No one tells a cat where it can and cannot go.
Some nameless CIA agent came to that obvious conclusion while surveilling a Russian compound one afternoon in the mid-1960s. The site was so well-secured and heavily-guarded that Soviet officials felt comfortable discussing business in the open air, where American spies could see them from a distance but, critically, couldn’t hear what they were saying.
The Russians weren’t leaving anything to chance: No one could slip through the perimeter without them knowing about it, making infiltration impossible.
Except, the CIA officer realized, for cats. Human trespassers would be shot on sight. Any deliveries or strange pieces of equipment would become the immediate subject of suspicion. But not even grizzled KGB veterans would dream of trying to stop cats from chasing rodents or finding a sunny spot to nap.
‘No one tells a cat where it can and cannot go!’ the CIA officer thought in a flash of inspiration, envisioning the wealth of intelligence that could be gathered with a small army of felines trained in spycraft and equipped with tiny microphones hidden in their free-swiveling ears.
Two years and $20 million later the CIA abandoned Project Acoustic Kitty after realizing cats make lousy spies for precisely the same reason guards don’t try to stop them from entering secure compounds: No one tells a cat where it can and cannot go.
“Our final examination of trained cats [REDACTED] for use in the [REDACTED] convinced us that the program would not lend itself in a practical way to our highly specialized needs,” a recently-declassified CIA memorandum notes.
To put it in simple terms, CIA agents couldn’t get the cats to stay near their marks. The cats would get distracted or hungry or bored, which all resulted in the same thing: Wandering off and leaving the Americans with only fragments of conversations.
Imagine it: “Yes, Yuri, we have finalized the details for our strike against American interests in” (drowned out by loud MEOW) “which we will launch when…” followed by the cat taking off after seeing a bird.
The CIA should have realized cats are indifferent to the petty squabbles of their lessers, even if those petty squabbles bring humanity to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
Mutually assured destruction may be a grim doctrine for students regularly participating in air raid drills or families investing in personal bomb shelters, but to cats it’s merely the regrettable loss of a species that faithfully served them for 10,000 years.
If humans nuke each other into oblivion there will still be plenty of rodents to eat, and a surviving primate species — perhaps bonobos or rhesus macaques — could serve as a suitable replacement in servitude to felines.
As for Project Acoustic Kitty, how much of that $20 million was spent on treats used as rewards for getting the cats to participate in training?
The CIA thought it was using cats. As usual, it was the other way around.