8. The FBI Investigated the existence and power of Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP)
In the late 1950s several proponents of ESP drew attention from numerous US government agencies and the US Army. Among them was one William Foos, who with his daughter Margaret conducted demonstrations of the use of ESP to overcome handicaps. Foos believed that he could use ESP to train the blind to “see” using extrasensory perception, to the point where they would be able to drive an automobile safely, among other life skills. He also believed, or at least claimed, that through the use of ESP the blind could read (without resorting to Braille), play chess or checkers, distinguish colors, and in short do all which the sighted could do. Foos was just one of several proponents of ESP who drew the attention of the FBI. The FBI’s interest in Foos and ESP is documented in the Unexplained Phenomenon Extra-Sensory Perception file, released to the public in 2006.
The reason for the government’s investigation into ESP is obvious given the context of the times. The late 1950s and early 1960s was the height of the Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the West. Eastern Europe was under Soviet domination. Cuba had not yet fallen to the Communists, but it was in crisis. American and Soviet spies sought information on each other’s nuclear weapons programs, nuclear submarines, and the development of rockets. And the United States had just publicly acknowledged the existence of the Cosa Nostra. ESP provided a potent weapon in the war against organized crime and in the covert war against Soviet espionage. The FBI’s Extra-sensory Perception file opens with an interoffice memorandum dated July 16, 1957.