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July 6, 2024 54 mins

It's no secret that espionage and spycraft are common tools in the murky realm of geopolitics -- but not every spy is some sort of James Bond type character in a bespoke suit with a penchant for martinis. In fact, some spies aren't even human. Join Ben and Noel as they dive -- and fly -- into the strange stories of animal spies and nonhuman government operatives, from crows to dolphins, sea lions, cats and more.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
There's a man who leads a life of danger. Eye
he meets, he stays a stranger.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Sorry, I was sort of combining to James Bond styles.
That's great, you're your secret agent, Ben.

Speaker 1 (00:17):
Oh geez ed your secret agent. Nol Of got our
super producer, mister Max Williams. Here with us were a
classic episode that we just love. Uh No, there was
a period of time wherein you and I went down
this rabbit hole of animals used for espionage.

Speaker 3 (00:37):
A bit of a rabbit themed rabbit hole at times.

Speaker 2 (00:40):
I don't remember if we got into bunny rabbit specifically
in this one. I know i'd probably joke about strapping
the lasers to the sharks with fricking lasers, you know,
and all it's very Austin Powers the type stuff on
the surface, but there's some pretty clever stuff.

Speaker 3 (00:56):
In here, and some of his stuff actually did work.

Speaker 1 (00:59):
And so, without further ado, here is the true Ridiculous
History of Espionage animals. Ridiculous History is a production of iHeartRadio.

What are some of your favorite animals? Friends and neighbors. Personally,
I'm a big fan of corvids, and you know, I
like an octopus. Hi, I'm bend.

Speaker 2 (01:49):
Yeah, I'm nol and I too am a fan of
the cephalopods. Not the corvids, though, man, I know those
sketchy little bastards can go straight to hell.

Speaker 1 (02:00):
Oh they're great though, No, all they're great, and.

Speaker 3 (02:03):
They just see shiny stuff and they go at it.

Speaker 1 (02:06):
Well, you know, I mean, nobody's perfect for sure. The
closest to perfect we know is, of course, our long
suffering super producer, Casey Pegram.

Speaker 2 (02:16):
You know, he's like tinker Bell. Look at him, Look
at him floating around there. I hope he's not spying
on us, like some sort of crazy fairy drone.

Speaker 1 (02:25):
That would be ridiculous.

Speaker 3 (02:27):
Well, you know we're in the right place for that, I.

Speaker 1 (02:28):
Guess, right, because this is ridiculous history, and today we're
diving into the world of subterfuge, espionage, spycraft, danger and
you know, trench coats and fedoras or maybe not give
me some more Oh okay, more spy stuff, yeah, okay.

Speaker 3 (02:47):
Of their hats. Will there be hats, of course?

Speaker 1 (02:49):
Yeah, a wide selection of hats.

Speaker 2 (02:51):
Because on this article from how Stuff Works Ridiculous History
of the Use of Animals and Espionage, there is a
lovely image of a dolphin and.

Speaker 3 (02:57):
A trench coat wearing a hat.

Speaker 2 (02:59):
So that sounds every that is like the r totem
animal for today's episode.

Speaker 1 (03:03):
We should be hanging out with him, for sure.

Speaker 3 (03:05):
Dothan in a trench coat wherein a hat?

Speaker 1 (03:08):
Yeah, there we go.

Speaker 3 (03:09):
That's a set ma scene. That's beautiful.

Speaker 1 (03:11):
Yet, because regardless of whether you hate a country or
you love a country, or whatever opinions you have about
how countries interact, the fact of the matter is that
everybody is trying to spy on each other m hm.
And it's the tale as old as time to steal
the beauty in the.

Speaker 3 (03:27):
Beastline song, as old as rhyme. There we go.

Speaker 1 (03:30):
Yeah. And what may surprise some of us is that
not all spies were human. No, as you pointed out,
animals have been used in espionage. We don't have a
confirmation on the dolphin trench coat phenomenon yet.

Speaker 3 (03:47):
Oh you mean Dothan in a trans coat wherein a hat?

Speaker 4 (03:50):

Speaker 1 (03:53):
And what better way to begin to explore this topic
than through a specific example what you.

Speaker 2 (04:00):
Say, Yeah, I'm all about specific examples, Ben, And as
it turns out, I have one, because you see, there
have been some stories of late about stuff happening off
the coast of the Gaza Strip where under the water
swimming with these like flipper even there are some underwater
creatures that are decked out not in hats and trench coats,

but in high tech surveillance gear with the intention of
doing reconnaissance work. And these weren't frogmen or deft swimmers. No,
these were dolphins.

Speaker 1 (04:35):
Yes, it's true. In August of twenty to fifteen, officials
for Hamas alleged that a dolphin wearing spy gear included
as an old described an underwater camera, was working as
a spy for the Israeli Army and the dolphin was
captured off the Gaza coast. But here's the thing. Hamas

was not the first government to make such clim.

Speaker 2 (05:00):
And right up front, there are a lot of fun
conspiracy theories attached to this stuff, the kind of things
we would maybe talk about in our other show. Stuff
they don't want you to know, or we apply critical
thinking to conspiracy theories. For example, in Egypt, there were
a rash of shark attacks that were blamed by some
on the Israeli government. Not the same as being a

shark spies, but it was you know, supposedly sharks deployed
for the purposes of messing people up on the other
side of a ideological divide.

Speaker 1 (05:31):
And in the case of the Egyptian report, the idea
for people who believed in this was that the Israeli
army was throwing sharks in the water to damage tourism.

Speaker 3 (05:44):

Speaker 1 (05:45):
Interesting, seems kind of a you know, Goldberg Gesk way
to go about damaging tourism. But you know, and in
twenty twelve, residents of Turkey found a dead bird and
they claimed that it was decked out with spy equipment.
I believe that was also an accusation against the Israeli government,
who responded by saying they had tagged the bird to

track it right for conservation purpose.

Speaker 3 (06:10):
Well, sure that happens all the time.

Speaker 2 (06:11):
Like I think I told you before, I used to
do stories about a facility in my hometown of Augusta,
Georgia called the Savannah River Site where they would track
animals to determine whether nuclear cleanup efforts had been successful
in these areas where they were storing like nuclear waste
from dismantled weapons.

Speaker 3 (06:29):
And so that's a thing that scientists do all the time.

Speaker 2 (06:31):
But we're talking about things that were largely disproven, right,
But this stuff does exist. I mean again, it's not
just in other countries. It's very much a part of
the history of the CIA and the United States.

Speaker 1 (06:46):
Yes, absolutely, we're Uncle Sam is very pro animal spies.
So despite the various stories that sound kind of silly
that you'll see pop up on the internet, you know,
a dead bird is a master spy and all this
other stuff, it does turn out that there are real
and genuine examples of animals being trained for military operations,

or more specifically, for this episode, as spies. And it
dates back quite a while. In the nineteen forties, the
famous psychologist BF Skinner trained pigeons to track targets and
steer missiles. And you know, we've probably all heard about
pigeons being trained to do stuff, right, isn't Mike Tyson
a pigeon enthusiast.

Speaker 2 (07:29):
I don't know, But I mean you think about ravens
in Game of Thrones or something like that, where they
can carry messages long distances and can be trained to
you know, homing pigeons and the like. But BS Skinner,
just to go back, his most famous experiment was the
Skinner box, and it used operant conditioning, which basically it's
sort of like the Pavlovian type of condition which is

classical conditioning, where you can train an animal to exhibit
or a human even to exhibit a certain kind of
behavior by doing something that sides with something else happening.
So when the dog salivates, they ring a bell and
they can eventually get the dog to salivate just by
ringing the bell. They offer the dog a treat, the
dog salivates, they ring the bell, do that over and

over again, especially it's just the bell. There's another story
that's very similar in this article The CIA's most highly
trained spies weren't even human from the Smithsonian, where a
man by the name of Bob Bailey was able to
train a spider in the bathroom of his university to
go into a defensive pose by blowing on the spider,

shining a light and then doing it again, and doing
it again, doing it again. Before you knew it, he
could just shine the light and then the spider would
go into the defensive pose. But operate conditioning is just
a little bit different. Because Skinner used these pigeons and
put them in this box where he would have them
press a button and they would get food when they
press that button, and they pecked the certain button, so

it wasn't coinciding it. It was literally just getting them
to do something on purpose, getting them to do something
voluntary once they've been rewarded enough times and they saw
the outcome would be in their favor.

Speaker 1 (09:05):
Right, and Bob Bailey is an expert. I want to
go back to the spider example. I'm glad you brought
this up because it busts a couple of myths that
people may have about training animals. And from what we
see from what the experts are saying, animals are much
more capable of learning than we might imagine. The only

catches to guide them toward doing something that they would
already be inclined to do. Right, that's I mean, parrots
are going to some parrots rather are going to mimic speech.
So now you just teach them what sorts of speech
you would like them to mimic. And spiders don't like
things that disrupt their web, so if they can associate

that with something, then their instinct kicks in. Bob Bailey
very interesting character in this story because he was a
director for the US need Marine Mammal program, which is
currently based in San Diego, California. Just based on the
name Noel, I think you know the answer to this.

What are they evolved in?

Speaker 2 (10:13):
Yeah, they're trying to train marine mammals to do Uncle
Sam's dirty work, right.

Speaker 1 (10:21):
Right, Yes, Bob Bailey and his associates undertook this program
beginning in the nineteen sixties, and it has an ancient
history because it turns out the use of animals and
military intelligence to our earlier example of ravens in the
fictional Game of Thrones, the use of animals for reconnaissance

or communication military intelligence dates back to ancient Grecian times
and now, with the benefit of behaviorism and science, and
of course the all consuming desire almost lust to have
an edge over the enemy me various governments, including the

US government, have found ways to apply spycraft to these animals,
and according to Bailey, they never found an animal they
could not train.

Speaker 2 (11:12):
And the kinds of things they were training them to
do ran the gamut from surveillance like we talked about
at the top of the show, to clearing out minds
underwater and to you know, finding lost items and retrieving
them and bringing them back to submarines and what have you,
and to detecting explosives as well.

Speaker 3 (11:30):
So the kinds of things that.

Speaker 2 (11:32):
You could think that you could train like a bomb
sniffing dog to do, you could also train a dolphin to.

Speaker 3 (11:35):
Do in an underwater environment.

Speaker 1 (11:38):
Yes, yeah, this is startling right at first. It sounds
like a really cool science fiction pitch. You know, it
sounds like a movie that was become.

Speaker 2 (11:49):
A joke in like like Austin Powers, you know, was
doctor Evil's talking about you wants the sharks with freaking
lasers on their heads and stuff, or you know, it
becomes like this SIEI, you know, Spycraft James Bondie kind
of trope after a while.

Speaker 1 (12:04):
Absolutely, because the so the Marine Mammal program that we
introduced in nineteen sixty, they originally began with more than
nineteen species of animals, including they say, some sharks and
some birds, and they began to whittle down their choices
looking for the best possible animal partner. They ended up

with two, the Bottlenews dolphin and the California sea lion.

Speaker 2 (12:32):
Yeah, it's because you know this guy Brian Bailey, who
is an animal behaviorist and an author who was one
of the trainers in the US Navy Dolphin and Sea
lion project, just kind of got expanded to be that
he said, the more.

Speaker 3 (12:44):
Animals that they had available, the more.

Speaker 2 (12:46):
Likely an espionage agency would have success in getting their
desired information, which makes sense because you know, a dolphin
isn't going to fit every scenario. You know, sometimes maybe
you need some a cat for exams that can go
into a very high level meeting.

Speaker 3 (13:03):
And be undetected. And that happened as well.

Speaker 1 (13:07):
So we're looking at a menagerie of possible animals, right, Nola,
You had said that this expanded to include the California
sea lion as well as dolphins. Let's focus on dolphins
for just a tick here, because the dolphins, along with
the sea lions, are playing an instrumental and continuing role

in the US military. Specifically, dolphins and sea lions are
trained by five different teams in this marine mammal program.
One team specializes in detecting swimmers, and then three other
teams specialize in locating mines. And this is probably where
we see some of the most amazing natural capabilities of

the dolphin come into play.

Speaker 3 (13:54):
Oh for sure.

Speaker 2 (13:56):
And not only were they detecting the swimmers and detecting
the minds, they could actually disable the minds and more
or less disable the swimmers by injecting them with compressed air.
The quote that I have is it had a device
on their head that they could use to shoot compressed
air into the body of an enemy swimmer, which I

assume would wouldn't kill them, but it would disorient them
or it would cause them to lose their equilibrium. Like,
what would be the purpose of this? Why not lasers
instead of compressed air?

Speaker 1 (14:31):
It's unpleasant. Surely there are some Surely there are some calculations,
like a weapon that would not harm the dolphin. It's
probably part of it, you know, instead of just strapping
them to explosives and saying, hey, swim toward that. That's
pretty cold blooded.

Speaker 3 (14:46):
It was nice of them.

Speaker 1 (14:47):
Yeah, the last team is trained in an object recovery, right,
so maybe not a bomb. Maybe you are retrieving a
black box from a plane or something. Sure, so it's true,
though we cannot overemphasize that enough. It's true. They were
just trained to be like friendly flipper checking out stuff
and reporting back to the sub and kind of a

lassie style. They were trained offensively. And can you imagine, man,
can you imagine being underwater, swimming like an enemy territory.
You're already probably pretty anxious, and then.

Speaker 2 (15:21):
Then a dolphin comes at you with an air gun
mounted to its head.

Speaker 1 (15:26):
I like to think that there's a high pitched squee
of death. I'm looking at you, Casey, can we get
a high pitched squee of death?

Speaker 2 (15:38):
There's murder in that dolphin's eyes. There's at least low
grade murder inconvenience.

Speaker 1 (15:44):
Right, right, So it makes sense when we're thinking about
the way that dogs or canines have been trained by
the military for a long, long time, right, the same
process occurs. Find the perfect species and then look for
the perfect traits. With dogs, they began looking for the
perfect breed of dog, right, German shepherds. That would be

one of the common examples. This program has been pretty successful.
The Navy spent fourteen million dollars in research on it
in two thousand and seven alone, and as of that time,
they had seventy five trained dolphins who have actually been
more successful saving lives and open water than trained humans.

I guess they're just, you know, it's kind of like
bane in the dark night it's like, oh, was old
in the sitting you immediately abulpted it.

Speaker 2 (16:39):
I'm sorry, excuse me, I'm goen to turn that out.
Put on the subtitles. Man, that character cracks me up.
Apparently they actually redubbed some of that stuff to make
it easier to understand, but it still wasn't super easy
to understand.

Speaker 1 (16:53):
It's so weird. Yeah, it's like his superpower is to
be unintelligible.

Speaker 3 (16:56):
Yeah, that's it. And also, you know, have giant muscles.
It's interesting though too. There is this issue of animals that.

Speaker 2 (17:06):
Seek relationships with humans are easier to train, but that
doesn't mean that there haven't been other attempts to train
animals that you would not think would fall into that
category at all. And before we get into those, let's
just backscheck a little bit. We talked about the top
of the show, Bob Bailey, who was the very first
director of this dolphin program that the US Navy came

up with. Bailey's story, it goes a lot further and
intersects with a couple by the name of the Breelins.
Keller and his wife, Marion Brelin had worked for that
famed psychologist BF Skinner in his lab. In nineteen forty seven,
they decided to go out on their own and they

decided to start their own company, the Animal Behavior Enterprises
Company or ABE. But they weren't doing experiments on training
animals to be spies for the government. They were training
chickens to play tic tac toe and you know, pigs
to play the piano, all in the name of commercialism.

Their first big gig was with General Mills, and they
trained lots of different animals to do funny tricks to
sell the feed the General Mills produced.

Speaker 1 (18:23):
So they were designing sets, they were writing show scripts,
and they relocate again in the fifties where they moved
to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Speaker 3 (18:36):
Which is Bill Clinton's hometown.

Speaker 2 (18:37):
I believe, just a little nugget aside, And once they
moved to Arkansas, they opened this thing called the iq zoo.
Will you tell us about the iq zoo ban? This
is a delightful, delightful phenomenon.

Speaker 1 (18:52):
Sure, the iq zoom is a picture any any endearing
pet trick or animal trick that you've ever seen on
America's Funniest Home Videos or on YouTube or on the
late show of some variety Iqzuo aimed to have them all.
They had chickens the walked tightropes or gave souvenirs to customers,

dance to music. They had chicken baseball, which was a thing.
They had rabbits that would quote kiss their girlfriends, ride
fire trucks, and sound sirens delightful. They had raccoons playing
basketball and duck's playing drums.

Speaker 2 (19:27):
But at the end of the day, all of this
was just a very lucrative display of that operant conditioning
that they worked on under BF Skinner, And all of
the while, in parallel while this is going on and
they're taking this work and selling it to the masses,
that Navy program we're talking about is starting to ramp

up and get into full swing. And our friend Bob
Bailey from earlier and he needs people just like Breeland,
so he gives them a call.

Speaker 3 (19:57):
So this group headed by Bob Bailey reaches.

Speaker 2 (20:00):
Out to the Brelins and invites them to come hang
out in their facility, which is in a place called
China Lake on the edge of the Mojave Desert where
they are doing all of this research.

Speaker 1 (20:12):
Side fact here, China Lake had neither water nor marine mammals,
you know, just another side note like Bill Clinton's origin
story there. This wasn't Bailey's first time in the desert.
He had spent time as an undergraduate at UCLA in
the desert in the nineteen fifties where he was laying

traps for kangaroo rats. So they were familiar with these
sorts of techniques, right. These people were intellectual peers. They
were familiar with one another's techniques, and they said, hey,
let's vultron up together. Let's pursue this as a group
in sixty five. In nineteen sixty five, Bailey agreed to

join the Brelins and Animal Behavior Enterprises there in Hot Springs,
and then, according to Bailey Boom, he found himself in
show business.

Speaker 3 (21:04):
I know, it's funny because he was doing this serious work,
which is.

Speaker 2 (21:09):
Kind of a can be you know, poked fun at,
and from our perspective it definitely seems a little.

Speaker 3 (21:13):
On the absurd side.

Speaker 2 (21:15):
But then he went from that extreme working for the
government to essentially doing the kinds of stuff you would
do in producing like a PBS children's television show. One
of Bailey's big contributions at ABE was designing something called
the bird brain, which was a kind of Skinner box
type situation that allowed you to play tic tac toe
with a chicken by you, I mean you, the human listener,

me Ben whomever. The chicken was in this cage, and
it had a little trigger that was that had a
light that flashed on it, and so the bird wasn't
actually playing tic tac toe. The moves were pre programmed.
What yeah, skin, I was a little bit spurious. But
if the bird, you know, was trained to respond to

your move, so you made a move in the light
lit up and the bird did it. And there was
a little corner called the thinking booth where the bird
would disappear into the thinking booth to press the button
and that's when the move would be made. They said
that there was a version that allowed the person to win,
but typically the bird.

Speaker 3 (22:15):
Always won, and even b F.

Speaker 2 (22:17):
Skinner himself apparently could not defeat this tic tac toe chicken.
But it was a bit of a bit of Carnie subterfuse.
There we're talking about, you know, spycraft, right.

Speaker 1 (22:28):
And then for an interjection, I'm sure there are a
lot of folks here in the audience wondering, wondering about
this aspect of the story. Was this considered ethical? No, no,
it's not. It's not considered ethical. Bailey himself notes that
at the time, the relatively new people for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals had clocked this and they considered it unethical.

But as we've examined in earlier cases of experimentation and
treatment of animals, the rules weren't as established as they
are today.

Speaker 2 (23:07):
So let's just recap this. I know there's a lot
going on here. Bailey found out about the Brielens, invited
them to help him with his program training marine life
and birds, and then we'll get in a little bit
more of that later. And then he ended up joining
their company, leaving that military life doing this kind of
more hilarious you know, animal trick kind of side work.

Speaker 3 (23:30):
But then it came back around.

Speaker 1 (23:32):
Yes, it came back around. The more things change, the
more they stay the same.

Speaker 3 (23:37):
True. You see.

Speaker 1 (23:38):
Eventually ABE acquired a sideline, and it was not a
matter of having Rubes play a rig game of tictac
too with chickens. No. You see, other agencies came calling
to Abe, the CIA most particularly, and the Army's Aberdeen
Proving Ground in limited warfare laboratories. They came to Abe

to seek unworthodox solutions to common problems. And this was
at the height of the Cold War, So why would
they Why would they do this? Why would the Central
Intelligence Agency hunt down this group of animal behaviorists.

Speaker 2 (24:16):
Well, there was actually something of like a dolphin arms
race at the time. The CIA had intercepted Soviet intelligence
indicating that they the Soviets were working on this as well.
And that's like the kind.

Speaker 1 (24:30):
Of the joke of the Cold War.

Speaker 2 (24:31):
Right, if we thought that the Soviets were going to
do something, we had to do it better. The Soviets
thought we were going to do something, they had to
figure out how to do it better. That's actually a
big part of that film, The Shape of Water, which
I think is great. There's a really cool side story
involving Russian spies and trying to steal assets from the
United States, the assets happening to be a underwater merman creature.

Speaker 1 (24:53):
And in this case it was dolphins. In other cases
it was the allegations of psychic powers. Right, we know
that's real. Also, I have a pitch for you, everybody, casey,
You're ready, all right, Red Dolphin like Red Dawn, but
red dolphin. Okay, played by Dolph Lungren.

Speaker 3 (25:10):
Is he still around? I guess he was in the
Expendables movies.

Speaker 1 (25:14):
Okay, we'll fix it in post. I just want to
plant that seed.

Speaker 2 (25:17):
Is it CGI dolphin or is it Dolph lungerin like
playing a dolphin. I feel like making his body like
tight like a dolphin.

Speaker 1 (25:24):
I feel like we should go a practical effect here.

Speaker 2 (25:26):
I think that's the smart move. That's what that's what
Gielm little Toro would want.

Speaker 1 (25:29):
That is exactly what it would do. And joking aside,
you're absolutely right, nol. There was this arm race, there
was a fear of red dolphins, and this extended to
other animals as well. We do have declassified nineteen seventies

documentation that elucidates this matter and notes that the Soviets
are quote also assessing and replicating US sister while possibly
developing countermeasures to certain US systems. But they're talking about
dolphins like in the context, they're clearly talking about dolphins,
and both sides valued this. There's a great quote from

Robert Wallace, who at the time was heading the CIA's
Office of Technical Services in the nineties. He points out
the advantages that animals have over human spies. Animals can
go place as people can't. Animals are un alerting. Let's
say we work at a nuclear plant, right, and we
have secrets and stuff because those are cool, Sure they those? Yeah,

And you and I have our trench coats and our hats,
and then we're going to be on yellow alert when
we see another person that's unidentified. But if there's just
a bird perched on a branch somewhere, then we'll probably
continue whatever our conversation was.

Speaker 2 (26:52):
Well, that leads us back to corvins, which is how
we started the show. I know that's one of your
favorite animals. I can't stand the little buggers, but turns
out they're super smart. They don't just go for shiny objects.
They'll go for about whatever you train them to go for,
and they're exceptionally strong. They can carry quite large loads
in their creepy, little disgusting beaks. Bailey, when he was

were with Abe, they had been contracted to help out
with some of these animal spy scenarios. He really spoke
highly of the Western raven and this is from that
Smithsonian article by Tom Vanderbilt. He says it operates alone,
and it does very well alone. He says, they can

learn to respond to classes of objects. He gives the
example if you've got a big desk and a little desk,
you could train it to always go to the small one.
And then there's the thing about the quite large carrying
capacity they have. They could pick up, you know, file
folders or you know, even like a diplomatic dossier of
some kind.

Speaker 3 (27:56):
But they can deposit things that have listening devices in them.

Speaker 2 (28:00):
They're not necessarily going to be spying themselves, but they
could perch on that branch, like you said, and carry
a piece of debris seemingly, you know, totally irrelevant, that
had some kind of high powered listening device in it.

