Over the years, the American Central Intelligence Agency has gained a reputation for being the most far-reaching, sophisticated, and effective government intelligence agency on the planet. At the same time, the CIA has also become known for its incredible paranoia and propensity to undertake costly, sometimes illegal, and often downright absurd projects in the name of gaining an edge on the competition. From spy cats to psychic hippies, the following are ten of the weirdest spy programs the government has proposed and funded over the years.
Operation Gold (also known as Operation Stopwatch by the British)
There is nothing related to gold, even if a conversation recorded at the right time can be worth much more. In 1953, during the Cold War, CIA has worked extensively with MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service to intercept phone calls made in Russia at the highest level.
The easiest way to do it was to act in East Berlin, which was occupied by the Russians. CIA dug a 450-metre (1,476-foot) tunnel to intersect a series of cable less than 47 cm (18″) below a busy street. About half a million calls were recorded in 50,000 tapes in less than one year. The fun part is that a British compromised the whole project, providing information to the KGB when the CIA began working on the tunnel. Thus, the Russians had allowed ordinary military communications to take place through the cables to create the impression that they had no aggressive intention against West Berlin.
In the time of the World War II, pigeons were crucial to the U.S. CIA recruited B.F. Skinner, a well known researcher who was studying the way in which animals behave when they are punished or rewarded. These methods have effective results when it comes about training animals, so the Americans intended to train pigeons for use in a missile guidance system. Can you imagine that? Skinner has trained some pigeons in this regard and placed them inside missiles to record their flight path. The pigeons would peck at the screen if it was drifting off course. The results were disappointing and the whole project required $25,000.
If a cat comes near an important embassy, nobody would believe that it may be a potential master of espionage. It seems incredible, but the CIA has spent about 20 million dollars on this utopian project. The CIA got some cats, trained them and implanted microphones, antennae and batteries into their ears, tail and chest. Then the cats were sent near the Russian embassy. Unfortunately the first cat sent into the field was supposedly run over by a taxi.
In the ’60s, the CIA thought about how to remove Fidel Castro from power. The easiest was to persuade the other heads of state that the communists were about to commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. Basically, the CIA wanted the Americans to kill some important persons in the US and perform a series of violent terrorist actions and then somehow blame Cuba for all these events. Kennedy categorically rejected the plan. After his death, it was shown that the Northwoods existed on paper.
The Stargate Project
The $20 million Stargate Project was about a large number of psychic experiments and investigations undertaken by the U.S. government. There were tens of million of dollars invested in people who has extraordinary capabilities they could use to predict future events and read hidden documents. It’s true that some people were having up to 15% more powerful senses than ordinary people. However, the CIA cancelled the project because of the poor results achieved. There are some rumors that the Russians still invest in similar experiments.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
Despite the name of this project, we’re not going to talk about pigs. In 1960, the CIA has received approval from the president to start a secret operation against Cuba, and especially against Fidel Castro. 1,300 Cubans were intensively trained and sent to the Bay of Pigs to attack Castro’s troops. But Cuban intelligence was already aware of the planned invasion.
As a result of this project, 100 Americanized Cubans and 2,000 Cubans were killed in minutes. The bay was full of obstacles and the American troops had to surrender. A year later, Fidel Castro released the prisoners in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine for Cuban people.
Operation Midnight Climax
Central Intelligence Agency has experienced all sorts of projects over the years and has not hesitated to use innocent people. It seems incredible that these things have actually happened. Starting with 1960, the CIA has used hallucinogenic drugs like LSD to analyze their effects on unsuspecting citizens. For example, these substances were administrated in food and drinks and given to people who were closely observed by agents. CIA wanted to know exactly what happens. They were collecting data directly from witnesses, not only from agents.
Drugs could be easily used on politicians and other important people as long as their effects were well known. New York Times conducted the most detailed study on Midnight Climax and the Americans have been terrified by the fact that many of them were used by CIA for observing the evolution of syphilis, and more. But these are other stories…
Operation Mockingbird was the largest operation of propaganda and manipulation conducted by the CIA in the U.S. In the ’50s, over 3,000 agents were infiltrated in the media to gain control of the free press. New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine were practically controlled by the CIA. Considering that the media s a huge power in a state, no one knew what was really going on. In the ’60s, someone brought the program to light.
It may seem weird to say that the CIA conducted experiments on the mind control and the creation of “zombies” able to perform certain tasks after being tortured and subjected to psychological and chemical stress for a long time. But it actually happened. Since the early ’50s, the CIA launched the great project MK-ULTRA. Many people were recruited, receiving substances like LSD or amphetamine, electric shocks, brain washing or other incredible means of control.
The files are classified, but there is enough information in the specialized press. It is even said that MK-ULTRA is still conducted successfully. This is the only way in which the drugs labeled as ‘the truth serum’ can be tested.
Have you thought that the Bay of Pigs invasion was the only attack against Castro? Well, then you must know that during the Cold War was remove the Cuban leader from power. The operation involved several attempts to assassinate Castro. Thus, the CIA tried to poison Castro’s personal supply of cigars, spray a TV studio with hallucinogens, plant chemicals in his clothes and more.
Nothing had the expected results. In fact, the same happened in Europe with Hitler. Later, Cuba faced the missile crisis, Kennedy made an agreement with Russia and Fidel Castro has survived the threats.