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Political Animals: Are Critters Keeping Watch?

Posted on Sep 5, 2013
Shamey Jo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Operation Acoustic Kitty” was one of several failed attempts to use animal spies. 

Though it may sound ludicrous, over the years many creatures have been mistaken for spies. Last week in Egypt, a stork’s migration tag was thought to be a listening device. In 2011, Saudi authorities suspected a circling vulture of being a Mossad agent. Iranian authorities arrested 14 squirrels in 2007 that they claimed were collecting information on a nuclear enrichment plant.

Animal spies aren’t such a “far-fetched” concept, the BBC says. Apparently the CIA spent about $14 million on “Operation Acoustic Kitty,” which consisted of surveillance equipment inserted into a cat. Sadly, the enterprise came to a tragic end when the feline was run over in D.C. outside the Soviet Embassy, bringing new meaning to the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat.” But the attempts to recruit creatures for dirty deeds don’t end there:

Animals have been serving in the military as early as 1908, when Germans first attached cameras to pigeons to take aerial photographs….failed [projects include the] outlandish Bat Bomb, tried by the US in WWII, where bats were strapped to mini-incendiary devices and dropped over Japan. The idea was for them to roost inside wooden Japanese buildings before bursting into flames. The atomic bomb ultimately proved more effective.

Perhaps the most successful recruits from the animal world have been dolphins. The US and Russia have confirmed the existence of marine mammal training programmes, where dolphins and seals are trained to identify underwater mines and disable enemy swimmers. But just like young soldiers, dolphins have hormones, and can go awol. In March this year Ukraine’s Defence Ministry had to deny reports that three military dolphins had escaped and were roaming the Black Sea in search of sex.

Rogue and randy dolphins? Now there’s a James Bond flick waiting to happen.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi


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