The Cat Who Came In From The Cold

Spy cat1
Think your cat is spying on you? You may have a highly trained operative purring under your feet. In this month’s Smithsonian magazine there’s a great article by Tom Vanderbilt about animals trained as operatives during the Cold War. Read on for some fascinating tidbits about clandestine cats and check out the link at the end of the excerpt for the full monty.

One of the first projects Bailey says he worked on involved creatures that, in many people’s minds, are beyond training: cats. While cats have a shorter history of domestication than dogs, Bailey insists it is “absolutely not true” that they cannot be trained.

In what has come to be called the “acoustic kitty” project, the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology proposed using a cat as a listening device. In their book Spycraft, the CIA’s Wallace and co-author H. Keith Melton write that the agency was targeting an Asian head of state for surveillance, and that “during the target’s long strategy sessions with his aides, cats wandered in and out of the meeting area.” The theory, says Bailey, was that no one would pay attention to the animals’ comings and goings.

“We found that we could condition the cat to listen to voices,” says Bailey. “We have no idea how we did it. But…we found that the cat would more and more listen to people’s voices, and listen less to other things.” Working with Robin Michelson, a California otolaryngologist and one of the inventors of the human cochlear implant, the team turned the cat into a transmitter—with, says Bailey, a wire running from the cat’s inner ear to a battery and instrument cluster implanted in its rib cage. The cat’s movements could be directed—left, right, straight ahead—with ultrasonic sound.

The fate of this asset has become serio-comic lore, obscured by conflicting accounts and CIA classification. Jeffrey Richelson, in his book The Wizards of Langley, quotes ex-CIA official Victor Marchetti on the program’s demise during a field trial: “They put [the cat] 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!”

But Wallace disputes that. “It was a serious project,” he says. “The acoustic kitty was not killed by getting run over by a taxicab.” His source? “The guy who was a principal in the project.” Wallace says Bailey’s name is not familiar to him, though he adds that by the time he joined the agency, “the animal work was really historic.”
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-CIAs-Most-Highly-Trained-Spies-Werent-Even-Human-224933882.html#ixzz2gfymPPAE

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