Speaker 1 (28:13):
Right, Yes, and bonus points for corvid intelligence, which could
be an episode all its own. Corvids can also identify
specific people. They have facial recognition ability, and they also
have the ability to teach that to their young. So
for anyone who is also wondering the same question that

I've thought about off air two, is it possible to
train a murder of crows or an unkindness of ravens?
That's the group term that follows you and teaches their
young to follow you.

Speaker 3 (28:45):
An unkindness. Uh huh, that's insane.

Speaker 1 (28:47):
Isn't that crazy?

Speaker 3 (28:48):
It comes up with this stuff.

Speaker 1 (28:49):
I feel like it's relatively arbitrary.

Speaker 3 (28:51):
I think it's people that don't like birds.

Speaker 1 (28:53):
There's a parliament of owls.

Speaker 3 (28:55):
Yeah, that sounds very prestigious.

Speaker 2 (28:57):
But an unkindness, Yes, a raven That sounds like the
person that came up with that was a kindred spirit
to myself.

Speaker 1 (29:05):
So love them mer hatim. You know, it's inarguable that
they have a certain set of skills, but the use
of animals in espionage, or the attempts of using animals
in espionage, don't stop with ravens and cephalopods. Even insects
enter the mix.

Speaker 3 (29:24):

Speaker 2 (29:24):
Again From the Smithsonian article, which is a delightful read,
they talk about that Army Limited Warfare Laboratory at Aberdeen
having a program where they were trying to figure out
how to use insects quote for the detection of people,
and that this reads like it's a joke. It's like
scientists ruled out lice in a preliminary test. They simply

crawled about at random, like you'd think bugs would do.

Speaker 3 (29:50):
But mosquitoes were that had a lot of potential right.

Speaker 1 (29:55):
Yeah, they're normally at rest. They'll fly at the approach
of a host, so they have a routine, predictable behavior, right,
which could maybe be guided similar to the laser example
with the spider. Since they will always rest and fly
at the approach of a host, maybe you could detect
the approach of people during darkness. But that's not a

particularly amazing superpower. There was another series of trials with
a different animal that might surprise people, an animal commonly
regarded as one of the least trainable pets around, and
that is you're talking about hurting cats, right, the common
house cat. Yeah, I'm a cat person.

Speaker 2 (30:38):
I think you're a cat person too, Ben, but we
both know that they can be arbitrary little fellas an.

Speaker 1 (30:43):
They Yeah, cats, I have two cats. I used to
have a dog. I love dogs and cats. I'm an
animal animal guy. But it's pretty obvious in many cases,
not any dean on our feline friends NOL. But cats
often are more like a free loading roommate than they

are a pet, you know what I mean, Come and go,
they'll pay rent, they'll do the dishes.

Speaker 3 (31:10):
It's true.

Speaker 2 (31:11):
But cats were used pretty successfully by the CIA's Directorate
of science and technology, and they were trained to tune
in to human voices. And I've seen a couple of
conflicting accounts of this project called Acoustic Kitty, one that

implies that they actually surgically implanted a microphone into the
cat's ear canal and the cat was trained using the
same conditioning methods we talked about earlier to kind of
hone in too human voices of a specific type. But
then I also saw an account that specifically mentioned that
they were used to spy on a high level Asian

official during a meeting where cats were wandering in and out.
So the thing that comes up here with if we're
talking about training a cat or a dog to be
a spy, it requires a situation where a cat or
a dog's presence is not unusual, is not a tip off, right.

Speaker 1 (32:11):
Right, absolutely, So you could you could maybe get away
with that in a casual, informal setting. But if a
cat strolls into a boardroom right or into the right
of course doing a cat whistle, then you know the
if the cat strolls into some meeting of the joint
chiefs of staff, or all of a sudden there's a

cat in the oval office, people are going to notice,
who is.

Speaker 2 (32:36):
That president in our presidential Pets episode that had like
a million million pets and his son's brought in like
some snakes. There's something in throom down on the boardroom
table that is a security breach.

Speaker 3 (32:46):
My friends, It's true that.

Speaker 1 (32:48):
That state could have been wearing a wire. I've been
waiting to stay wearing a wire for a while because
the cat example that we mentioned here that you that
you and I heard some conflicting info on is is
fascinating when we get to the idea of that surgery,
right because according to the story, Bailey worked with the
inventor of the human cochlear implant and they turned a

cat into a transmitter with a wire running from the
cat's in her ear to a battery instrument cluster is
kind of gross implanted in its ribcage, and the idea
was that they could direct the cat's movement with ultrasonic sound.

Speaker 3 (33:25):
That's it.

Speaker 2 (33:26):
We weren't really hearing conflicting reports. There were just two
different situations. We had another one that involved a cat
that was deployed at a park outside of a Soviet
compound in Washington, d C. And it was used to
eavesdrop on a Russian operative or politician. That's the information
that's not super clear, because this stuff is kind of hearsay,

and you'll hear things like a head of state or
operative of some kind.

Speaker 3 (33:54):
But the story there is that they dropped the cat
out of the van and then it was immediately run
over by a taxi. Yeah, so sad. That is sad.
It's also a bummer. I bet all the gadgets and stuff.
Whoever had the headphones on, I was listening to the
cat transmissions.

Speaker 1 (34:11):
Oh no, that's probably.

Speaker 3 (34:14):
Take them off, you know. Let's get on to imagine that.

Speaker 1 (34:17):
So there's let's say there's another aspect of possible subter future,
which I really appreciated. I imagine you did too. We
may not ever know the entirety of AB's experiments because
their records were destroyed in a fire in nineteen eighty nine,

and when Vanderbilt the Smithsonian journalist wrote to the CIA
to ask about this stuff, they turned Yep, they turned
them down because.

Speaker 2 (34:47):
We weren't even going to acknowledge the existence of those
records in the first place, or even if the program
existed practically. I mean, it's very hush hush stuff, you know,
for good reason. One document they did find, however, referenced
a section called views on Trained Cats, very very severely
redacted documents censored. Right, yeah, in the National Security Archive

at George Washington University.

