Thursday 17 October 2019

CIA reveals Cold War 'spy pigeon' missions into Eastern Europe

Pigeons helped intelligence gathering
Pigeons helped intelligence gathering

Gary Sneed

The United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has declassified details of its secret Cold War spy pigeon missions, revealing how pigeons were trained for clandestine operations photographing sensitive sites inside the Soviet Union and dolphins for underwater missions.

The files also reveal how ravens were used to drop bugging devices on window sills. The report says the CIA believed animals could fulfil "unique" tasks for the agency's clandestine operations.

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The newly-released files show that the 1970s operation was codenamed Tacana and explored the use of pigeons with tiny cameras to automatically take photos.

It took advantage of the fact the humble pigeon is possessed of an amazing ability - they can be dropped somewhere they have never been before and still find their way hundreds of miles back home.

The use of pigeons for communications dates back thousands of years but it was in World War I that they began to be used for intelligence gathering, the BBC reported citing the files.

During World War II, a little- known branch of British intelligence, MI14(d), ran a Secret Pigeon Service which dropped birds in a container with a parachute over occupied Europe. A questionnaire was attached. More than 1,000 pigeons returned with messages, including details of V1 rocket launch sites and German radar stations.

One message from a resistance group called Leopold Vindictive produced a 12-page intelligence report sent directly to the then UK prime minister, Winston Churchill.

After the war, a special pigeon sub-committee of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee looked at options for the Cold War.

But while British operations were largely shut down, the CIA took over in exploiting pigeon power.

The files reveal that later the CIA trained a raven to deliver and retrieve small objects of up to 40g from the window sills of inaccessible buildings.

A flashing red laser beam was used to mark the target and a special lamp was used to draw the bird back.

On one occasion in Europe, the CIA used a bird to secretly deliver an eavesdropping device to a window. However no audio was picked up from the intended target.

The CIA also looked at whether migratory birds could be used to place sensors to detect whether the Soviet Union had tested chemical weapons.

The report also alludes to trials of some kind of electric brain stimulation being tested to "guide dogs remotely", although many of the details were still classified.

A previously reported operation called Acoustic Kitty involved placing listening devices inside a cat.

In the 1960s, the files show the CIA looked at using dolphins for "harbour penetration", either manned or unmanned. One problem was in handing over control from a trainer who had worked with a dolphin to a field agent.

There were also tests on whether dolphins could carry sensors to collect the sounds of Soviet nuclear submarines or look for radioactive or biological weapons traces from nearby facilities. They also looked at whether dolphins could retrieve or place packages on ships on the move.

©Associated Press

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