Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Watershop Down met The Hunt for Red October.

...In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in a cat-and-mouse game involving nuclear submarines. Submarines equipped with nuclear missiles were difficult to spot when prowling the deep seas, making them a potent weapon. But there was no good way to tell submarines deep underwater that they needed to launch their missiles. And coming to the surface periodically to receive communications would make them vulnerable to detection and attack.

That was where Gottlieb’s new pet project came into play. In 1970, the best-selling book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (Prentice-Hall) described the enthusiasm of the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries for psychic phenomena of all sorts. “Major impetus behind the Soviet drive to harness ESP [extrasensory perception] was said to come from the Soviet Military and the Soviet Secret Police,” the authors, Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, asserted. The book detailed dozens of investigations into psychic phenomena conducted behind the Iron Curtain, ranging from Kirlian photography, which sought to capture the “aura” of living things, to telepathic projection of emotions. The idea that the Soviets were investing money in parapsychology quickly became a self-reinforcing justification for the Americans to do the same.

According to Psychic Discoveries, one theory of parapsychology the Soviets were testing involved a projected emotional link between a newborn and its mother, which allowed the mother to “sense” her offspring’s death even over long distances. Because actually killing a newborn human child was not really an option, they resorted to experimenting with baby rabbits and their mothers. The experiment was as ghastly as it sounded: A baby rabbit would be killed out of sight and sound of its mother, while scientists in a separate lab room observed the mother for a reaction.

The Soviets claimed it worked and could be used for communicating with submarines, even if they never quite laid out the protocol for how this would be done. Presumably, a mother rabbit would be kept aboard the submarine, with a submariner assigned to monitor it for signs of distress. The idea was not that an overly excited mother rabbit would prompt a nuclear exchange, but such a sign could be used, as Lukasik put it, as a “bell ringer for Soviet boomers.” It would be a signal for the submarine to surface and get a more detailed message, such as an order to launch its nuclear missiles.

The very absurdity of the scenario did not dissuade Gottlieb. The CIA had begun funding the Stanford Research Institute to conduct a “quiet, low-profile classified investigation” into parapsychology. Gottlieb was interested in having ARPA look at that work and possibly support it.

Although the purported Soviet experiments sounded dubious, antisubmarine warfare was an area that ARPA was pursuing. Perhaps more important, the late 1960s and early 1970s had sparked widespread interest in parapsychology, even among some members of Congress, who were pressuring agencies like ARPA to support it.

“I thought this was a lot of bullshit,” Lukasik admitted, but he figured that at the least the agency could make a good faith effort to see if there was anything worth funding...

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