksey Tolstoy to Robert Heinlein wrote of dying Martian races and their fabulous civilization. Consider Burroughs: “The last poor, mean structures of a dying race have either disappeared or are only mouldering ruins now; but the splendid structures of her prime remain at the edge of the plateau, mute but eloquent reminders of her vanished grandeur.”
It is hardly shocking that when McMoneagle tried to describe Mars, he reached for the popular view of the era, at least among sci-fi geeks and paranormalists. The question, then, is how McMoneagle either learned or deduced that the place in question during this session was Mars and not the Earth. Since the recordings of the session have never been released, we can’t know what kind of nonverbal communication occurred, nor whether there were any opportunities for McMoneagle to have overheard or read the target prior to the session. Brogan’s own article suggested that the sessions might have been partly staged as propaganda to goad the Soviets into wasting money on fruitless psychic research. If that were the case, then letting slip what the target is would actually have been a feature and not a bug in the performance.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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