Birds over Moscow. CIA Spy Animals


Live drones

“Animal Partners” was the name of the CIA’s program of using animals for intelligence purposes. This became especially relevant after the destruction of the winged spy U-2 in the sky over Sverdlovsk in 1960. The era of satellite reconnaissance was still far away, so a way out was found in the use of avifauna. This became one of the areas of work of the Animal Partners project. Now it is quite difficult to talk about the effectiveness of American espionage undertakings, but the CIA decided to declassify the project only in September last year.

Birds over Moscow.  CIA Spy Animals

A spy pigeon in combat gear. CIA Museum in Langley. Source:

Birds could be used not only as carriers of photo and video recording equipment, but also as living bioindicators. For example, US intelligence hoped to get hold of pigeons and other birds that migrate seasonally to the region of the Saratov training ground in Shikhany. Here, in the opinion of the Americans, the Russians were testing chemical weapons and all living creatures living nearby were supposed to bear traces of this. All that remained was to catch the birds that had flown away from the Shikhan for the winter and take detailed analyzes of biochemistry. By such indirect indicators, it was theoretically possible to judge the specifics of testing chemical weapons in the USSR. Whether the CIA, if successful, counted on denouncing the leadership of the Soviet Union, it is not known, but hardly anyone in their right mind could accept as evidence the presence of traces of sarin or other OM in pigeon droppings or blood.

The second “case” in the portfolio of the Animal Partners program was the Tacana project, designed to use birds as live reconnaissance drones. The museum in Langley, closed to prying eyes, contains samples of miniature cameras that were mounted on pigeons and other winged animals. I must say, the Americans did their best – cameras for 200 frames weighed only 35 g, did not particularly hamper the flight of the bird. They cost about 2 thousand dollars. The developers focused primarily on pigeons, as they are one of the few who found their way home from the most remote places. Moscow and Leningrad were to become one of the main objects of observation – important and, most importantly, large-scale objects, saturated with objects of interest to the CIA. The Americans received part of the developments on the project from Great Britain, whose special services, during the Second World War, actively used pigeons to communicate with intelligence on the other side of the English Channel. The first experiments on “Tacana” were carried out in the United States in the vicinity of Washington and were not particularly successful. Even for the multi-million dollar budget of the program, this turned out to be wasteful – some of the birds disappeared without a trace or returned without expensive equipment. The developers, obviously, did not take into account that the pigeon weighed down by the camera, although it does not lose its ability to fly, dodges predators somewhat worse. As a result, the hawks quite successfully attacked some of the experimental birds, forever taking valuable equipment from the CIA. Sometimes an ordinary cat could play this counterintelligence role.

Scheme of placing special equipment inside the cat and outside. Acoustic Kitty project. Source:

By the way, about cats. Even before the declassification of “Animal Partners”, the media in 2001 became aware of the work of the CIA on the “Acoustic Kitty” project. The essence of the work is to use a cat as a carrier of eavesdropping and relaying equipment. To do this, a microphone, a transmitter and a thin antenna laid along the spine were implanted into the ear canals and the skull of the unfortunate animal. Such a “modified” cat did not have any unmasking signs and could easily overhear secret conversations. However, the problem was the intractability of the equipment wearer himself – the cat was constantly distracted and deviated from the original plan of the operation. They say that one of them was even killed by a car while “on duty”. Be that as it may, feline training did not respond well and the dubious project was closed in 1967, having wasted several million dollars.

Doves, dogs and dolphins

But back to the spy pigeons. The second reason why the CIA was skeptical about the results was the possibility of valuable intelligence equipment falling into the hands of the KGB. It was enough for such a pigeon to walk in front of not indifferent townspeople for the whole plan of the operation to be revealed. During training in the skies over Washington, it turned out that half of the images taken by the equipment turned out to be of quite tolerable quality and were much better than satellite ones. As a result, the CIA decided to take a chance and in 1976 they issued a test espionage operation on the territory of the USSR. It was supposed to release spy pigeons from under their coats, through a special hole in the floor of the ambassadorial cars, and even while the car was moving through the window. One of the targets was the shipyards of Leningrad. Live reconnaissance drones were to appear in the skies of Moscow. History is silent about whether this was actually done: declassified documents are cut off at the most interesting place.

Artificial scouting bird of the Project Aquiline program. Source:

According to the “Tacana” project, it is also known about the attraction of ravens as carriers of eavesdropping equipment, for example, on the windowsill of the object of observation. There is information that the Americans even managed to plant bugs in this way a couple of times somewhere in Europe, albeit in an experimental manner. Owls, cockatoos, vultures and hawks have also auditioned for the role of winged scouts in the CIA at various times. Project Aquiline has become the real pinnacle of US bird exploration. This name hides the development of an experienced winged drone disguised as an eagle, capable of flying deep into the territory of the USSR and returning with a detailed photo report. The flying scarecrow was created, it even flew, but the control problem was not solved, which led to the premature closure of the topic.

In addition to the animal partners described above, US intelligence also tried to attract dogs. Here, training was much easier, so the CIA also decided to learn how to control animals from a distance. For this, control electrodes with transmitters and receivers were implanted in the animal’s brain. Some of the information in this area has not yet been fully declassified by the Americans, so there is no need to talk about the closure of the project or efficiency.

Illustration of the principle of working with dolphins. Source:

But the CIA worked with dolphins quite actively, albeit to no avail. These amazingly intelligent marine mammals were eager to respond to American requests. The scouts asked for the installation of listening equipment on enemy submarines and escorting Soviet sea convoys with detailed recording of the noise signatures of ships and submarines. Dolphin-mounted sensors could detect radioactive emissions from ships and even the effects of biological weapons testing. It was expected that the dolphins would be equipped with small-sized mines for hidden installation on ships, and sometimes for a banal suicidal detonation. Dolphins could act in the seemingly harmless role of a hidden vehicle for small cargo. For example, animals were taught to transport valuable documents from the shore to ships remote at sea. “Oxygas” and “Chirilogy” were the names of the dolphin programs (based in Florida, Key West), which also ended in nothing for the CIA. The percentage of successfully completed tasks by sea animals was too small to speak of success. However, the American Navy is still actively working with dolphins.

Dolphin equipment. Source:

The fact that the topic of using sea animals as scouts is alive not only in the United States is evidenced by the latest find of Norwegian fishermen. On April 25, a beluga whale swam up to them, apparently in search of food, on which there was a belt for equipping the animal with some specific equipment such as a GoPro camera. So, at least, the Norwegian side says. They also mention a label that read: “Equipment of St. Petersburg “(” Equipment of St. Petersburg “), which” unambiguously “speaks of a Russian provocation off the coast of Norway. In general, it remains only for the sake of faithfulness to leave the feedback telephone.

Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *