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Acoustic Kitty (wikipedia.org)
170 points by Hooke on Oct 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments

Quite interesting that they (apparently) didn't think to train or find a "suitable" cat first. Instead they _first_ went with the (at the time) advanced miniature surveillance tech R&D and costly bio-modification. Poor thing.

Right? You could easily have 10 people try and train 10 different cats for a particular task, and pick the best one. Cats are basically free, and I imagine it wouldn't be hard to find 10 employees willing to adopt and train a cat. Seems like a waste of time to strap equipment onto any old cat and hope it works.

You're not understanding: the wasteful spending is the feature.

This being the time period that it was they were on LSD.

That is not a joke, CIA agents would dose each other as pranks.

Not high risk high reward. Not funny. Not clever. Not successful.

Dumb. Sad. Deeply cruel.

The generally casual way it is discussed here is not surprising.

I take it you wouldn't approve of the CIA's experiments on elephants either!

In 1962 Tusko the elephant was given 297mg (yes, milligrams, not micrograms) of LSD by CIA-funded quacks who were trying to simulate "musth" in the hope that it could be used to weaponize elephants for sabotage in south-east Asia (hint: Vietnam war in progress).

We now know that 297mg of LSD will kill an elephant.


In case you think I'm making this up, the original paper was published in Science: West, LJ; Pierce, CM; Thomas, WD (7 December 1962). "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Its Effects on a Male Asiatic Elephant". Science. 138 (3545): 1100–3. It's online here (account needed): https://science.sciencemag.org/content/138/3545/1100

I'm skeptical of the military applications of elephants on acid to begin with...

>> We now know that 297mg of LSD will kill an elephant.

The facepalm I'm having at the moment would make Patrick Stewart jealous.

I misread that as μg and had to do a double-take.

That's...that's like several entire music festival's worth of LSD.


When I called the CIA researchers "quacks" I did so for a reason: when tox testing, it is customary to start with a minimal dose then increase it progressively until it exhibits a measurable effect, not start with a huge overdose!

297mg is one thousand times the typical dose sold for black market acid in the mid-1960s, per wikipedia:


(As an elephant weighs on the order of 20-50 times as much as a human, administering a thousand times a typical human dose was ... inadvisable to say the least.)

> We now know that 297mg of LSD will kill an elephant.

... along with a boat load of Thorazine followed by a tranquilizer.

Arming South American deathsquads with drug money is one thing, but harming fluffy kittens ... now that's outrage time!

I imagine that GP is outraged at both the CIA spilling blood and causing chaos in Central and South America and their animal cruelty. The animal cruelty is the story here though which is probably why they didn't go into the multitude of other crimes.

>the cat was re-sewn for a second time, and lived a long and happy life afterwards

Seeing/knowing how much secret service orgs (of all countries) value human life (near-zero), I will go ahead and assume that somewhere in Moscow there is a hole with 100 dead cats.

> I will go ahead and assume that somewhere in Moscow there is a hole with 100 dead cats.

I'm pretty sure there are a few barrels full dead cats and dogs sitting in the back of shelters all over the USA right now. Waiting for their turn through rendering plant shredder.

rolls the eyes

By the middle 1920-ies there were quite a lot of stray cats and dogs in the Moscow (y'know, after all those events in the span of 1914-1922), and then the city management finally got means and funds to do something with it. So I assure you, there are a lot of holes with hundreds of dead cats in Moscow (and other cities too), without any secret orgs involved.

I doubt that, the cats and dogs would have been eaten.

whataboutism 101.

That's not what "whataboutism" means. For one, I neither torture cats nor salvadorians.

Whataboutism: "the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or raising a different issue."

Seems like a textbook case actually.

Who's responding to an accusation? I'm mocking someone who's more concerned about cats than about humans. That makes no damn sense.

Why even value one over the other? We both experience pain, suffering and anxiety. The only difference is the cat has no ability to consent to torture rendered by a self conscious, intelligent animal which is fully aware of what they are doing. In conclusion: You have a moral failing.

Who said the parent is unconcerned about humans? Are people expected to list out all of their concerns when addressing the article at hand?

Because of all the fucked up things the CIA did this isn't even in the top 1e5.

If you have never seen Tom Scott's Citation Needed, I highly recommend the comical take on this article.


Is something weird going on with the YouTube algorithm. In the last few days there have been a few posts here on HN that reference various Citation Needed episodes. Most notably the Cyberdyne post from this week.

Maybe it's just Baader-Meinhof syndrome, and it's all conincidental, but it's still super strange.

