Throughout history, the US government has engaged in - or encountered - all manner of covert, nefarious, and sometimes just downright strange operations. From research into paranormal phenomena to secret acid tests to UFO sightings, most of these programs were classified and sealed from the public eye, often for decades.
These programs are sometimes sealed for national security reasons or to protect "sources and methods" within the intelligence community. Other times, they're sealed because the information itself could prove damaging to the government - either because they're up to something they shouldn't be, or because someone else is.
Nothing stays classified forever, though, and sooner or later, the documentation of even the creepiest and most objectionable secret projects is declassified - often with very little fanfare, since, even years later, the government doesn't want to advertise some of the dark secrets they've been privy to over the years.
Here are some of the creepiest and weirdest declassified documents that you can read right now - and the bizarre and sometimes terrifying revelations they contain.
Declassified in 2004 and available on the CIA website, a Department of Defense/Defense Intelligence Agency document originally published in 1975 detailed a wide variety of "Soviet and Czechoslovokian Parapsychology Research" conducted from the end of WWII to the end of the Cold War.
Prepared by the US Army Medical Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Surgeon General, this 70-page document described claims that "paranormal phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP), telepathy, and psychokinesis (PK) have been demonstrated under rigorously controlled laboratory conditions," though it goes on to say that these claims remain highly disputed.
One of the strangest experiments described in the document involved a grisly 1956 Soviet attempt at using rabbits to communicate psychically with submerged submarines. For the tests, researchers required a mother rabbit with a newborn litter. They kept the mother in a lab onshore, where they connected electrodes to her brain. The babies were taken onboard a submarine. Once the submarine was submerged, "assistants [offed] the rabbits one by one. At each precise moment of [passing], the mother rabbit's brain produced detectable and recordable reactions."
The report goes on to say that other examples of "animal telepathy" research continued until 1970, including studies involving "dogs, bears, birds, insects, and fish."
"Acoustic Kitty" was a CIA project that proposed the transformation of common cats into advanced listening devices. A team of animal behaviorists worked with Robin Michelson, one of the inventors of the human cochlear implant, to wire a cat with a battery and instrument cluster in its rib cage and a wire running to its inner ear. With this, they believed that they could control the cat's movements through ultrasonic sound, and they could use a transmitter, also implanted in the cat, to listen in on conversations.
The fate of the first altered feline asset is disputed, with a frequently retold tale claiming that, as ex-CIA official Victor Marchetti supposedly put it, "They put [the cat] out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over." Other sources, however, claim that the taxi story is a fable, and that the original "Acoustic Kitty" was fine.
The only declassified document on the project, a short and heavily redacted memorandum partly titled "Views on Trained Cats," however, hints at the reason why the project was abandoned:
Knowing that cats can be indeed be trained to move short distances [redacted] we see no reason to believe that a [redacted] cat can not be similarly trained to approach [redacted]. Again, however, the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that, for our [redacted] purposes, it would not be practical.
So, "Acoustic Kitty" essentially went by the board because the CIA was unable to figure out how to effectively herd cats.
"A document viewed by Spiegel resembling a product catalog reveals that an NSA division called ANT has burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry." That's how the German newspaper Der Spiegel introduced the so-called NSA ANT catalog, a 50-page document detailing cyber surveillence technology. "The list reads like a mail-order catalog," the article goes on to say, "one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets' data."
The ANT (Advanced Network Technology) and TAO (Tailored Access Operations) divisions of the NSA are described by Der Spiegel as "hackers and civil servants in one."
The German publication went on to claim that the divisions' job is "breaking into, manipulating and exploiting computer networks." When Der Spiegel ran the story in 2013 and released the catalog to the public, journalist and computer security researcher Jacob Applebaum, who helped break the story, described the data contained in the catalog as "wrist-slittingly depressing."
Besides describing cyber surveillance technology that allows the NSA to do everything from remotely monitor a system to create a hidden bridge to take wireless control, the documents also revealed that the NSA has access to a surprisingly wide range of consumer technology. Following Der Spiegel's reporting, other sites chimed in, describing the NSA's backdoor access to, for example, Apple iPhones as "nearly complete" and "crazy good."
The scope of the so-called "Operation Mockingbird" depends upon who is telling the story. According to Deborah Davis, writing in her 1979 biography of Katharine Graham, who had been the owner of The Washington Post, it was a "formal program to recruit and use journalists" as a way to "alter their perceptions" and turn people "against communism without [aggression]."
"By the early 1950s," Davis continued, Frank Wisner, of the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination, "had implemented his plan and 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS, and other communications vehicles, plus stringers, four to six hundred in all."
While the CIA never admitted to an "Operation Mockingbird" of this scale, declassified documents released as part of a large-scale report informally dubbed the "Family Jewels," which detailed the CIA's domestic intelligence-gathering operations from the 1950s through the 1970s, described the wide-ranging, unauthorized surveillance of journalists.