Purrfect Assets? What Happened When the CIA Trained Cats to Be Secret Agents

In the 1960s the CIA tried something a little different. They attempted to use cats as secret agents. Unsurprisingly (or maybe not if you have a lot of faith in cats), the project didn’t go according to plan.

1. It all started with the Soviets

Morning over the Moscow Kremlin in the sun

The CIA was trying to get information on the Soviets. | iStock.com/yulenochekk

Around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA was doing everything in its power to get a leg up on the Soviets. They were particularly interested in finding the most effective way to gather information without being detected. Enter: Project Acoustic Kitty.

Next: Transforming the cat 

2. Project Acoustic Kitty

Cat in yard frowning

The project aimed to turn a cat into a recording device. | Sealland/iStock/Getty Images

The idea behind Project Acoustic Kitty was to turn an unassuming cat into a full blown recording device. “The cat in question would be turned into a cyborg, essentially, as it would have a surgically implanted audio transmitter, battery, and microphone,” says Reader’s Digest.

Next: Problems arose 

3. Problems along the way

Devon Rex cat breed

The task wasn’t easy. | Heikki Siltala/Wikimedia Commons

Believe it or not, it’s not an easy task to turn a cat into a spy machine. The department’s engineers needed to figure out how to implant the necessary devices in such a way that wouldn’t cause the cat to itch or disturb the equipment. They were also worried about the implants affecting the cat’s movements — they didn’t want to cause suspicion.

Next: Where the engineers ended up putting everything 

4. The solution

A frightened kitten with green eyes staring out from a cage.

The CIA put a microphone in the cat’s ear canal and an antenna in the tail. | iStock.com/Halfpoint

“Working with outside audio equipment contractors, the CIA built a 3/4-inch-long transmitter to embed at the base of the cat’s skull,” says Mental Floss. They ended up putting the microphone in the cat’s ear canal and the antenna in her tail.

Next: The chosen cat 

5. Secret Agent Kitty

cat watching mouse

The cat kept getting distracted. | fergregory/iStock/Getty Images

The first Project Acoustic Kitty prototype was an adult gray-and-white female cat. She handled the surgery well enough, but when it came to testing out their prototype, the CIA found that their secret agent kitty kept getting distracted. Her biggest problems were that she was always either bored or hungry, and simply unmotivated to complete simple tasks.

Next: Fixing the “hunger problem” 

6. Fixing the hunger issue

Orange cat eating catnip, a favorite treat of felines

Another surgery dealt with the hunger issues. | iStock.com/gvictoria

The cat underwent another surgery to address her hunger issues, costing an additional $20 million. After her second very pricey surgery, secret agent kitty was ready for duty (without hunger acting as a constant distraction she was much more focused).

Next: The project came to an abrupt end.

7. First (and last) day on the job

Taxis on 7th Avenue at Times Square

During a field test, a taxi hit and killed the cat. | batuhanozdel/iStock/Getty Images

After she recovered from her second surgery the CIA brought their newest secret agent out for a field test. “For the first field test, a CIA reconnaissance van was across the street from a park, where the marks were sitting on a bench,” says Mental Floss. Unfortunately, she never made it to her mark as she was promptly hit by a taxi as she started to cross the street. After cleaning up the cat’s remains to hide any trace of the project from the Soviets, Project Acoustic Kitty was deemed an utter failure.

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