When four Israeli Hercules transport aircraft swooped out of the dark Ugandan sky over Entebbe airport in July 1976 to began one of the most audacious hostage rescues in history, it was to be assumed that their arrival, unannounced and undetected, was down to the skill of the pilots.
The C-130s, carrying elite Israeli Defense Force (IDF) commandos, flew 2,000 miles to free 102 passengers and crew hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, evading radar in Egypt and a state-of-the-art Soviet installation in Eritrea to take Idi Amin’s regime by complete surprise. Or at least that was the conventional wisdom until an unexpected twist to the extraordinary story was added this week.
As well as employing tree-skimming special forces aviators, it is now suggested that the IDF also deployed the hitherto unacknowledged radar-blocking skills of psychic Uri Geller.
A BBC documentary revealing the Israel-born entertainer’s “secret life” as a Cold War spy – employed by both the CIA and Israel’s renowned Mossad – has inferred that Berkshire-based Geller, famed for his spoon-bending powers and a friendship with Michael Jackson, helped to disable radar using his extra-sensory powers.
Geller, a former paratrooper turned television personality now aged 66, has declined to give specifics about his activities as a secret agent, pointing out that he is bound by rules of secrecy and can “neither confirm nor deny” the Entebbe incident. He told the BBC: “If others say [it], that’s fine – it’s not me saying. So if you have got a scientist saying Uri did a knock-out of radar systems for the planes to be allowed to fly without being detected into Entebbe ... then someone else says it. You will not hear that from me.”
He added: “Use your imagination - wouldn’t I have been asked to do things of this nature? Of course I would.”
Both historians and scientists, approached by The Independent this week, voiced surprise at the suggestion that a thought-controlled zapping of 1970s electronics the length of Africa was among the “tricks” that an Israeli general, speaking in the immediate aftermath of the raid, said had been used to generate total surprise.
John Correll, an American aviation historian who has studied Entebbe, said: “There is no mystery about how the C-130s avoided radar detection, and my bet is Uri Geller had nothing to do with it. The Israelis did not jam or ‘block’ the radar. They evaded it.
“The Israelis were pretty good at this sort of thing. The C-130s flew at low level down the Red Sea, staying away from coverage Egyptian radars. They crossed Ethiopia, which had no radar that could track them at night and approached Entebbe. Even if the airport defenders had been alert and competent, they would have only a few minutes’ warning ...”
Another Entebbe expert said that Mossad, with British help, had gained details of the specifications of the radar system at Entebbe and therefore knew the precise approach to “blind” its air traffic control. A source said: “The notion that someone could have any effect on radar systems is risible, even by Mossad disinformation standards.”
Mr Geller told The Independent that he remained unable to discuss the matter but pointed out that it is standard practice for special forces to ensure that there is a “plan B and a plan C” when undertaking operations to ensure “extra added help by other sources”.
Notwithstanding a claim from Amin, Uganda’s despotic ruler, that the Israelis had “jammed our radar”, the full facts of Mr Geller’s involvement are likely to remain unknown until the Israelis decide to open their records. But what seems undisputed is that the man renowned for cruelty to cutlery on chat shows across the planet has led a double life.
The Independent has learnt that as well as conducting work for Mossad and the CIA – ranging from claims of erasing the computer discs in a Soviet diplomatic pouch through to finding archaeological artefacts – Mr Geller was also approached by British intelligence as recently as 2001 to take part in a Ministry of Defence study into “remote viewing”, or the use of psychic powers to locate people and objects.
After the 9/11 attacks officials used a civilian contractor, which did not reveal its MoD links, to hold a trial of people claiming psychic powers to see how they could be used in intelligence work including, it is widely believed, efforts to track down Osama bin Laden and other al-Qa’ida targets.
A source with knowledge of the trial said: “I am sure Uri Geller was approached for this trial.”
Mr Geller, who lives in a highly secure Berkshire mansion and has said he was “reactivated” by the CIA after 9/11, said he was unable to talk “about my UK activities”.
Nick Pope, a former MoD official who was in charge of its unit dealing with UFO sightings and, as he puts it, “other weirdness”, said: “The use of psychics in intelligence matters is what we call a low probability/high impact scenario. Even if it is a very long shot, then the ramifications of success are such that it is worth trying. It doesn’t cost much to put a psychic in a room with a piece of paper.”
Some experts argue there is a theoretical explanation for remote viewing and similar powers. Others believe it remains far from proven or understood. But Stanislaw Szarek, Professor of Mathematics at Case Western Reserve University and an expert in quantum entanglement, describes human mind control of electronic devices as “utter nonsense”.
For his part, Mr Geller prefers to maintain an air of inscrutability about this second career, arguing that records of intelligence agency interest in psychics dating back 40 years proves a track record of success.
Asked if he believed psychics were still being used, he said: “There is no doubt in my mind ... going back many years ... the work certainly did yield positive results. Otherwise, remote viewers would have been terminated.
“In intelligence, if something doesn’t work for you then you drop it. There is no doubt in my mind that this work is going on.”
Moving accounts: URI’s other claims
Diplomatic computer discs
Geller was tasked with following a Soviet diplomat boarding a flight from Mexico City. His job was to erase computer discs being carried by the diplomat – which he claims to have completed by sitting behind him on the plane and using his psycho-kinetic powers.
Asked by Israeli general Moshe Dayan whether he could help with finding ancient artefacts, Geller tells of taking the military leader on late night expeditions to douse for hidden archaeology.
Not so much espionage as dabbling in sporting geo-politics, Geller claims to have been flying over Wembley and moved the ball when Scottish player Gary McAllister took – and missed – a penalty against England in the 1996 European Championships.
One of the few instances of official recognition by the US government of its use of psychics. Jimmy Carter confirmed that psychics were used to locate a Soviet plane which crashed in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, thought to be carrying nuclear secrets. Geller said he could not confirm or deny his involvement in the incident.