ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christopher Farnsworth is also the author of the Nathaniel Cade series, about a vampire who works for the President of the United States. Blood Oath, The President’s Vampire, and Red, White, and Blood are all available from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. A short novella about Cade, The Burning Men, is available from Amazon.com. The Cade books were finalists for the Goodreads Choice awards, translated into nine languages and published in over a dozen countries, and optioned for film and television.
Christopher’s work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the New Republic, Washington Monthly, and on The Awl. Born and raised in Idaho, he worked as an investigative and business reporter before selling his first script, THE ACADEMY, to MGM.
My new novel, Killfile, which hits stores today, is about John Smith, a former CIA operative with the ability to read minds. Smith once worked for the government in the War on Terror, using his gifts against terrorists and foreign governments. He was a psychic spy.
The strange part is that I didn’t have to make him up. Not entirely.
There’s a long history of people trying to harness psychic powers for spying in the real world, starting back in the Cold War. The U.S. and Russia both spent millions of dollars in an effort to use ESP as a weapon.
As in the space race, the Soviets got there first. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union established the Institute of Brain Research at Leningrad State University, and began experimenting with telepathy — which they called “biological communication” — as a way to transmit messages to submarines that couldn’t be intercepted.
Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, supposedly even tested one psychic personally. Wolf Messing was a psychic stage performer who lived in Moscow. He was supposed to be able to project his thoughts into other people’s minds, much the same way John Smith does in Kilfile. He once allegedly walked into a Russian bank, handed over a blank piece of paper, and walked out with 100,000 rubles. The bank manager supposedly had a heart attack afterward when he realized what had happened.
Stalin heard about this and challenged Messing to enter the Kremlin without permission — to get past the armed guards and into his office, which should have been impossible. The next day, however, he looks up from his desk and Messing is there, standing in front of him. Messing said he simply projected the words “I am Beria” into the minds of every guard he saw — telling them he was Laventriy Beria, the head of the Soviet secret police, probably the one man in Russia scarier than Stalin. Nobody stopped him and he walked right into Stalin’s office.
Russian scientists also studied psychokinesis, the idea of using mental energy to move objects without touching them.
That’s what made Nina Kulagina, a Russian housewife, famous. She was filmed moving several small objects, supposedly only with the power of her mind. She also allegedly stopped a frog’s heartbeat just by thinking about it.
All this paranormal activity behind the Iron Curtain got the attention of some very important people in the United States. As reported in Jon Ronson’s excellent The Men Who Stare At Goats, John Foster Dulles, then head of the CIA, said in a speech in 1953, “Mind warfare is the great battlefield of the Cold War, and we have to do whatever it takes to win this.”
“Whatever it takes” went down some fairly dark roads, as the CIA illegally experimented on human subjects in what was called Project MK-Ultra. People were dosed with LSD without their knowledge as the agency tried to find out if the drug could be used to control minds. Other subjects were put into comas for weeks at a time, paralyzed, or hit with shock treatments. MK-Ultra resulted in the death of at least one person, an Army bioweapons scientist named Frank Olson.
The Defense Department also funded Project Star Gate, a unit of psychics who at Fort Meade, Maryland. They would sit in a leaky barracks and try to envision what was going on at enemy military bases with a technique called “remote viewing.” Joseph McMoneagle, who was known as Remote Viewer No. 1, won the Legion of Merit for his work in psychic intelligence gathering.
Around the same time, U.S. Special Forces soldiers were allegedly being trained at Fort Bragg to kill goats with the power of their minds, as well as other psychic feats.
The difference between all of these psychic spies and John Smith? Well, for starters, Smith’s powers work exactly like they’re supposed to. He’s fictional, after all. Smith can extract secrets from other people, give them his bad memories or dodge a punch before it’s thrown. He can excavate their nightmares and serve them up in broad daylight, even cause them to feel pain.
The psychic spies in the real world have had a little more trouble producing verifiable results. MK-Ultra was eventually shut down and is now considered one of the disgraces of the Cold War. Ronson was unable to find anyone who could actually kill a goat by staring at it. The government stopped funding Star Gate after a 1995 report said it never produced any real results.
It seems as if the most successful psychic spies are still safely in the world of fiction.
Or at least, that’s what they want you to think.
WHAT'S YOUR CRAZY FACT ? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of KILLFILE! (US entrants only, please.)
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