THE CIA’S TOP SECRET SPY CATS PROGRAM: ‘PROJECT ACOUSTIC KITTY

The use of animals in warfare has a long history dating back to at least the ancient Greeks. In recent centuries, humans have used their animal friends for other operations in warfare other than simple brute force including spying, the most obvious example being the carrier pigeons which ferried information between the allied forces and the various resistance movements in occupied Europe during the Second World War. Few people still do not realise that animals are still widely used in warfare today and even fewer realise just how far modern military and intelligence agencies have gone to get the best use out of their animal agents.

One of the strangest animal related stories comes out of the frantic environment of the Cold War. Most people are aware of the furious arms and technology race that the warring adversaries engaged in during this period but the lengths to which they attempted to do outdo each other with spying methods are still largely concealed by the public. The American intelligence services were acutely aware that they had to be very creative if they wanted to gain the upper hand on the Soviet Union when it came to intelligence gathering. This desire to think outside the box led to Operation Acoustic Kitty, the full details of which were revealed in 2001 by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. In 1961, a bright spark within the Central Intelligence Agency came up with the idea of using cats as spies. The rationale was that cats are quiet, small, capable of entering almost any public space and do not attract too much attention.

 

In order to utilise cats in this manner, the CIA experimented with placing power sources, microphones, antenna and transmitters inside the bodies of their would-be spying animals. According to the records, experimenting on cats in this manner was a long and laborious process. The earliest cats used in the operation had wires protruding from their necks which was considered to be inadequate as these animals naturally may have attracted too much attention. Finally, the researchers cracked it and found a way to embed spy equipment along the spine of a grey and white female cat. This particular cat was then specially trained to target certain individuals and stay put so that she could record their secret conversations. Incidentally, the total cost of this experimentation process ran to an astonishing $20 million. Almost five years after Operation Acoustic Kitty was first envisaged, the female cat was sent out on her first mission in Washington DC. Her targets were two suspicious men conversing on a park bench close to the Soviet Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue.

However, as she made her way towards her targets tragedy struck and the cat was suddenly struck by a taxi cab. The cat lay prone in the street and, amazingly, the spy equipment embedded in her managed to capture the full conversation between the two men. Following the completion of the mission, the cat was collected and given medical attention. In 2013, it was revealed that she survived and lived a long and happy life – although she was no long in any fit state to work as an intelligence agent. Following the catastrophic happenings of the first mission of Operation Acoustic Kitty, researchers struggled to revive the operation. They were unable to train any other cats to follow instructions as well as their first feline field agent and the decision was made to scrap the project altogether in 1967. The Americans still use animals as part of their arsenal of intelligence gathering methods, but most of the animals that are used today are robotic, such as the Nano Hummingbird Surveillance and Reconnaissance Aircraft which were developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). However, there is still space for non-robotic animals in modern warfare. In 2011, the SEAL mission to assassinate Osama bin Laden was aided by a sniffer dog named Cairo who went ahead of the team to locate and neutralise any booby traps.

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