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Senators Kept Psychic Intelligence Program Alive, Staff Aides Say

By R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post

A secret Defense Intelligence Agency program that posed tough military questions to a handful of full-time, salaried psychics was kept alive for years at the insistence of a few senators and congressional staff aides despite opposition from senior military intelligence officials, congressional and military sources said Thursday.

One staff member in particular - C. Richard D'Amato an intelligence specialist on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense - was credited by four sources with almost-singlehandedly ensuring the defeat of repeated efforts by DIA's leadership to kill the psychic program.

D'Amato, who was assigned to the committee staff by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the former Appropriations chairman, confirmed in an interview Thursday that he kept the program alive because four to six senators had expressed unusual and sustained interest in its potential, and because similar psychic research was being pursued by the Soviet Union, China and "some of our European allies."

"I wanted this to continue because I was responding to the desire of members (of the Senate) who came to me," D'Amato said. "This was fairly unusual. You don't normally get that much interest" in intelligence programs that consumed a relatively small amount of money - in this case, less than $1 million annually for the past seven years.

The survival for roughly two decades of the $20 million military psychic program, known most recently as "Stargate," illustrates the power that Congress can wield over the leadership of large federal bureaucracies when lawmakers and staff form a tight alliance with the managers of small, threatened programs, according to the congressional and military sources.

It also illustrates how federal endeavors that arouse passionate support from their participants - such as those who trained or managed the military psychics - are sometimes able to survive repeated institutional blows. In this case, the psychic program outlived attempts to kill it by two DIA directors, as well as extremely critical evaluations by the National Research Council and the DIA inspector general.

Defending the program, D'Amato said that keeping a handful of psychics employed by the military to try to answer difficult questions pertinent to national security "didn't make any more or less sense than a variety of prgrams we conducted in the intelligence arena. I would say that if the Russians hadn't had such a big program, we wouldn't (have kept it alive)."

D'Amato said he could not identify the senators who expressed so much enthusiasm for the program, because his discussions with lawmakers are confidential.