History has shown that government agencies, over the decades, have undertaken some undeniably bizarre experiments. There was the U.S. government’s plot to project images of Jesus over Cuba during the Cold War; the U.K. military’s WWII-era robotic demon designed to freak out the Italian enemy; and military experiments, in the 1950s, to see if dogs could psychically find landmines. And, the list goes on and on. All of that brings me to a very weird story of the CIA: the sad saga of what became known by a very strange name, as you will soon see. It was an experiment that took place back in the 1960s. The results in this affair, however, were not as positive as they could have been, to say the very least. In fact, they were downright disastrous. The operation was titled “Views on Trained Cats.” Within the agency, however, it was unofficially known as “Acoustic Kitty.” No, I’m not joking. There’s no doubt that during the height of the Cold War, agencies all around the world began to realize that when it came to espionage, it was time to take alternative pathways to achieve their goals. The CIA did exactly that.
In this particular case, the grisly program involved CIA scientists implanting into the bodies of cats (a) transmitters and (b) microphones. Then, the cats would – in theory, at least – be directed to certain sites that the CIA wanted to penetrate. In the most notorious case, the target was nothing less than the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue, Washington, D.C., USA The cats were trained to roam around the grounds of the Embassy, using their built-in microphones to pick up any and all conversations that might be made by Russian personnel, such as agents of the KGB. While this might all sound totally unlikely – in terms of making the program work successfully – the fact is that the project had nothing less a budget of no less than $10 Million. Of course, the whole thing was bound to fail. It certainly did. And in a very tragic, fashion. The CIA’s Office of Science and Technology (OSI) thought they had everything running perfect when they decided to make one particular run. The cat was taken into the back of a van that had been converted into a mobile headquarters, along with a team of three people. While the operation was top secret in nature, snippets of what happened next were leaked out by a man named Victor Marchetti, a long-time employee of the CIA and the author of a controversial 1974 book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. Such was the controversial nature of the experiment, it was obvious it would one day come tumbling out.
In his book, Marchetti said of the Acoustic Kitty experiment: “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. Finally, they’re ready. They took it out to a park bench and said ‘Listen to those two guys. Don’t listen to anything else – not the birds, no cat or dog – just those two guys!’ They 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!” In a very bureaucratic fashion, the conclusions of the CIA went as follows: “The environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our purposes, it would not be practical.” I’ll say. Thankfully, the project was closed down.