Snap Judgment #28: Special Agent Catnip
Snapple Fact #1454: In the 1960s, the U.S. government tried to turn a cat into a spy.
Verdict: True. Completely and utterly true.
I am not ashamed to admit I spent more time looking at spy cats/coming up with puns (I'm currently favoring "Tacti-cat" for the above image) than I did doing research for this post. It's not that I didn't do a lot of research, it's that I spent in exorbitant amount of time checking out cat pictures. None of us are immune, so stop looking judging me and enjoy the adorable cat pictures like nature intended.
The CIA did a lot of..."interesting" (often morally questionable) projects in the 60's, and Project "Acoustic Cat" (big missed opportunity for "Acousticat") is arguably one of the more absurd ones. A quick warning: if you are squeamish/have issues with what most would consider "animal cruelty," I would not advise continuing on.
The goal was simple in theory, difficult in practice: hide a recording device on a cat, gift it to the Soviet Union, let it do its work. They also wanted to implant a small device to give it cues so they could direct it at at least a basic level. Now remember the year: there are no personal computers, audio recording is still 100% analog, and small batteries with long life are hard to produce (even today that presents a challenge.) The cat had to look like a cat still as well, so where do you hide all the necessary components?
Unfortunately, the CIA went ahead and created what assistant to the CIA director Victor Marchetti described as "a monstrosity." They performed surgery on the cat and implanted a battery, they then had wires running the length of his body woven into the fur, then placed a small microphone in his ear canal. The cat also had serious issues with wandering off or becoming distracted when bored or hungry, so they did more surgery to "help with that." I am not sure what that means, but I'm sure it's just more awfulness. From conception to implementation, this cost $20 million dollars over 5 years.
On the first trip out into the real world, the cat was hit and killed by a taxi while crossing the road before even making it to the target. From The Atlantic (and once again, Marchetti):
When it came time for the inaugural mission, CIA agents released their rookie agent from the back of a nondescript van and watched eagerly as he set out on his mission. Acoustic Kitty dashed off toward the embassy, making it all of 10 feet before he was unceremoniously struck by a passing taxi and killed.
“There they were, sitting in the van,” Marchetti recalled, “and the cat was dead.”