4 Truly Bizarre Cold War Plots
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4 Truly Bizarre Cold War Plots

Take the craziest thing that's happened in 2016 and dial it up to 11.

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4 Truly Bizarre Cold War Plots
AlphaHistory

Anybody's who's studied U.S. or Russian history (or watched any James Bond movie) knows that the Cold War was absolutely nuts. At a time when technology was exponentially developing and geopolitics were unprecedentedly unstable, all kinds of zany antics were sure to ensue. In short, there were a whole ton of strangely named, ill-advised “Projects” and “Operations” were undertaken — usually by the U.S. — to clandestinely undermine the Soviet Union and its allies. Almost all of them were freaking insane. Here are some key highlights from this questionably thought-out time in history.

1. Operation Acoustic Kitty

Everybody knows that if the CIA can find a medium to eavesdrop, they're going to take it. Wiretapping or clandestine bugging might not seem out of the ordinary, but the U.S. government has reportedly also attempted to use dolphins, crows and even pigeons as spies. Perhaps the most ill-advised of these undertakings was when the CIA attempted to use cats to eavesdrop on suspected Soviet agents in Washington, D.C. in the 1960's. Outfitted with expensive wiretapping and radio transmitting equipment, the acoustic kitties cost the agency a clean $20 million, according to former agent Victor Marchetti.

The agency found the old adage "herding cats" to be indeed quite difficult, as the cats kept getting hungry and thus distracted by mice, pigeons, etc., and so this had to be addressed in yet another veterinary operation. That’s right, cat brain surgery. Things went sideways in the first practical test, where the cat was supposed to eavesdrop on a reported Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue. According to Marchetti, the cat was immediately distracted, and then hit and killed by a taxi when it saw a pigeon.

2. Project Iceworm

Project Iceworm was one of many Cold War Russian-nesting-doll-style missions-disguised-as-socially-acceptable-scientific-ventures. In its original proposition for Camp Century, located in Greenland, the U.S. told the Danish government the base was for scientific and military study only. There were plans for a tunnel system around two miles long, with a fully functioning hospital, shop, church and a theater, all powered by the world’s first mobile nuclear reactor. (For those of you who’ve seen "Snowpiercer," this does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance.)

In reality, the clandestine Project Iceworm was to be much bigger. The plan was for a series of tunnels 2,500 miles in length, housing 600 missiles pointed directly at the Soviet Union and its allies. The entire arctic region was surprisingly important during the Cold War. Despite being barren and almost completely unpopulated, its proximity to both North America and Eurasia made it important for the strategy of nuclear deterrence. By 1965, the research center realized the entire structure built under Greenland’s glacial ice sheet was actually becoming unstable because, well, ice sheets have a tendency to shift. Camp Century and its burgeoning splinter project were rapidly abandoned, along with millions of dollars of equipment.

3. Project MK-Ultra

If you've seen or read "The Men Who Stare at Goats" or Netflix's new original series "Stranger Things," then Project MK-Ultra might seem eerily familiar to you. Shockingly, the use of unwilling subjects in military trials of mind-altering substances and psychological theories is limited to neither the realm of fiction nor the minds of tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists.

Decades of rumblings of abuse and spookiness were confirmed during the 1975 Church Committee hearings, which substantiated claims that the CIA had used unwitting or unwilling human test subjects to develop uses for new technologies in interrogation and warfare. Luring test subjects wasn't limited to clinical trials or university psychology labs: in a sub-project of MK-Ultra called Operation Midnight Climax, prostitutes paid by the CIA in San Francisco led subjects to safe houses, where they were then unknowingly fed illicit substances and monitored by agents and medical professionals behind a one-way mirror.

4. Operation Mongoose

Just to give you a little preview of how ludicrous and unnecessarily complicated Operation Mongoose was, it got its name from the fact that mongoose (Mongeese?) have 33 separate subspecies, and this operation had 33 separate subplots. Each of these subplots revolved around either the assassination or humiliation of Fidel Castro.

A little background on Cuba — until 1959 its leader was a U.S.-backed dictator named Fulgencio Batista. He was overthrown by the 26th of July Movement, led by Fidel Castro. As a refresher for our readers who may not remember the details of the Bay of Pigs, it was a failed military invasion of Cuba instigated by the CIA in 1962, with the main motivation being that the CIA believed Castro had links with the Soviet Union, which, as I’m sure you know, the U.S. didn’t...dig.

Led by Air Force General Edward Lansdale, the plans outlined in Operation Mongoose range from standard military operations, to cartoonish antics, to actual terroristic plots. The exploding cigar plot, likely the most infamous rumor surrounding the operation, appears to be unsubstantiated, but many other genuinely insane attempts have been well documented. Many revolve around attempts to destroy Fidel Castro’s machismo, usually by causing his trademark mustache to fall out through the use of a depilatory in his toothpaste. Another asserts that the U.S. attempted to release hallucinogenic gas into a studio where Castro was filming a news segment.

So there’s at least one aspect of these nebulous rumors that we can prove is definitively true — the CIA really did hire the Mafia to help assassinate Castro. Knowing that the mob was desperate to regain the gambling business that once thrive under Batista’s regime, the Agency enlisted Mafia hitman Johnny Rosselli to off Castro. It’s unclear if Bobby Kennedy was involved in this decision, but we do know he was one of the minds running Project Mongoose. Adding to the mire is the fact that infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover discovered the plot through surveillance of mob boss Sam Giancana, who incidentally shared a mistress with none other than President John F. Kennedy.

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