It should have been the perfect spy. But the CIA's attempt to use a surgically altered cat as a covert bugging device fell at the first hurdle – when it was run over by a taxi.
Nicknamed "Acoustic Kitty", the audacious scheme was one of a number of bizarre projects dreamt up by military scientists in the latter days of the Cold War, according to documents newly released by the US National Security Archive. A domestic cat was wired up with control and transmission equipment designed to turn it into a mobile "eavesdropper" capable of listening in on conversations by using its tail as an antenna.
In an account related in a new book by US intelligence historian Dr Jeffrey Richelson, a former CIA agent explains that the experiment was not an unqualified success.
Victor Marchetti, an ex-officer with the agency, recalls: "They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.
"Finally, they're ready. They took it to a park and said, 'listen to those two guys. Don't listen to anyone else – not the birds, not cat or the dog – just those two guys!'
"Then they put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over!"
Marchetti's testimony is one of several relating to the failed experiment quoted in Dr Richelson's book, The Wizards of Langley: The CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology.
"Acoustic Kitty" was by no means the biggest failure in the annals of CIA espionage. Others chronicle the use of mind control drugs that led to the suicide of an Army scientist, and futile attempts to use poison pens and exploding seashells to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies