It's no secret, we're obsessed with espionage. For decades now, we've been flocking to movie theatres to catch spies putting smooth moves on the enemy in order to get a couple of juicy secrets. Sometimes we're faced with daring escapes and big time explosions, but the simple idea of passing on info through unsuspected means can be just as thrilling.
Director Guy Ritchie's upcoming update of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is next on the list, bringing a fictionalized look at double-crossing and unlikely Cold War camaraderie together on the big screen. But what about the real life stories we're not being told about? It's been said truth is stranger than fiction, so we've gathered a handful of absurd, since-declassified spy missions and government plots that need to be read to be believed. Who knows; maybe one day they'll be seen on the silver screen.
Operation Acoustic Kitty
Obviously, Cold War-era relations made people paranoid. It was a burden to know deep secrets, because who could you share them with? Not your civilian friends and family, obviously. And chances were you had to keep relatively mum within your organization because of moles. But what about cats? You could very well nuzzle up to a fuzzy little furball and ease your troubled mind by whispering secrets in their ears while simultaneously scratching their tum-tums. Well, that's what the CIA was banking on with Operation Acoustic Kitty, a failed program that planned to infiltrate the Kremlin with a bunch of microphone-bugged felines.
The 1960s initiative surgically implanted microphones and transmitters into cats, who would be let loose into Soviet embassies to record the Reds. Documents released in 2001, however, noted that the program was abandoned in 1967 after their subject's test mission to eavesdrop on a pair of men in a park was quashed when the miniature spy was run over by a car. A report noted that despite the possibilities, "the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our (intelligence) purposes, it would not be practical." As those claw scratches on our hands will attest, cats have been eyeing us up suspiciously ever since.
The CIA's Politicized Fake Adult Films
The movie world had connected to the CIA more than once over the years, with the organization famously having used a fake sci-fi film shoot to save a group of U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis (the Canadian Caper ftw!). The cameras didn't always roll in their favour, though. A couple of decades earlier, they tried to sabotage Indonesia's communism-sympathizing regime with the use of a fake adult flick, but the results left the CIA feeling unexpectedly limp.
Former CIA officer Joseph Burkholder Smith’s 1976 book Portrait of a Cold Warrior explains that the organization thought they could overthrow President Achmed Sukarno in the late 1950s by distributing a staged erotic flick that pictured the leader getting frisky with a female KGB spy. Sukarno, obviously, wasn't around to help them for the shoot, so the Agency made the movie with an adult film star wearing a specially made mask of the President's face. Stills from the film, titled "Happy Days," were reportedly circulated in Indonesia, but failed to make an impact.
Sukarno would later be stripped of his power in 1967, though, with a violent coup that targeted his communist leanings and "moral degradation." Maybe the first option was the better one, after all.
Civil War Master of Disguise Sarah Emma Edmonds
Canadian-born Civil War figure Sarah Emma Edmonds' time as a Union spy pulled off the uncanny feat of convincingly flipping both her gender and race. Inspired by author Maturin Murray Ballou's “Fanny Campbell, the Female Pirate Captain”, about a woman who undertook pirate adventures while dressed as a man, Edmonds enlisted in the Union's 2nd Regiment Michigan Volunteer Infantry in 1861 under the guise of "Franklin Thompson."
Though there is no official record of her espionage career, it's been said that after initially fooling her commanders by posing as a male combat nurse, she also used her skills to collect information for the Union.
According to her memoirs, she drank silver nitrate to artificially dye her skin and get close to the Confederacy as a black man named "Cuff." Edmonds also pulled off a double gender-swap when her made-up Thompson dressed up as a female peddler named Bridget O'Shea, as well as a black laundress.
The Union charged her with desertion when, in fear of being found out by doctors, she contracted malaria and disappeared from public view. Though eventually exposed, her ingenious efforts for the North were later recognized with an honorable discharge.
Taking the Cold War to new heights was the U.S.'s Project Iceworm, a plan that aimed to build a completely functional missile base beneath the icy plains of Greenland. While plans for "Camp Century" were made public early on, it was being promoted as a scientific hub to study icecaps and arctic conditions. While true, it wasn't revealed that the spot was also going to be filled with 600 missiles pointed directly at the U.S.S.R. in case of nuclear war.
Itself powered by a nuclear generator, the spot was evacuated of its personnel, research equipment and proposed warheads a few years later when it was learned that the glacier was moving too rapidly to sustain the network of tunnels. The project was officially put on ice in 1966, with its militaristic cover fully blown in the 1990s.
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