This is one of my favorites of the entire series :)

The Cold War forced US and Russia into a technological arms race that pushed us leaps and bounds into the future. An absolutely reckless use of resources sent humans into space and to the moon way earlier than our technological timeline should have allowed for, as evidenced by our lack of return visit. The spy technology that Americans and Russians came up with in this time is like something out of fiction. Here's an interesting one I learned about on HN: The Great Bug Seal (aka The Thing)


"The Thing" was invented by Leon Theramin, who invented the eponymous Theramin, one of the first mass-produced electronic instrument.

his interests in rf extend to pop music - he also invented the theremin

"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"

Men in Black memory flash

Yeah, I felt that was a bit contrived as well. Which would seem to add credibility to the taxi theory.

Government scientists discover that cats don't follow orders, do whatever the hell they want.

Both the US and Russia are known to train dolphins and other marine mammals in military espionage, even to this day.

Video of an alleged Russian spy whale: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48090616

And a fascinating report about how this works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA1qPdeeJ5s

Also fascinating satellite images of the suspected Russian beluga pens: http://www.hisutton.com/Russia_Navy_Beluga_Whale_update.html

This CNET article features a diagram of how the cat was wired up. Pretty crazy that 1960s surveillance tech would be miniature enough to go unnoticed inside a cat.


Also, I hope anyone looking for a band name is taking note of this project's name.

Interesting projects. I'm skeptical of that letter extractor... the target would notice the paper has an odd tendency to curl.

Is there a credible list of disclosed secret projects like this? Would make a fun read

I'm a historian of science working on a journal article/ possibly a magazine article on the topic. There's a ton of misinformation, but one place to start that's really fun to browse and, presumably, a legit source of documents is the CIA's own recent FOIA release from last year, about their "Animal Partners" program:


By the way, on the off chance that anyone reading this was involved in or has a friend or family member involved in this kind of work, please let me know if you think they might want to talk to me! I'm currently interviewing people. Contact info in my profile.

When exploring 'disclosures' of this kind, what proof is there for the existence of such work?

Take the common attitude to somewhat more contemporary conspiracy theories... They seem far more believable than a scheme like this. Yet the government appears to ratify this story.

Might it not just be a more sophisticated layer of misinformation?

This particular example is far too embarrassing to make up. Why would you make up something which shows you being so incompetent?

/shrug. i can think of any number of totally hypothetical reasons why demonstrating incompetence would be a strategic or tactical win.

- now your enemy is complacent, secure in the knowledge that you are super super dumb

- now your enemy is on the lookout for dog and cat listening devices rather than the 5th generation bird listening devices

- now your enemy is indeed paranoid about any stupid animal roaming about and has to meet in enclosed spaces

- you, knowing that experimenting on cute cats is unethical, seek to terminate the practice by devising an experiment that fails so embarrassingly as to never be tried again


This was only declassified in 2001, though; the state of the art in bugging cats has presumably improved significantly, so it's no longer relevant.

Operation RAFTER is one of the most important projects of this nature that actually worked. The Wikipedia page of both it and creator could use some love unfortunately (One day I'll get round to it)

Category links on the wiki article? Down at the bottom

Probably easier to use honeybees now, and use a wiggle dance robot to direct them.

I want to live in a world where you're head of the CIA.

No, you don't.

If curious see also

a small thread from 2019: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19353746

and another from 2009: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=907190

There's an alternate universe where the USA held onto superpower status with acoustic cats and bat bombs.

These days you can just have mobile (random) pentesting platforms


Roaches, ants, cats, rats, bats, pigeons, and possums all seem modern candidates for site infil. It sounded like screening and training needed more work though.

most people laugh at stuff like this, but I think it's absolutely brilliant! it's just one of those high risk high reward projects that is like "this is crazy but if it would work it would be of amazing use".

and for all the ethical quanderies of the military and intelligence offices, projects like this are one area where they excel. looking at the internet, GPS, etc. and my own experience with some of those departments

I'm not sure that the cat agrees with you.

Ever heard the expression "like herding cats"?

This needs a "Men Who Stare At Goats" style film, but with the cast of "Cats". It would be interesting.

glad to see my tax dollars being put to use on such a practical exercise

Are you old enough to have paid taxes in the 1960s? :)

Nope, young enough to be paying interest on the debt ;P

No worries, the interest on the debt is being paid with more debt. You're off the hook!

usefulcat comments on the Accoustic Kitty thread. Wheels within wheels! :)

He used present tense so I'm not sure he was aware it occurred in the 1960s before jumping the gun to complain about taxes.

You have grasped the purpose of my tongue-in-cheek comment!

(And given me an opportunity to make another one!)

Really, though, ... there's worse things tax dollars have been spent on in the 1960s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unethical_human_experimentatio...

If they are to add the word "were," it would be consistent. ;)

The poster being old enough to have paid taxes that paid for bonds which funded those activities doesn't seem unlikely.

Don't worry, your tax dollars are fulfilling much more noble goals today like subsidising fossil fuels or autonomous attack drones.

These sort of exercises have motivated investments in miniaturization of electronics so they can end up being practical on occasion.

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