The title of this blog post may sound like something out of an episode of Rick and Morty or an awful parody of a James Bond movie, but it is true. In the 1966, at the height of the Cold War, a CIA project code named ‘Acoustic Kitty’ began with the sole aim of training cats to spy on individuals.
For this ridiculous plan to work, cats would have to be biologically altered, which is exactly what the Directorate of Science and Technology did. Former C.I.A. officer Victor Marchetti told The Telegraph in 2001 (when the documents were declassified) that Project Acoustic Kitty was a gruesome creation: “They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.”
Marchetti also said that the first live trial was a disaster, and the cost is thought to have been more than $10 million. Once the first cat was trained and doctored, he explained what happened:
“They took it out to a park and put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over. There they were, sitting in the van with all those dials, and the cat was dead.”
The first mission was to eavesdrop on two men in a park outside the Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington.
Despite Marchetti explaining the fate of the first feline spy, in 2013 former Director of the CIA’s Office of Technical Service disputed the claims. He said the project was abandoned due to the difficulty of training the cat to behave as required. As a result “the equipment was taken out of the cat; the cat was re-sewn for a second time, and lived a long and happy life afterwards.”
This project may not have worked out for the CIA, but there has been a history of animals being accused of espionage, despite it not being an overly realistic concept.
In 2007, The Islamic Republic News Agency of Iran reported that they had smashed a squirrel spying ring. Fourteen squirrels were captured by intelligence officers at the border of Iran, with each of them reportedly having been implanted with listening devices. The British Foreign Office, responding to the claim, described the story as ‘nuts.’
A dolphin was captured off the coast of Gaza in August 2015 and Hamas accused Israel of equipping the animal with spying devices. This may sound far-fetched, but the US Navy actually uses dolphins to carry out military tasks, including locating underwater mines and flagging the presence of enemy swimmers for harbour defense. The Navy Marine and Mammal Program trains about 85 dolphins and 50 sea lions for such tasks.
A falcon with a camera attached to its body was found on the border between India and Pakistan in 2013, and the Indian army speculated that it was an attempt to spy on them. It was later concluded that the camera was not advanced enough to spy on the army and was instead probably used by Pakistani hunters.
As these stories show, the CIA were ahead of the game. They sensed cats and potentially other animals could be used in unique ways to spy on individuals and took their chances. Ironically, in the same year as Acoustic Kitty’s launch, a British film called The Spy With a Cold Nose depicted a dog being implanted with a bugging device to spy on the Soviet Premier.
Project Acoustic Kitty took five years took five years to design, and the document which explains what happened as part of it is still partly censored.
What are your thoughts on this bizarre piece of history? Are there any more cases of animals being used as spies that people ought to know? Comment below.