The idea came when the CIA was surveilling an Asian head of state. They noticed that during his meeting, feral cats were wandering around and no one seemed to notice.
That’s when the Directorate of Science and Technology for the CIA developed the idea of using cats to spy on the Russian embassy. The project began in 1961 and was dubbed Acoustic Kitty.
A grey and white cat was chosen as the test subject. A microphone was surgically implanted in the cat’s ear canal and a radio transmitter was placed at the base of the cat’s skull. Thin wire was wound into the fur along the back and down the tail. This served as an antenna. A small battery pack was implanted in the chest. This equipment would record the voices of those around the cat. The cat just needed to be sent in the right direction.
The first round of tests were disastrous. The cat would wander around and was easily distracted, especially by food. The scientists tried to direct the cat using ultrasonic sounds with a small measure of success.
The cat was taken in for a second surgery. CIA documents released in 2001 stated that this surgery involved implanting a wire to tame the cat’s hunger response. Much of the document is redacted and no description of this procedure is available.
After years of testing and training, the total bill for the project came in at $20 million (close to $160 million today). Finally, the day came to send Acoustic Kitty on its first mission.
In 1966, the cat was driven to the Soviet compound in Washington DC and sent off to record two men in the park outside.
The cat made it about 10 feet before being hit by a car. Some former CIA agents say that the cat was killed so the experiment was called off. Others say that the cat lived, the recording equipment was removed and it went on to live a long and ordinary life. Either way, the experiment was officially ended in 1967.
The released CIA documents state that, though the experiment was not successful, cats could be trained to a certain degree. It also praised the person who came up with the idea, but that name was redacted so we may never know who deserves that credit.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at