Speaker 1 (35:14):
Right. I love that this is a title for an
official government document. Somebody, somebody is paid to sit down
and think, think it through. What are my views? That's
sort of like views on Trained Cats. There are different perspectives.
There's some critical theory at play. It ultimately concludes, at

least from the unredacted parts that we're aware of, ultimately
concludes that the cats can be trained to move short distances.
But the program doesn't doesn't pan out in a practical sense,
And a lot of.

Speaker 2 (35:47):
These things that we're talking about were really replaced by
more practical technological advances, you know, in the same way
a lot of old school spycraft has been supplanted, Like
you don't have to sit in a park with a
suitcase with a reeled a real tape recorder and and
a wire running up your legs so that you can
turn it on and off when someone starts to talk.

Speaker 3 (36:08):
In the same way, it's probably not the most.

Speaker 2 (36:09):
Practical thing in the world to train animals to spy
on people when we have like you know, ultrasonic listening devices. Sure,
you know all kinds of technology that goes way over
my head.

Speaker 1 (36:24):
No, we can't end the episode without mentioning the squab Squad.

Speaker 2 (36:28):
The Squab Squad is my favorite part in this Smithsonian article.

Speaker 3 (36:33):
This this this reporter went really.

Speaker 2 (36:34):
Deep with this guy Bailey and really got some good
stories out of him. And the best one involved they
actually had a like a ranch that was active constantly
while the IQ Zoo was still doing its thing, and
they have these like like storefront like fake facade town

kind of like like you'd see in an old Western
where it was just the front of a building set up,
and they would run these different scenarios with pigeons where
they would get them we needed like the theyould get
directives from head from home home base from HQ be
like we need to get into this type of building to.

Speaker 3 (37:11):
This inter interior room, et cetera.

Speaker 2 (37:13):
And they would like move the pieces around that they
had and simulate kind of like the type of situation
that the bird would ultimately be involved in down the
road when the mission was live.

Speaker 3 (37:24):
And they also did stuff in the field.

Speaker 1 (37:26):
Didn't they Yeah, they did actually take the show on
the road. So, according to Bailey, who's not super specific
about this, for various reasons, ravens were brought to sensitive locations,
and he said, we got the cats into places usually
this is very interesting, usually using diplomatic pouches. A diplomatic

pouch is something that can't be searched, typically nowhere near
as easily. I mean, it's for transmission of highly confidential
or classified materials documents, and so they smuggled ravens through them.

Speaker 3 (38:02):

Speaker 1 (38:03):
He admits they carried a raven on a commercial flight
in a map case under the front seat, and based
on the way he describes this, he says, every now
and then the raven would make a noise and then
he would shift in his seat. So I feel like
he was trying to play those raven noises off as.

Speaker 2 (38:22):
Farts, Yeah, or maybe just you know, squeak chair squeaking, Yeah,
that sounds like farts sometimes, or maybe just kind of like, oh,
that's what I do, and I squirm.

Speaker 3 (38:34):
So the only one whom I alone?

Speaker 1 (38:36):
There? No, I think I think we're I think you're
not alone, man, We're both we're both sound effect people.

Speaker 3 (38:43):
That's very true.

Speaker 1 (38:44):
Also, there is a real world scenario of this verse.
We have to emphasize dolphins. Military dolphins are still a thing.
They're real thing. They're out there. We found a story
in two thousand and five from The Guardian by writer
named Mark Townsend detailing the story of a dolphin named

Flipper who was let loose and the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina and was considered armed and dangerous.

Speaker 3 (39:11):
What did he have one of those air cannons on
his head? So yes, so he did to shoot out
t shirts. Here's the thing.

Speaker 1 (39:18):
Dolphins were usually controlled via signals transmitted through a neck harness,
but they were missing in action. They were mia for
a second and an accident investigator named Leo Sheridan had
received confidential information confirming these dolphins had escaped during after

the hurricane, and he said the following. My concern is
that they have learned to shoot at divers in wet
suits who have simulated terrorists and exercises. If divers or
windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber, and
if equipped with special harness carrying toxic darts so not
compressed air, they can fire they're designed the darts, that is,
to put a target to sleep so they can be

interrogated later. But what happens if the victim's not found
for hours? So we're back again. No'll imagine you've just
survived a hurricane, right, You're you're trying to relax, You
go for a swim off the gulf, and then you
hear this squeeze, this high age squeeze of death.

Speaker 3 (40:20):
Not of joy, not a delightful flippers sound Ben.

Speaker 2 (40:24):
Have you read that comic about that secret, top secret
animal program WE three?

Speaker 3 (40:29):
We three? Yeah, yes, that This really makes me think
of that. If the listeners, if you haven't.

Speaker 2 (40:34):
Read WE three, it's a quickie and it's it's heart wrenching,
its heartbreak. It's wonderful. But it's about like a cat,
a rabbit and a dog. And then I think there's
a super dog that they train to come after them.
But they escape from this program and they're wearing these
kind of suits and they're trained to kill, but they're
live their animals, and they they act like animals, They

communicate with each other like animals. It's kind of closest
thing to like Watership Down. It's like a sci fi
watership down home vibe, Boy, is it good?

Speaker 1 (41:05):
Don't read it if it's your first time. Don't read
it in public. Read it at home in a place
where you can tear up quietly. But I'm really glad
that you pointed that when out No, because that is
just a fantastic story. And in many ways this is
a fantastic story. And we, you know, we want to
be clear. As we said at the top of the show,

you're going to hear a lot of allegations of animals
being used as spies, and many of them seem to
be hysteria. Also, oddly enough, many of them seem to
come from Middle Eastern countries. Did you notice that?

Speaker 2 (41:38):
I did notice that, And in fact, we have a
very current example of that out of Iran, don't we been?

Speaker 1 (41:45):
Yes, Yes, the story of lizard spies. So, according to
Iranian military advisor Hassan through is a body, lizards were
lurking around in uranium mines, attracting quote, atomic waves and
delivering intel on the government to Israel. They were lizards

and chameleons, and this military advisor said that the lizard's
skin was capable of attracting atomic waves.

