This project grew out of another code-named effort (BLUEBIRD), in which the CIA experimented on humans as a way to develop “special interrogation techniques.” In this recently declassified document, the company discusses Project Artichoke’s aims of using “drugs and chemicals, hypnosis and ‘total isolation,’ a form psychological harassment” to find ways to extract info from targets. This was one of the worst and weirdest projects, resulting a death. In 1953, a soldier named Frank Olsen was one of the people given LSD unwittingly, then told he was given LSD and then he subsequently jumped through a window. Thank goodness that the techniques developed by Project Artichoke will never see the light of day — “special interrogation” sounds barbaric.
This secret CIA initiative was launched as a result of advice given by none other than Edwin Land, the famed former CEO of Polaroid. In 1954, he advised using a single-engine plane to take aerial photos of Russia in order to see what they were up to, an idea that the CIA seconded. As this document shows, the operation was a success. The plane itself became famous in its own right: it was the U-2 spycraft.
After the success of aerial spy planes, space had to be the next CIA frontier. Project CORONA was first tried unsuccessfully in 1959, but as this document shows, by 1960, it was up and orbiting. It took pictures of (what else?) Russia and China airfields and military installations.
A follow-up to Project AQUATONE — an even-speedier spy plane. The OXCART’s cover was blown by 1964, after commercial pilots spotted it in the air and Aviation Week got wind of those sightings and the announcement of its existence was made.
5. ACOUSTIC KITTY
Uh….the CIA thought it would be a good idea to surgically insert batteries in a cat and use the tail as an antennae. Some say that it was a disaster, as “they found he would walk off the job when he got hungry.” Also, in one instance, the cat got run over by a taxi on the way to eavesdrop on someone. Not surprisingly, in this 1967 document, the CIA noted that “the program would not lend itself to practical use for our highly specialized needs.”
Finally, a codename that means something: PNUTS, or Possible Nuclear Underground Test Site found in Communist Russia. At the time of this writing, we are not really sure what PNUTS’ purpose is — perhaps we will use it as rationale to spend billions of dollars on space-based military technology in the future. Perhaps.