Sunday, October 20, 2019


by Chris Goff

Years ago, Smithsonian Magazine published an article by Tom Vanderbilt entitled "The CIA's Most Highly-Trained Spies Weren't Even Human." It's worth sharing.

During World War II, a psychologist named B.F. Skinner received defense funding to research a pigeon-based homing device for missiles. While Operation Pigeon was never deployed,  the project inspired two of his graduate students. After leaving Skinner's program, the husband and wife opened up the I.Q. Zoo, a tourist attraction and animal training facility in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The facility quickly became the go-to training ground for zoos, theme parks and Hollywood performance animals. 

In 1965, after bringing in Bob Bailey, another Skinner aficionado and the first director of training for the Navy’s pioneering dolphin program, a new branch of the business was born. It was the height of the Cold War, and suddenly various government agencies, such as the CIA, the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, and Limited Warfare Laboratories were seeking their help to train animals as spies. Using animals in intelligence has a long history, and if you asked Bob Bailey, he would tell you, “We never found an animal we could not train.” 

Now, despite the cadre of Artificial Intelligence weapons available for Intel gathering, I can think of nothing better than a raven, dolphin or cat doubling as a super sleuth. Interested in reading more? Here's the link to the article in Smithsonian Magazine, or you can peruse an even more recent report by the BBC

Just curious, have you ever felt like someone was watching you, but no one was there?


  1. Very interesting, Chris. We have long heard about how smart dolphins are, but you bring up many other intriguing scenarios -- any one of which could be an inspiration for one of your great thrillers. Think about it!

  2. I meant to sign the comment above when I complimented Chris for that blog....Karna Small Bodman

  3. I had no idea this research went back so far, Chris. Thanks much for the links. I heard recently about a crab that communicates by wrinkling its skin ... a crab with skin? Even that is amazing. And it "talks" by wrinkling it? I have lots of skin, and I'm thinking all of my many wrinkles are being underutilized. CIA, are you listening? 😊

  4. “We never found an animal we could not train.”
    Guess they never worked with house cats.

    1. That's because we've got our thinking wrong. THEY train US! :)

  5. I've heard of dolphins being trained, but not the others. Fascinating stuff!

  6. I have seen in a number of movies now cameras affixed to fake insects (which would probably be much easier to work with than real insects!).