Greetings, Rostrum fans. This week’s guest? Annie Jacobsen, bestselling author of AREA 51, OPERATION PAPERCLIP, THE PENTAGON’S BRAIN, and now PHENOMENA: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATIONS INTO EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION AND PSYCHOKINESIS.
Annie is a veteran chronicler of the darker, stranger corners of national security, intelligence, and advanced technology. She’s written about the alleged UFO holding zone near Groom Lake in Utah; the rescue by the U.S. of high-ranking Nazi scientists (one of whom is the subject of an immortal parody song by Tom Lehrer); and the history of the far-out but very real tech developed by the Pentagon and the organization that developed it for them, DARPA.
Her newest book, PHENOMENA, details the bizarre and disturbing efforts on the part of the U.S. intelligence community after World War II to uncover, activate, and weaponize the capacities for extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis many believed to be latent in the human mind. Remote viewing — i.e. the alleged observation and description of never-seen locations by psychics working for U.S. military and intelligence agencies — is the most famous fruit of these efforts. But Jacobsen’s book chronicles a whole host of others, from the silly to the sinister, the mundane to the uncanny, that all formed part of what she describes as a psychic arms race. We were not along, after all, in trying to supplement our postwar strategy with mind-readers and spoon-benders. The Soviets were going down many of the same avenues. We spoke with Annie about the outsize personalities and outlandish ambition that characterized this stream of national security efforts — and about the sobering real-world consequences of the same. In the age of Donald Trump, when sorting out the real from the unreal seems to get a bit harder with every passing news hit, PHENOMENA is crucial and timely. It’s also brilliantly researched, masterfully written, and a hell of a lot of fun.