In one experiment during the Cold War a cat, dubbed Acoustic Kitty, was wired up for use as an eavesdropping platform. It was hoped that the animal – which was surgically altered to accommodate transmitting and control devices – could listen to secret conversations from window sills, park benches or dustbins.
Victor Marchetti, a former CIA officer, told The Telegraph that Project Acoustic Kitty was a gruesome creation. He said: “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 him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.”
Mr Marchetti said that the first live trial was an expensive disaster. The technology is thought to have cost more than £10 million. He said: “They took it out to a park and put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over. There they were, sitting in the van with all those dials, and the cat was dead.”
The document, which was one of 40 to be declassified from the CIA’s closely guarded Science and Technology Directorate – where spying techniques are refined – is still partly censored. This implies that the CIA was embarrassed about disclosing all the details of Acoustic Kitty, which took five years to design.
Dr Richelson, who is the a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in Washington, said of the document: “I’m not sure for how long after the operation the cat would have survived even if it hadn’t been run over.”
The memo ends by congratulating the team who worked on the Acoustic Kitty project for its hard work. It says: “The work done on this problem over the years reflects great credit on the personnel who guided it . . . whose energy and imagination could be models for scientific pioneers.”
By coincidence, in 1966, a British film called Spy With a Cold Nose featured a dog wired up to eavesdrop on the Russians. It was the same year as the Acoustic Kitty was tested.