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Operation Acoustic Kitty: How the CIA tried unsuccessfully to train a cat to spy on the USSR

The story of the failure of spies, technology and animals.

At the beginning of July , the video “Once the CIA trained a cat to become a spy” was released on the Weird History YouTube channel . This is not a misleading title, but a real story about the experiment of the American agency during the Cold War. The CIA wanted to use animals for interception, but the project turned out to be a failure.

TJ recalls where the operation “Acoustic Kitty” began and how it ended, the documents on which declassified after almost 35 years after the ambassador’s closure of the project.

Cats against the USSR

The project began to develop in the early 1960s. At that time, CIA agents wanted to know what conversations were taking place at the Soviet embassy in Washington. The TIME publication cites one of the theories as to why such an operation was conceived: high-ranking officials and agents of the USSR allegedly held talks in places where cats walk. The guards did not notice the animals.

After discussions, a secret project was launched under the code name “Acoustic Kitty” (“Acoustic Cat”). Victor Marchetti (Victor Marchetti), assistant director of the CIA in the 1960s, said : “The idea was to perform a cat operation, implant a listening device. We created a monster. ”

The plan was this : take the cat with implanted “bug” to train her, so she went to the right places, and then release the animal, where negotiations are Soviet officials.

It should be understood that for every good plan like “D-Day” there are plans for how to “tie bombs to bats” or “dig a tunnel under the Soviet embassy”. Or train the cats.

Vince houghton

curator of the International Museum of Spying in Washington

Technology development

Due to technology limitations of the mid-20th century, the project stretched over several years. In 2001, the BBC reported that authorities allocated over $ 10 million to Acoustic Kitty. The experiment involved immediately two departments of the CIA, associated with the development.

Before the engineers became several tasks. First, the equipment should not be visible on the cat – it would spoil the task at the very beginning. Secondly, the transmitter should not interfere with the cat. The agents were afraid that in case of irritation the cat would simply break it with the help of teeth or claws.

As a result, the microphone was built into the cat’s ear canal, the transmitter was implanted into the base of the skull, and the wire antenna was fixed in the tail. “The tail itself was becoming an antenna,” recalled Marchetti. Devices connected barely visible wire, covered with wool. The whole operation on the animal took about an hour.

Estimated implant pattern Illustration of WikiLeaks

Despite the development of a government agency with generous funding, the technology still has problems. Home: the transmitter and the batteries were quite small, so the cat could spy for a very limited amount of time. But the main step towards the success of the operation has already been made, believed by the CIA. Agents have not provided for one factor – the factor of the cat itself.

Failure in the first mission

After several tests, it is time for a real operation. For her chose a seemingly trained adult cat. After the operation, she awoke from anesthesia, passed several tests, and then, judging by the documents, “her behavior became uncontrollable.”

Many hours of training revealed that in a special test room the cat kept concentrating for a short time and carried out the task. But outside the test room, she was distracted, hungry, and left somewhere during the mission. After additional training costs, Acoustic Kitty was ready for her first spy mission.

The cat from the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”

The plan was this: a CIA van with wiretapping agents is parked across the street from a park in Washington, where two men are negotiating on a bench. The cat is released, it crosses the road, overhears dialogue and returns to the van.

As a result, the spy cat jumped out of the van, but could not reach the goal – it was knocked down by a passing taxi.

The project was closed in 1967, declaring it a failure. The CIA leadership thought it was not ready to spend even more money on such unreliable “agents.” At the same time, there were some advantages in the report: according to him, cats can really be trained to listen to people for a short time. It just turned out to be “impractical.”

In 2001, part of the Acoustic Kitty experiment documents were declassified and presented to the public under the freedom of information law. This project is still being remembered by the American agency.

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