The Ministry of Defence funded a secret study to ascertain whether people with psychic powers could help protect the nation, it emerged last night.
The MoD arranged the tests to discover whether volunteers were able to use psychic powers to "remotely view" hidden objects. The studyinvolved blindfolding test subjects and asking them to "see" the contents of sealed brown envelopes containing pictures of random objects and public figures.
Defence experts tried to recruit 12 "known" psychics who advertised their abilities on the internet, but when they all refused they were forced to use "novice" volunteers.
The MoD last night defended the cost of the experiment, carried out in 2002, in which commercial researchers were contracted at a cost of 18,000 to test them to see if psychic ability existed in case it could be used in defence, according to previously classified report released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Surprisingly 28 per cent of those tested managed a close guess at the contents of the envelopes, which included pictures of a knife, Mother Teresa and an "Asian individual".
But most subjects, who were holed up in a secret location for the study, were hopelessly off the mark in their guesses. One even fell asleep while he tried to focus on the envelope's content.
A former Ministry of Defence employee who received a copy of the report has claimed that the timing of the study suggests security services wanted to "remotely view" hidden weapons caches in Iraq and find Osama bin Laden.
Nick Pope, who ran the MoD UFO research programme and worked at the ministry for 21 years, said: "It can only be speculation, but you don't employ that kind of time and effort to find money down the back of the sofa.
"You go to this trouble for high-value assets. We must be talking about bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction."
The MoD last night refused to discuss the possible applications of such a technique, but said that the study had concluded there was "little value" in using "remote viewing" in the defence of the nation.
A spokeswoman said: "The remote viewing study was conducted to assess claims made in some academic circles and to validate research carried out by other nations on psychic ability.
"The study concluded that remote viewing theories had little value to the MoD and was taken no further."
Mr Pope said he had suspected that the MoD were considering such a study during his time there, but it was only when friend and author Timothy Good requested documents on the subject that he discovered they had actually commissioned it.
The documents refer to similar study conducted by the CIA but, said Mr Pope, "there has never been a whisper of a British programme before."
"This is what I call a low probability high-impact study. They must have thought that the chances were it wouldn't work, but if it had the intelligence applications would have been endless."
"I don't think this was a waste of public money. Many people will say so, but I think it is marvellous that the Government is prepared to think outside the box. And this is as outside the box as it gets."
END OF LINE FOR ESP LAB
AN EXTRASENSORY perception lab at a top US university is set to close at the end of the month after a 28-year stint that embarrassed university officials and outraged the scientific community.
The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory studied ESP and telekinesis.
A standard experiment would have a participant sitting in front of an electric box flashing numbers just above or below 100. Staff would tell the person to either "think high" or "think low" as they watched the display. Researchers concluded people could alter the results about two or three times out of 100,000.
It was claimed that if the human mind could slightly alter a machine, it might be able to be used in other areas, such as healing disease.