All Stories

It’s a Wild Kingdom

No one suspects the chicken. That’s what I figured when I chose this disguise. It turns out I should have done a bit more research. There have been a lot of very distinguished animals in the history of spying.

In 1908, Dr Julius Neubronner created a miniature camera that could be attached to a homing pigeon. As the pigeon flew, a timer inside the camera took photos that could be developed when the pigeon landed. Here is a photo taken by a pigeon camera over 100 years ago.

A vulture was recently accused of spying. It was a resident of the Gamla Nature Reserve wildlife sanctuary and had a small GPS tracking device attached to it so that scientists at the sanctuary could keep track of its movements. When it mistakenly crossed over the border of a nearby country, the neighbouring citizens accused the bird of using its GPS device to take photographs and held the bird captive. Fortunately, it was eventually released.

Some agencies have reportedly experimented with using ravens to plant listening devices, disguised as fallen roof tiles. The birds would be trained to carry the device to a particular windowsill so agents could listen to the conversation happening inside. Ravens are very strong flyers and have been observed carrying loads of over 12% of their own body weight.   

One of the most unusual cases of animal spying was the acoustic kitty project. Agents during the cold war noticed that a particular world leader often held sensitive conferences in an area where a number of cats roamed free. Technicians created a way to safely implant a tiny microphone in the cat’s ear canal, along with an antenna that lay along its spine. The creators of the device were careful to ensure that it was not painful or uncomfortable in case the cat began to scratch at it, alerting the enemy. 

Some report that after investing over $10 million in developing the device, the cat was released near the location it was supposed to infiltrate and immediately got run over by a passing taxi. Robert Wallace, co-author of Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, insists that this is not true.  "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". The project was abandoned because there was no practical way to train the cat to listen to the right person.

So don’t trust that cute puppy or that adorable pigeon flying by. Remember, they could be watching YOU.

- Cluckminster

 

This week’s challenge:

What creatures do you think would make a good spy? Share your answers with Agent Cluckminster at cluckminster@scienceworld.ca


Check out Cluckminster's mission briefing from last week.