Speaker 2 (42:16):
So, in other words, they were like canary and a
coal mine type situation. You would bring this atomic wave
attracting lizard and it would, like dowsing rod style, lead
you to the uranium mines.

Speaker 1 (42:28):
I guess so, And this is February fourteenth of this year.
You know, as you said, this is very very recent.
It doesn't seem to check out entirely, because you know,
why are they in a cave if they're cold blooded?

Speaker 3 (42:39):
Well is what he says.

Speaker 2 (42:40):
He says, several years ago, some individuals came to Iran
to collect aid for Palestine. We were suspicious of the
route they chose. In their possessions were a variety of
reptile desert species like lizards and chameleons. We found out
that their skin attracts atomic waves and that they were
nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the
Islami Republic of Iran we have uranium minds and where

we are engaged in atomic activities. He also said that
the spy agencies failed every time.

Speaker 1 (43:07):
So very strange story, very strange story. So I wanted
to ask you before we before we end the show,
what if you could have an animal assistant, an animal
spy familiar? Yeah, what would it be? And don't feel
like you have to limit yourself to real world conditions.
If you wanted to talk, that's cool too, Like what

would you want?

Speaker 2 (43:29):
I don't know, man, I'm not really I don't like
a lot of animals. They squigged me out, man. I
like cats, dogs. I tolerate cats. I tolerate really, but
they kind of leave me alone mainly. So so you'd
want a cat, I'd want a cat.

Speaker 1 (43:43):
You want your cat?

Speaker 3 (43:44):
I want my cat to be a spy talk Okay.

Speaker 2 (43:47):
Boy, listeners, you must think I'm a real curmudgeon. No,
you know, I have my moments.

Speaker 1 (43:52):
Nobody thinks that.

Speaker 3 (43:54):
Give on. Somebody online said that we were delightfully corny.

Speaker 1 (43:58):
You know what, We'll take it.

Speaker 3 (44:00):
I'll take it all day long.

Speaker 1 (44:02):
Yeah, well we'll take that, and we'll also take this
show on the road. That's going to wrap it up
for today? Oh man?

Speaker 3 (44:11):

Speaker 1 (44:12):
Oh man?

Speaker 3 (44:13):
No, it's not happening again?

Speaker 1 (44:14):
Is it really?

Speaker 3 (44:15):
Why it's time? Gentlemen?

Speaker 1 (44:23):
Jonathan Strickland, the quizt.

Speaker 3 (44:26):
Can't even mustard energy to say his name.

Speaker 1 (44:29):
I thought we'd seen the last of you.

Speaker 3 (44:30):
He didn't really think that, did you?

Speaker 5 (44:32):
How could I leave it at a tie, gentlemen, if
you do not recall, we are at two and two.

Speaker 3 (44:36):
Oh, I didn't recall.

Speaker 1 (44:38):
That's true. So this is the uh, this is the
not entirely consensual part of our show, Friends and Neighbors.
We're in our nemeses. The quizt visits us to test
our knowledge of something at least hopefully tangentially related to
today's episode.

Speaker 5 (44:56):
What was what was today's episode?

Speaker 3 (44:58):
I wasn't listeners mainly about corvids.

Speaker 1 (45:02):
It was about animals and espionage. We did dolphins.

Speaker 5 (45:05):
I am tangentially related. Two said topic.

Speaker 3 (45:09):
You are tangentially related to corvids, which is true.

Speaker 5 (45:12):
That is a fact that words can hurt. No, but
I have a scenario for the twain of you that's incorrect,
but I'm using it anyway. And of course I always
have to have some sort of arbitrary rule if you
are to ask any follow up questions.

Speaker 1 (45:32):
All coming back to me.

Speaker 5 (45:33):
All right, yeah, so this today we're going to be
talking about World War one France. And considering that we're
talking about World War one France and animals, you will
have to start any question directed towards me with monsieur
quista followed by and I want the accent.

Speaker 3 (45:54):
Okay, I cannot be more.

Speaker 5 (45:56):
Clear about this, Monsieur quistaar. And then you may ask
a question, and then I will answer it. I will
point to you and you will start your timer, which
is as we have agreed upon in the past three
minutes for you to deliberate and ask any follow up
questions you need before giving me the answer of whether
or not the scenario I present to you is true

or I.

Speaker 3 (46:20):
Made it up. Seas, So the counting of the minutes
shall be three.

Speaker 5 (46:23):
Three shall be the accounting of the minutes, and the
counting demitts shall be three four. Shalt thou not count,
nor either thou count'st two? Accepting that thou then dust
proceed to three.

Speaker 3 (46:32):
Got it?

Speaker 1 (46:33):
And this thank you for being so very thorough on
that note. And this begins after.

Speaker 5 (46:38):
After the scenario is presented. Yes, because otherwise this is
another long one. They've just been getting along. Oh boy,
I can't help it. There's a lot of details I
have to provide. So you talked about animals an espionage,
but animals have also been frequently used by the military.
Sometimes animals you would not anticipate would be incorporated into

military affairs, sometimes as an unofficial mascot. Sometimes these animals
would even receive interesting rewards. Afterwards, they would be promoted
to military ranks. This is all true stuff. There's a
goat that made the rank of sergeant. But that's not
what this one's about. No, gentlemen, here is your scenario.

Speaker 1 (47:22):
That's the one I knew.

Speaker 5 (47:24):
This is about Monsieur Eerison. In nineteen seventeen, France's army
was in a shambles during the Great War. Morale among
soldiers was at a low point, and about half of
all of France's regiments refused to follow orders to attack.
It was the Great French Army Mutiny. One exception was

the first regiment of the forty first Division, which bravely
followed orders despite suffering heavy losses. The men that division
credited their tenacity to their mascot, Monsieur Soon, a European
hedgehog who was known to hold his ground bristles out
no matter what. After the war, Arison was promoted to

the rank of sergeant, even though it was later discovered
the monsieur was a mademoiselle.

Speaker 1 (48:15):
Begin uh you know what, No, no, no, I'm flying
blind with this one. I'm just gonna completely arbitrarily go
for true.

Speaker 3 (48:27):
What you don't even want to debate?

