CBS “Sunday Morning” Seers Don’t See So Well

March 20, 2018

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On March 18, 2018, CBS “Sunday Morning” featured an insufficiently skeptical segment, “ESP: Inside the government’s secret program on psychic spies.”

One of the psychics presented—Angela Ford (formerly Angela Dellafiora)—is described as a former Pentagon Project Stargate “psychic spy.” She recalled one of her best assignments in which, allegedly, she psychically tracked down fugitive drug smuggler Charlie Jordan in 1989. Reporter Erin Moriarty takes her at her word and gushes, “There is no obvious explanation for how Ford obtained the intel that turned out to be accurate.” But was it really accurate?

Actually, the Stargate project’s final report found “reason to suspect” that in “some well publicized cases of dramatic hits” the psychics might have had “substantially more background information” than might otherwise be apparent. Just such criticisms are raised by the Charlie Jordan case and the involvement of Angela Ford. (I was asked to look into the case for the BBC series Mysteries, which aired November 23, 1998. See also my investigative report in the March 2001 Skeptical Briefs.)

Ford—who has many of the traits associated with a fantasy-prone personality—was not practicing the typical “remote viewing” (RV) used by the other Stargate psychics. Whereas that was basically clairvoyance by a new name, what Ford did was to enter a “trance” and let her “spirit guides” manipulate her hand to produce written responses to questions. While her automatic writing technique came to be called “written RV,” it was really just old-fashioned spiritualism.

Not surprisingly, Ford’s information was often wildly erroneous, as in the search for Lt. Col. William Higgins who was held hostage by terrorists. Ford envisioned him alive, in an underground location, and about to be released, whereas he had probably been kept in a Lebanese house before his tortured corpse was recovered.

Allegedly, Ford said fugitive Charlie Jordan was in Wyoming at “Lowell” near an “Indian burial place.” Now, police had independently spotted Jordan’s vehicle outside Denver, apparently heading toward Wyoming. There is no “Lowell” in that state, and Lovell, Wyoming, has no Native American burial site. While there is such a site at Pinedale—where Jordan was arrested—Pinedale is over 300 miles from Lovell. So it looks like Ford may have been advised about Wyoming and later engaged in what is known as “retrofitting” (after-the-fact matching of details). Then word of mouth transformed the story into a folktale.

While “Sunday Morning” could have been more skeptical, their guest, writer Annie Jacobsen, did conclude about the psychics: “There’s instances of unusual situations, but there is no proof. It does not pass scientific muster.”