The Men Who Stare At Goats is a hilarious new film starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey. Unfortunately, the true story it's based on is no laughing matter, especially if you happen to be a de-bleated goat housed in the U.S. Army's top secret Goat Lab or a guest of our government at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib.
The screenplay for the movie is woven around cold, hard -- and quite frankly bizarre -- facts uncovered by British author, journalist and documentarian Jon Ronson during his investigation into the U.S. Army's all too real paranormal activities, which he chronicled in a book first published in 2005. Though fictionalized, the script features whole chunks of dialog lifted directly from actual interviews Ronson conducted for the book with high ranking army officials and those who were trained by them as psychic spies.
Major General Albert Stubblebine III, who in the early '80s headed up the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, a joint Army and N.S.A. clearing house responsible for gathering and disseminating intelligence, was one of the military's highest ranking proponents of supernatural techniques. Stubblebine, who was frequently frustrated by his lack of aptitude in the walking through walls department, was eventually forced out, but his dream of creating a superpowered army to defend the world's greatest superpower lived on thanks to the work of a Lieutenant Colonel called Jim Channon.
Disillusioned by what he'd seen and experienced in Vietnam, Channon had wanted to find a better, less lethal way of engaging in war. In 1977 he persuaded the Pentagon to fund a two year fact finding mission. During this time he visited numerous establishments that claimed to offer methods for enhancing human potential (including one in Big Sur that did this with naked hot tub encounter sessions). Upon his return, Channon wrote a blueprint for the next generation of soldier, or "warrior monks" as he called them, in a document entitled The First Earth Battalion Operations Manual.
The report detailed his ideas for the military application of a variety of new age techniques including telepathy, remote viewing, hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and the use of music and subliminal sounds to alter mood. Channon's hippified vision of how to go about war, which included the use of special "sparkly eyes" greetings to disarm the enemy, was intended to create positive change. However many of the more tangible mind-bending techniques that Channon outlined were ultimately subverted by the military and used for torture and psychological warfare.
One of the army's more laughable attempts at co-opting Channon's ideas for darker purposes was their program to create telepathic assassins. The soldiers selected to hone their psychic powers in this way practiced their skills on a covert goat herd based at Fort Bragg that had been de-bleated to avoid rousing the suspicions of the local branch of the ASPCA. Though killing with a stare proved to be a somewhat challenging task, legend has it that a man named Guy Savelli did actually down a goat. But when Ronson caught up with Savelli, a civilian who was initially contracted by Special Forces to teach the mind over body martial art Kun Tao, the only proof of his skills he was able to offer was a somewhat dubious DIY hamster snuff video.
However, disturbing images leaked from inside Abu Ghraib and news reports of interrogation tactics used in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay, involving loud music and fit-inducing strobe light inflicted over excessive periods of time, indicate that other psi ops methods, originally presented in a far different light by the likes of Stubblebine and Channon, have caused very real harm. Highly experimental mind-targeted tactics have also been deployed in a shockingly disorganized, cavalier and ad-hoc manner during various domestic sieges including the ill-fated 51-day stand off at Waco which resulted in 76 deaths. And it's not just terrorists and religious extremists that are a casualty of our rogue psychological warfare, which has caused a crisis of conscience at home that has over-shadowed the Bush presidency and threatens even that of Obama's.
I caught up with The Men Who Stare At Goats author and psychic spy expert by phone to find out more. Read my exclusive interview with Jon Ronson at SuicideGirls.com.