Speaker 1 (48:28):
We could debate, Yeah, yeah, let's let's okay, so it
the misidentification makes it sound a little more plausible.

Speaker 3 (48:36):
So sure.

Speaker 1 (48:36):
So if that's a lie, that's a that's a clever addition,
and well done.

Speaker 4 (48:40):
Monsieur Quista. May I ask you a quick query, Monsieur.

Speaker 5 (48:46):
Quista, but of course go ahead with your queer age.

Speaker 4 (48:50):
Can you give me the elevator pitch version? Yours was
too long and pedantic, and I have lost the plot.

Speaker 5 (48:56):
All nineteen seventeen, France's army totally de morezed. One regiment
in the forty first Division managed to keep on going,
and they credited it. There were other regiments that also
kept on going, but they credited their bravery to their mascot,
which was a hedgehog that they had named Monsieur Arison
and Lynn later after the war promoted Erison to the

rank of sergeant because his example gave them bravery through
World War One.

Speaker 3 (49:26):
It turned out to be a lady head.

Speaker 5 (49:28):
It turned out that afterwards, an actual person who bred
hedgehog said this is this is not a male hedgehog.
Air Monsieur christell we Master Boleyn.

Speaker 1 (49:40):
So did this hedgehog have a rank before?

Speaker 5 (49:46):
Noa as a mascot? Just apparently someone found it. The
actual origins of the hedgehog are somewhat lost to history.

Speaker 1 (49:56):
So here's the signal. I know that, I know that
there were, you know, common it was a relatively common
practice for mascots to occur in wartime. Sure, you know, usually.

Speaker 3 (50:08):
Dogs monies from time to time.

Speaker 1 (50:11):
Right, yeah, So I don't.

Speaker 3 (50:13):
Know if that's true or not. What it seems I
rally behind a cute bunny.

Speaker 1 (50:16):
Yeah, I can see that. I can see that. But
I'm wondering. I'm wondering if oh gosh, okay, we're down
to we're down to just a few seconds.

Speaker 3 (50:24):
Okay, good, I say true, I say true. Lock in,
plump it locks.

Speaker 1 (50:30):
I win. Now.

Speaker 2 (50:34):
Do all the victory tastes so sweet?

Speaker 1 (50:39):
Oh? Do you savor it? It's like syrup running all
over my body. Oh it's so good? All right?

Speaker 5 (50:45):
Okay, Oh no, no, no, no, I get this.

Speaker 3 (50:48):
I get this.

Speaker 5 (50:49):
Oh so nice? All right. So, just so you know,
the French army, in fact, was in a state of
mutiny in nineteen seventeen during World the Great War, they
didn't call it World War One at the time for
obvious reasons. They were refusing to follow orders. More than
about half of all the divisions were refusing to follow orders,

largely because the previous campaign did not meet with a
success they were promised, and the Americans had recently announced
they were joining the war, and a lot of French
soldiers had this unrealistic but deeply, deeply optimistic hope that
the American soldiers would be joining them immediately, notwithstanding the

fact that it takes time to actually ship soldiers across
the ocean. So the lack of American soldiers and the
lack of success with the previous campaign led to massive
desertions and mutinies, and France was just barely able to
turn that back around. And they managed to do it by,

you know, only having to kill like fifty eight of
the deserters.

Speaker 1 (52:00):
So the real the real story is much more grizzly
and less hedge.

Speaker 5 (52:04):
War as hell. Also, by the way, Erison is French.

Speaker 1 (52:07):
For a hedgehog. You are so proud of that one.
I am really proud.

Speaker 2 (52:15):
I'm proud of you, Jonathan. I'm proud of you too. Yeah,
you really really stuck it to us.

Speaker 5 (52:20):
There, you're taking the joy out of this, Noel.

Speaker 3 (52:22):
Well, you know, I just like you a lot.

Speaker 5 (52:26):
This isn't fun and.

Speaker 3 (52:28):
More care for you deeply.

Speaker 1 (52:29):
Yeah, we're worried about you in your show.

Speaker 2 (52:32):
You know what though, Hey, this is a this is
a this is a chance for a new beginning, isn't it.

Speaker 3 (52:36):

Speaker 2 (52:36):
We get to refresh, restart, rewind, recycle, reduce, and.

Speaker 1 (52:41):
Reuse and remix. My friend. Yes, so we are going
to head out. Maybe maybe we'll find a mascot for
this show at some point. What do you say?

Speaker 3 (52:51):
No, yeah, as long as it's not a corvid Okay,
all right.

Speaker 1 (52:55):
I don't each their own. And of course we'd like
to thank our super produce, Sir Casey. We would like
to thank mister Vanderbilt wrote the excellent Smithsonian article. Also
thank you Jonathan Quister, You're.

Speaker 2 (53:10):
Welcome, and of course our regular contributor Lori L.

Speaker 3 (53:13):
Dove who wrote the.

Speaker 2 (53:15):
Use of Animals and Espionage for How Stuff Works, and
our composer Alex Williams, who is also a pal.

Speaker 1 (53:21):
And most importantly you folks, thanks for tuning in. You
can find us on Twitter. You can find us on Instagram.
You can find us on Facebook. Noel, did you see
the emails we've been getting about that Pinterest page.

Speaker 3 (53:33):
I'm working on it, you guys. I've decided I'm okay
with Pinterest. I'm making a dolphin.

Speaker 2 (53:37):
Themed vision board and with some swatches, with some nice
little color squares.

Speaker 3 (53:43):
Just you know, I wanted to I wanted to represent
who I am.

Speaker 1 (53:46):
I feel like I feel like it would have to
be a collaborative effort, so we'll have to put our
vision boards together at some point. I'm doing a lot
of crafty things.

Speaker 3 (53:54):
I like it.

Speaker 1 (53:55):
Yeah, we hope you like it too. What kind of
animal would you want for a spy? Let us know?

Speaker 3 (54:03):
And what kind of animals should be our mascot.

Speaker 2 (54:05):
You can write to us and tell us any of
these things whatever you wish at Ridiculous at HowStuffWorks dot com.
Thanks for listening, guys, and we'll see you next time
for another episode of Ridiculous History. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio,
visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen

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Noel Brown

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