Acoustic Kitty was a CIA project launched by the Directorate of Science & Technology in the 1960s attempting to use cats in spy missions, intended to spy on the Kremlin and Soviet embassies, recording the links between the buildings in the area. A battery and a microphone were implanted into a cat and an antenna into its tail. This would allow the cats to innocuously record and transmit sound from its surroundings. Due to problems with distraction, the cat's sense of hunger had to be addressed in another operation. Surgical and training expenses are thought to have amounted to over $20 million.
The first Acoustic Kitty mission was to eavesdrop on two men in a park outside the Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. The cat was released nearby, but was hit and killed by a taxi almost immediately. However, this is disputed by former Director of the CIA's Office of Technical Service, Robert Wallace, in the Weapons Of The Superspies episode of the TV series The World's Weirdest Weapons: Wallace states that the project was abandoned due to the difficulty of training the cat to behave as required, and "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". Subsequent tests also failed. Shortly thereafter the project was considered a failure and declared to be a total loss. The project was cancelled in 1967.
Although it is not entirely clear on whether he is the originator of the concept, British author Len Deighton prefigured the concept of Acoustic Kitty in his novel, Billion Dollar Brain (1966), where the unnamed hero (Harry Palmer) notes that "Even the cats of East Berlin are wired" for sound recording.
The project is featured in a novel and in a children's book:
- Acoustic Kitty by Bob Rybarczyk, ISBN 978-1-60145-397-6
- A Horse in the House by Gail Ablow, ill. by Kathy Osborn, ISBN 978-0-7636-2838-3
In Alpha Protocol, Steven Heck tells Michael Thorton about this in response to an unrelated question.
In the DVD version of Red (2010 film), in the Extras menu, Operation Kitty is explained in the C.I.A. files.
In the 2012 animation film The Lorax, the protagonist Ted Wiggins is spied on by Aloysius O'Hare with cat-robots.
- Donald, Graeme (2011). Loose Cannons: 101 Myths, Mishaps and Misadventurers of Military History. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84908-651-6.
- "Weapons Of The Superspies", "The World's Weirdest Weapons", Yesterday TV
- Jeffrey T. Richelson, The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002), 147-48. ISBN 0-8133-4059-4.
- Nate DiMeo (24 June 2009). "Episode 16: Secret Kitty". WordPress. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- Robert Lamb "Top 5 Crazy Government Experiments" February 18, 2010, howstuffworks.com
- Charlotte Edwardes CIA recruited cat to bug Russians April 11, 2001, telegraph.co.uk. The Telegraph newspaper
- Edited CIA memo, dated March 1967 (PDF format).
- Julian Borger Project: Acoustic Kitty September 11, 2001, Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Newspaper
- The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA, John Ranelagh, rev. ed., New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, at p. 208.
- The Living Dead, Adam Curtis, episode 2, 1995.