Just what you need to start a coup? How MI5 plotted to use radio-controlled bomber pigeons

 

Rediscovered post-war diaries have shown that British spy-masters considered developing remote-controlled homing pigeons - perhaps to carry explosives.

Details of the scheme have emerged in the post-war diaries of Guy Liddell, then-deputy director general of MI5.

It seems the idea was discussed with Captain James Caiger, who ran the Army's pigeon loft after the war.

Liddell's diaries show that the Joint Intelligence Committee heard a presentation from Caiger, the army's pigeon expert.

He informed them that the homing instinct of the birds could be used to trick them into following a radio beam.

In an entry for October 3, 1946, Liddell described how Capt Caiger came to see him. "He is our pigeon expert. He is, in fact, the nearest thing to a pigeon that I have ever seen. He talks, thinks and dreams about them," he wrote.

"He has had pigeons since he was a boy and his father had pigeons before him.

"I asked him about the homing instinct. He said that the matter is quite unsolved.

"There is however, one curious fact, namely that in a sun spot year all pigeons go hay-wire.

"Sun spots are, of course, minute radio active particles thought how they affect the pigeons' homing instinct nobody knows.

"This gives some colour to the suggestion that pigeons might be able to home on an electric beam, in other words that you might have radio-controlled pigeons."

MI5 files previously released refer to plans to train pigeons to carry explosives and fly into enemy searchlights.

It was not until 2007, however, that scientists were able to perfect plans similiar to those mooted by Liddell.

Scientists at a University in China implanted microchips which plotted the birds' course by sending electronic impulse signals.

The diaries, released to the National Archives in Kew, make reference to a number of 'spycraft' ideas.

In February 1949 Liddell discussed impregnating papers with radioactive substances to set off an alarm if they were removed from a building.

Liddell wrote that he was told: "it is quite possible to impregnate paper, metal clips or ink with radioactive substance and to install either under the floor boards or in a door post, or under the ground outside an apparatus which will register if anybody goes out of the building with a secret paper so impregnated."

But snags would include health risks to anyone if the papers were left in a drawer, he noted:

"It would at the outset produce extreme lassitude and later a loss of blood counts.

"No serious harm would result if the papers were removed and the symptoms detected. To counter these ill-effects it would be possible to introduce some self-destroying material."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence