The Letterjoy Blog

The CIA Once Tried To Use Trained Cats For Eavesdropping. It Didn't Go Well.

I've been digging into declassified CIA files this month to find some letters for our "Spytech" theme. While doing so, I came across quite a few quirky projects, but one stood out as by far the most insane of the litter: Project "Acoustic Kitty".

Since the goal of the theme was to showcase technology which a) worked and b_ yielded intelligence of national importance, we're not mailing any "Acoustic Kitty" memos, but it's definitely worth a blog post.

What was "Acoustic Kitty"? It was a CIA plan to use trained cats with embedded microphones to eavesdrop on targets of interest. If you think this plan didn't make it past the drawing board, you're mistaken.

Yes, the CIA actually implanted some cats with microphones and radio antennas. They trained those cats to navigate to specific targets, then sent a cat out on the innaugurial mission in 1967. The target location was a park near the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., but along the way, the poor cat supposedly got hit by a taxi cab. 

After some reflection, the CIA cancelled the program, concluding it was "not feasible". I feel awful for the cats that participated in this program, but I love the visual of a meeting at CIA headquarters to explain why the program failed.

The CIA was far from the only intelligence agency to experiment with quirky listening devices. I visited the Stasi museum in Berlin last month (highly recommend), and they had several Soviet bugs and hidden cameras on display, including one embedded in a tie. None of them were living creatures though.

You can read a heavily redacted memorandum on the program here (thanks to George Washington University's National Security Archive).