& Furry Spies
No one ever said that being a spy was easy. But for humans, the profession holds a certain romantic allure, what with all the dashing undercover, crossing borders and, at least in pulp literature and pop culture, getting the girl in the end. Or getting killed, of course.
The deal’s considerably rougher for animals, and no one should be surprised about that either. But even if we’ve been forcibly enrolling them to do our bidding since time immemorial, nothing compares to what happened when the CIA came up with Project Acoustic Kitty.
It was one of the most cruel and wasteful ideas, in a long line of blunders and mistakes, that the Langley, Virginia, based agency, has been responsible for, hands (handcuffed) down. No wonder even its acronym has been utterly upstaged lately by the Camp Williams, Utah, based NSA, heavens help us all.
This is been a particularly uncomfortable time for shadowy organizations all over the world. The unwelcome glare of a constant flow of staggering revelations leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA coming to light almost daily must be making secret powers that be very nervous indeed.
In fact, what we can only guess that goes on behind the scenes is far from the glamorous world portrayed in the 007 movies and even postwar accounts of heroism and tragedy for agent and double-agents alike, some driven by idealism, and others by the good old fashioned value of hard cash.
Not that the lives of spies have become any easier. The recent bombshell findings that the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had ‘unnaturally high levels of polonium’ seem to prove that he was poisoned and didn’t die of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ nine years ago next Monday.
In other words, he was probably killed by a spy, who knows working for whom. The case also revived in the public memory the 2006 death of Russian officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London, said to have been also poisoned by polonium, after meeting with two other agents from the Russian security agency.
Cases abound, but one has to keep in mind that nobody just simply wound up becoming a secret agent, and even making through the lower ranks of the ‘profession’ requires considerable – and here we’re sure Graham Greene would’ve put it in a much better way – will, skill, and ability to kill.
$20 MILLION TO KILL A CAT
Not with our sentient companions on this Earth, unfortunately not ever given the freedom to make that choice. They’re simply recruited and, regardless whether they fulfill their assignments or get killed right at the starting gate, there’s no possible way we can make sure they’ll benefit from the experience.
Take the unnamed, and unfortunate, female kitty of the CIA experiment. As Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton wrote in Spycraft, their account of the CIA’s diatribes to outwit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, she was the first and, thankfully, the last of a spectacularly misguided project, and unwittingly paid dearly for it.
The project that was to be deemed ‘a complete failure’ a few years later, after spending millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and several cat lives, reads like something out of a Frankenstein tale. The idea was to implant the furry carrier with several gadgets, so it could wander where no man could.
The gruesome descriptions of a transmitter being embeded in the cat’s skull, a microphone inserted in the ear canal, and even an antenna tucked inside her tale, plus batteries and who knows what else, are themselves to make you wish you were yourself a secret agent with a big gun and, well you get the idea.
Unfortunately, no one is ever around to rescue lab animals, and the poor feline was outfitted with all that nightmarish equipment and prompt to get into action. Her first field action was also her last, after she dashed from the agents’ van, across a park, and straight to the undercarriage of a taxi.
THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?
But despite a well done but depressing Slate story, about the Pentagon’s own top-secret feline special-operations program, the ‘privilege’ of being experimented on or sent to deflate bombs is far from being restrict to cats. Horses and dogs come to mind, among animals sacrificed the most in our thirst for blood.
If it’s well documented that none of the wars of conquest since ancient times would be possible without horses, dogs too have paid an undeserving absurdly high price for being docile and considered ‘man’s best friend.’ Who needs enemies? Oh, but we do; otherwise most of world’s wealthy wouldn’t have a dime to their account. That’s a tale for another post, though.
If they seem to have given up on cats, tired of their independence and natural resistance to do as they’re told, dogs remain in the trenches of combat, both in the battlefield and in the increasingly explosive life in city streets. Police forces routinely send them ahead when there’s any blatant risk of human lives deemed to be avoided.
They’re intensively trained and, when the occasion arises, they go, as happy to please us as we’re to spare our own lives. The result, often, is that they meet a bullet or an explosive device before anyone else and perish ‘in the line of duty.’ Medals and ceremonies follow, of course, but they’re only useless reminders of our brutal dominance over animals.
THE PRINCE’S GUARDS & THE ALIENS
Sometimes, that’s demonstrated as nonchalantly as the British monarchy usually treats its subjects. Take Prince William, for instance, who recently completed his search-and-rescue training with the RAF. During the whole time of his stint playing soldier, he was closely guarded by two attack dogs, Belgian shepherd Brus and Blade, a German shepherd.
They fulfilled their duties honorably, but when the prince’s time was up, he was escorted back to the life of exception he was born to live. The dogs, however, were summarily executed. The excuse was first, that one of the dogs was already sick, and the other, had ‘behavior’ problems. Wouldn’t it be because they were trained to act that way?
When pressured by animal advocacy groups, the U.K. Ministry of Defense justified their forced demise as ‘unfortunate,’ adding that the dogs were ‘unsuitable for rehoming or alternative duties,’ which, advocates argue, is well, highly arguable. And so that’s that: train them to kill and them kill them so they stop.
Perhaps the ‘kings of the Internet,’ cats, were right all along by dragging their paws through arduous, and ultimately, pointless training. In fact, as far as Web conspiracies are concerned, no one is better than the one that says that cats are ‘like alien camcorders tracking our every move.’
That’s right, consider yourself warned. From the ancient Egypt, when cats were worshiped, the theory goes, to their puzzling purr, and otherworldly appearance, everything seems to fit an extra-terrestrial origin for cats, and why not? felines in general. And of course, man never put his feet on the moon either.
A PERMANENT LAPSE OF REASON
A bit too much, we know. Still, part of any crazy theory has to hold some truth to it, which makes it so alluring. Cats as spies makes as much sense as highly advanced civilizations going through the trouble of coming over to take a peak at our mess. But it’s somewhat a more acceptable proposition than anything that’s actually been done to lab animals.
Or what even a tiny bit of polonium, a radioactive chemical element, can do to anyone around it. Or what else is being concocted in the bowels of that Langley agency in need of redemption, as we speak, and the NSA listens.
The unhinged bit of clarity of it all is that if life has never been easy for spies, it became even more difficult for everyone else lately. But above all, it hasn’t improved much for animals either.
* Suddenly, Last Caturday
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