The Cat Who Couldn’t Spy: A CIA Fail

The CIA once recruited a feline agent to spy on enemies, according to a new book that sheds light on the elite cat and its abysmal failure during “Operation Acoustic Kitty.”

Emily Anthes, author of the new book “Frankenstein’s Cat”, told Discovery News that felines weren’t the only non-human field agents.

There were “cyborg insects as well as cyborg rats (called ratbots),” she said, adding that “there’s a long history of using dogs in military and police operations” with some of the dogs “outfitted with cameras and other sophisticated technological equipment.”

The U.S. military has also tried to use implants to control shark movements.

Operation Acoustic Kitty, however, is one of the more memorable attempts to turn an animal into a spy. It took place in the 1960s.

“In an hour-long procedure, a veterinary surgeon transformed the furry feline into an elite spy,” Anthes explains, “implanting a microphone in her ear canal and a small radio transmitter at the base of her skull, and weaving a thin wire antenna into her long gray-and-white fur.”

The goal was to transform the female feline into “a living, walking surveillance machine.” Anthes said the CIA hoped to train the cat to sit near foreign officials, in order to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Amazingly, the poor cat lived through the operation.

“For its first official test,” Anthes wrote, “CIA staffers drove Acoustic Kitty to the park and tasked it with capturing the conversation of two men sitting on a bench.”

“Instead,” she continued, “the cat wandered into the street, where it was promptly squashed by a taxi.”

The road kill kitty seemed to end all hope that a cat could be transformed into a James Bond-type spy.

Scientists in more recent years have turned their attention to other species.

Anthes notes that in 2006, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) considered manipulating actual insects for surveillance purposes.

Researchers often study insects to model machinery after their behavior, but they usually just create a machine that copies one or more insect attributes. Richard Bomphrey of Oxford University, for example, led a project a few years ago to build tiny aerial vehicles equipped with innovative flapping wings based on those of real-life insects.

The DARPA effort, however, involved cyborg bugs.

A DARPA pamphlet explained that “it might be possible to transform (insects) into predictable devices that can be used for … missions requiring unobtrusive entry into areas inaccessible or hostile to humans.”

Anthes said the call launched a grand science fair, but she doesn’t think the bugs are ready to be deployed just yet.

Would-be criminals should perhaps pay more attention to pigeons instead.

Su Xuecheng of the Robot Engineering Technology Research Center of East China’s Shandong University of Science and Technology announced that he and his colleagues implanted micro electrodes in the brain of a pigeon, allowing the researchers to direct the bird to fly left, right, up or down.

“It’s the first such successful experiment on a pigeon in the world,” Xuecheng said.

Animal rights groups, however, want this and the other experiments to end.

PETA issued this response: “Pigeons are not inanimate remote-controlled toys. Manipulating the brains of animals is cruel.”