Feline fine: the misadventures of Frankenkitty

During the height of the cold war, things were getting quite desperate on both sides when it came to the gathering of information. In 2001, the CIA released some previously classified documents showing exactly how radical these methods got at times.

Come the 1960’s, the offices of Soviet intelligence agents were long forgotten for the purpose of actual sharing of useful information, since the Soviets simply assumed they were bugged by the CIA. Of course, this was mostly a correct assumption. Instead, operatives would turn to quiet conversations at a cafe or a similar public place for their discussions of sensitive information, which of course made it difficult for a human spy to listen in without discovery. A suggested solution to this dilemma came in the form of the somewhat thinly named Operation Acoustic Kitty, a multi-million dollar project meant to utilize the admittedly superb sneaking skills generally exhibited by cats.

A poor unsuspecting cat was outfitted with a microphone in its ear and various wires buried under its skin, the tail essentially turned into an antenna in the process. All this with the hope that robo-cat could be trained to go sit next to enemy operatives and listen in on their conversations. The plan was that this cat would be the first of many in an eventual army of spy cats.

There is a kind of built-in problem with the whole idea, though. Cats, by nature, are not very predisposed to following suggestions. Basically, they don’t really care what humans want them to do. So they could put wires in Frankenkitty, they could point him in the direction of the operatives they wanted it to hang out nearby, and they could let him go in a park to test its spying abilities. But they couldn’t make cyborg cat go where they wanted it to. And most of all, they couldn’t make him not get immediately hit by a taxi and be killed. Which is what happened when the CIA first took Acoustic Kitty out for a test spin in 1966.

The project was deemed “not practical”, abandoned without gathering any information at all, and 20 million dollars (sources differ on this number) had gone completely down the drain. According to a partly redacted CIA document, however, the scientists who had worked on the project remained satisfied with their work, as they had succeeded in training the cat to go short distances (even though they couldn’t control the direction).

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