Cats As War Machines And Secret Agents

An estimated 58 million stray cats roam the alleys, slink through the woods, and yowl at night under your window. Feral cats are considered pest species by animal removal services, and a stinky problem for anyone owning a garden or esthetic landscaping. We have always been at war with stray cats. And throughout history, America has attempted to utilize cats in war. These wars have not always been successful.
In 2019-2020 the American Pet Products Association reported 42.7 million U.S. households own at least one cat as a pet. There are 33 different breeds in the 500 million domestic cats in the world. Show cats, mousers, and pets are all part of the 500 million, but today no cats are acting as soldiers or spies. Throughout history, cats have served as both.
Cats had a paw in medieval torture and punishment for criminal acts. Persons who were caught stealing usually had a hand lobbed off as punishment. Persons found lying to the king could lose their tongue. The severed parts were fed to the king’s cats (Thus the phrase, “Cat got your tongue?”).
“Ailurophobia” is a “persistent, irrational fear of cats.” Leaders should have taken heed because at least two military leaders and one ruthless dictator were rumored to be Ailurophobes: Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler.
The Ancient Egyptians and Persians were bitter enemies.  In the plotting of the Battle of Pelusium of 525 BCE, Persian king Cambyses II took into account how their foes revered and worshipped cats; the goddess Bastet took the form of a cat.  Thus Cambyses II had the Persians round up as many cats as they could find: domestic, feral, and stray. Cambyses II had cats painted on his soldier’s shields. Just before the clash on the battlefield, the Persian army let loose thousands of cats, along with a range of animals the Egyptians held sacred. The Egyptian military, led by Psametik III, had the choice between attacking the Persians, which meant slaughtering the cats, or surrender.  This time they surrendered by fleeing from battle.
But not all "Cats In The Military" stories end in success. 

War kitten, WWII
President Roosevelt issued a military order establishing the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942 to act as an umbrella agency for intelligence activities. In World War II,  the OSS drew up a lengthy plan using cats to bomb enemy ships. No one outside of the OSS knows just how much money was spent on the project. The theory was based on cats hating water and their ability to land on their feet. Cats have a unique skeletal system and no collarbone, so they can twist themselves around to land – but they don’t make it every time, and usually only from short distances.  The OSS finally laid out a master plan: The cats would be wired to an explosive. U.S. planes flying over enemy ships would drop the cats near the ships. The cats would scramble in the air to land on the closest dry spot – the deck of the enemy plane. Or, they would fall in the ocean and frantically swim to the nearest dry place: ideally, the enemy ship. Exactly how the cats were going to direct themselves towards an enemy ship remained in question. The project made it to the testing phase but went defunct because when the airplanes dumped the unfortunate felines into the water, it rendered the cats unconscious. The project sank.
The OSS was closed in 1945. A new organization took its place, the Central Intelligence Group (CIG).  The National Security Act of 1947 turned CIG into the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The name had changed, but the idea of using cats in wartime remained.
In the 1960s, there was a popular Hot Springs, Arkansas tourist attraction called “The IQ Zoo.”  Animals were trained to perform various tricks, including pigs “playing” the piano.
The IQ Zoo also assisting in training animals, including cats, to be cold war spies. There were several
“Operation Acoustic Kitty”
reasons why cats were still considered ideal for covert operations. Cats fit into tight spaces (cats use their whiskers as a measuring device.). Cats can walk around unnoticed, more so than a stray dog. They are challenging to catch and hold.  Thus over five years, the CIA developed “Operation Acoustic Kitty” at the cost of about $20 million.
A California otolaryngologist who assisted in the invention of the cochlear implant worked with the CIA Science & Technology Department team; they were turning cats into walking transmitters. A microphone was placed in the cat’s ear canal. Fine wires of the antenna were woven into the cat’s fur to the tail tip.  A wire ran from inside the cat’s skull to an instrument cluster and battery sewn inside the rib cage. The team would train the cat to move using ultrasonic sound. One rumor has the premier test cat released from an undercover van; the cat sashaying across the street to be promptly run over by a taxi; according to some operatives, this is just a nasty, anti-CIA, anti-spy cat rumor. The program was as short-lived as the test cat. Operation “Acoustic Kitty” was shut down in 1967 and deemed another “spy cat” failure.
The CIA has an expression used throughout the organization when a plan goes awry. “The idea is to go back to its beginning and then walk through the plan again to spot where it went off-target.” The expression is “Walking the cat” (King, 2011, p.119).


American Pet Product Association, 2019-2020. Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics. Stanford: American Pet Product Association. 2020. Acknowledgments — Central Intelligence Agency. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 May 2020].

Harris, R. & Paxman, J. (2007). A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Random House.

How Many Stray Cats in America? Professional Wildlife Removal.

King, B. (2011). Big Book of Spy Stuff. Utah: Gibbs-Smith.

Mark, J. J. (2017, June 13). The Battle of Pelusium: A Victory Decided by CatsAncient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from [Accessed 22 May 2020].

Photo credits
Cat in WWII: Original unknown, retrieved from
CIA “Operation Acoustic Kitty”: Unknown