The 1960s was a swinging time for international espionage – Bond, The Man from Uncle, those IMF people from Mission: Impossible, they were all at it.
Of course, that was all just fictional spying. Meanwhile, in the real world, the CIA thought cats could do a much better job.
So they launched project Acoustic Kitty, which would eventually have a price tag of $20m.
For that kind of money they weren’t dealing with ordinary cats, you understand. A veterinary surgeon implanted a microphone in the cat’s ear canal, a small radio transmitter at the base of its skull and a thin wire into its fur. This would allow the cat to record and transmit sound from its surroundings.
So cyborg cats, then. What could possibly go wrong?
The first Acoustic Kitty mission was to eavesdrop on two men in a park outside a Soviet compound in Washington, D.C. The cat was released nearby and – if one report is to be believed – was pretty much immediately hit and killed by a taxi.
A much later report in 2013 claimed this didn’t happen, but the experiment was still judged a failure and once people finally cottoned onto the fact you can’t get a cat – cyborg or otherwise – to do anything it doesn’t want to do, “the equipment was taken out of the cat; the cat was re-sewn for a second time, and lived a long and happy life afterwards”.
Whatever the level of feline failure, the project was finally canned in 1967. Closing the whole sorry episode, supervisors wrote that they still believed CIA researchers could train cats to move short distances, but added:
“The environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our (intelligence) purposes, it would not be practical.”
Of course, that was then. Cyborg cat technology must have come on in leaps and bounds since 1967 (we idly speculate), so we’re expecting the results of Acoustic Kitty 2 any day now.