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Scientology and the Spoonbenders: Jon Atack on a previously unpublished Ingo Swann essay

[Ingo Swann, 1933-2013, when he was part of a Scientology ‘OT Summit’ in 1977]

Jon Atack graciously agreed to read and comment on a 1973 Ingo Swann essay on Scientology that was recently dug up by our intrepid researcher, R.M. Seibert. We knew he’d have some interesting things to say about this presentation, which Swann aimed for fellow researchers into the parapsychological.

In the early 90s, I became intrigued by the exploits of the Spoonbenders – a group of “psychics” who were employed by US Intelligence agencies. Uri Geller and two more “psychics” were the subject of a series of tests made by two physicists at the “Stanford Research Institute” (SRI) – which sounds as if it were affiliated with Stanford University – it wasn’t.

A very successful book – Mind-Reach – was published in 1976. The late, great Martin Gardner critiqued the evidence offered for paranormal activity in the SRI tests. I was fascinated that two of the “psychics” – Ingo Swann and Pat Price – and one of the two experimenters – Hal Puthoff – were Scientologists. Gardner claimed that ten members of the support team were also involved in Scientology.

I wrote a chapter for a proposed book called “The Hubbard Intelligence Agency” and published it on the Internet. I was greeted with a howl of complaint from Ingo Swann, whose particular concern was that I have no literary talent (which may well be true). He failed to answer any of my concerns, however.

Hal Puthoff posted to say that his involvement with Scientology was trivial. I countered by pointing out that he was OT III, and that I’d met his wife, ten years after Mind-Reach, while she was pursuing the independent Scientology equivalent of OT V. I can understand why an eminent physicist would not want his reputation tarnished by the mention of Scientology. [Hugh Urban, in his history of Scientology, notes that Hal Puthoff was OT VII by 1971, the highest level then attainable. — ed.]


The US government spent tens of millions of dollars on the Spoonbenders – a group of “psychics” – over two decades. It is intriguing to speculate how much of this “research” included Scientologists, and the extent to which this may have conferred government protection on the group.

With the help of splendid researcher R.M. Seibert, Tony has dug out a paper that Ingo Swann gave at a conference for “psychics,” in Czechoslovakia, in 1973. It is called “Scientological Techniques: A Model Paradigm for the Exploration of Consciousness and Psychic Integration,” and will be made available in full alongside my comments here.

I have, however, extracted a few statements to give the flavor of the paper:

It is thus seen that the fundamentals of scientological inquiry stand upon certain concepts of awareness and consciousness, as well as psychic apprisement [sic] of man within the physical universe. In this context, the premises and techniques of scientology, as established by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, are seen in many aspects to have both valuable correlates in several fields of scientific inquiry, and also contain possible practical application within the context of emergent alternative future histories.

I love that phrase, “alternative future histories” – it is poetically paradoxical, to say the least, and gibberish worthy of Hubbard himself.

He [Hubbard] indicated that the mechanics of the physical (and eventually the mental) universe are the products of agreed-upon considerations that life mutually holds. According to this line of thought, the reason we have space, energy, time, objects, etc., is that life has agreed upon certain things, and this agreement has resulted in a solidification. Our agreed-upon material is then quite observable.

Run that by me again, Ingo. I’m not sure that I understood a word of it. Does it mean that we’re all making it up, but somehow have agreed to make up the same thing? Or does it mean I should ask for my money back? On reflection, we should all ask for our money back.

…a physical universe which is the inevitable average of illusion.

Again, poetic and paradoxical – as any armchair philosopher might point out, how do we make this “average” without consulting each other at least once a second? Perhaps this points to an undiscovered Scientology Axiom: Thetans continually consult every other thetan in the universe to ensure that their averages of illusion are inevitable.

The end point of the dianetic and scientology rehabilitative processes is considered to be the ability to be conscious and causal, and thus implications for the development of alternative future histories in which psychoenergetic factors may play an increasing role.

I’m going to take issue with Ingo here, because the “end point” of the dianetic and scientology behavior modification program was clearly stated by Ron Hubbard in the 1970 edition of Scientology 0-8 (though it disappeared from the literature soon thereafter): “Operating Thetan – OT Course Section VIII … Ability to be at cause knowingly and at will over thought, life, form, matter, energy, space and time, subjective or objective.” And if that isn’t your experience after OT VIII, you’ve done something wrong, because, as we were so often reassured, “the Tech works.” The definition was soon replaced with the more anodyne, “End Phenomena as stated in the materials of Section VIII of the OT materials,” but I prefer the original (and “we always deliver what we promise”, after all) – and I’m a tad skeptical of “psychoenergetic factors.”

Ingo’s paper was presented at the “First Conference on Psychotronic Research.” Of itself, a paper promoting Scientology to a bunch of psychics behind the Iron Curtain may not give pause for thought. Until we realize that the US was experimenting in spoonbending, because it was believed that the Soviets had already achieved psychic powers.

So, I ventured into the CIA’s online archive (now there’s a contradiction in terms!) and found exchanges concerning the Stanford project between Hal Puthoff, PhD, and a variety of spooks, including a laudatory letter from the NSA thanking the CIA for clearing Puthoff so he could attend a 1974 gathering, “Recent Developments in Psychoenergetic Research.” Far more frightening is correspondence which shows that the CIA funded at least two years of Puthoff’s work.

In 1951, Hubbard was the first to mention the mind control experiments of the US military. He was very public about it – the reference is in his follow-up to Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health – the book Science of Survival – where he says:

There is another form of hypnotism which falls between the surgical operation and straight hypnotism without physical pain. This form of hypnotism has been a carefully guarded secret of certain military and intelligence organizations. It is a vicious war weapon and may be of considerably more use in conquering society than the atomic bomb. This is no exaggeration… (SOS, book II, p.223, 1951 edition)

I remember a detailed conversation with my friend and colleague Lawrence Wollersheim on this topic over 20 years ago. As far as we knew, this was the only mention of such military programs before the Freedom of Information Act became law in 1967.

It is fascinating to see that the government’s spooks collaborated so closely with Scientologists for at least two years in the 1970s, and probably many more. Maybe US government agencies have protected Scientology to avoid the embarrassment of the world discovering that it was the Hubbard cult that brought them to spend so many millions of tax dollars on a project to stare at goats…

— Jon Atack

Here’s the Swann paper itself…


…and the NSA letter regarding Puthoff that Jon found in the CIA’s archives:



Chris Shelton interviews Scott Pilutik

The Underground Bunker’s attorney and webmaster, Scott Pilutik, gets the Chris Shelton treatment as they discuss Scientology legal issues.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,805 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,562 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,908 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,402 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,442 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,154 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 680 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,769 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,909 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,229 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,204 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 560 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,862 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 969 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,371 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,244 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 825 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,330 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,574 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,683 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 8, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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