Among the Stanford Research Institute’s many classified research projects in the early 1970s was a contract supported by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Technical Service, a division headed by Sidney Gottlieb, perhaps the most notorious scientist ever to work for the spy agency. The secret program was testing different forms of parapsychology, such as whether humans had the ability to use their minds to visualize or even influence remote objects. Believing the work was showing promise, Gottlieb one day invited the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), Stephen Lukasik, over to his CIA office to discuss it.
Gottlieb, a chemist by training, was both an unconventional thinker and an unwavering patriot, who believed his work served the good of the nation. “Friends and enemies alike say Mr. Gottlieb was a kind of genius, striving to explore the frontiers of the human mind for his country,” read the 1999 New York Times obituary of Gottlieb, “while searching for religious and spiritual meaning in his life.” In the end, however, Gottlieb would be remembered most for what looked like a willful contempt of common decency.