Cats, dolphins and one smart raven: the CIA’s secret animal spies

Washington (AFP) – In early 1974, Do Da was top in espionage class, on the way to becoming a high-flying CIA agent: he handled himself better in the rough, carried heavier loads, and could brush off attackers.

But on his toughest-yet spy school test, he disappeared — done in by some of his own kind: ravens.

The bird was a central figure in a decade-long US Central Intelligence Agency program to train animals as agents, helping Washington fight the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

On Thursday, the CIA released dozens of files from its tests on cats, dogs, dolphins and on birds from pigeons to some of the smartest: ravens and crows.

It studied cats as possible loose-roaming listening devices — “audio surveillance vehicles” — and put electrical implants in dogs’ brains to see if they could be remotely controlled.

Neither of those programs went very far. More effort was put into training dolphins as potential saboteurs and helping spy on the Soviet Union’s development of a nuclear submarine fleet, perhaps the most potent challenge to US power in the mid-1960s.

Projects Oxygas and Chirilogy sought to see if dolphins could be trained to replace human divers and place explosives on moored or moving vessels, sneak into Soviet harbors and leave in place acoustic buoys and rocket detection units, or swim alongside submarines to collect their acoustic signatures.

Those programs, too, were given up, left to the US Navy which to this day makes use of dolphins and seals.

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– Hawks and owls –

But what also grabbed the US spy chiefs’ imagination in the Cold War days was birds — pigeons, hawks, owls, crows and ravens, and even flocks of wild migratory birds.

For the latter, the agency enlisted ornithologists to try to determine which birds regularly spent part of the year in the area of Shikhany in the Volga River Basin southeast of Moscow, where the Soviets operated a chemical weapons facility.

The CIA saw the migratory birds as “living sensors” which, based on their feeding, would reveal what kinds of substances the Russians were testing, in their flesh.

In the early 1970s, the CIA turned to birds of prey and ravens, hoping they could be trained for “emplacement” missions like dropping a listening device on a windowsill, and photo missions.

In project Axiolite, bird trainers working on San Clemente island off southern California taught the birds to fly miles over the water between a boat and land.

If the training went well, a chosen candidate would have a tough mission: being smuggled to Soviet Russia, where it would be released secretly in the field, tasked to fly 15 miles (25 kilometers) carrying a camera to snap pictures of a radar for SA-5 missiles, and fly back.

They had red-tailed and Harris’s hawks, great horned owls, a vulture, and a cockatoo.

It was not easy. A cockatoo was “a clever flyer” but “maybe too slow to avoid gull attacks.”

Two falcons died from illness; another promising candidate lost feathers and trainers had to wait for it to molt and grow them back.

– ‘Star’ of the project –

The most promising flyer was Do Da, the raven. In just three months, Do Da went from a successful 3/4-mile trip to six miles from shore to boat, and then four miles back to shore on the same day.

He was the most promising candidate for the Russia mission, the “star of this project,” one scientist wrote, who figured out the right altitudes in the right winds, and acquired “sufficient guile to outwit the native ravens and gulls,” which hid for attacks on him.

But on a training mission he was attacked by “the usual pair” of ravens — and was not seen again.

The scientists were deeply dismayed. “He had a large bag of tricks and was loved by all,” one wrote.

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Fictional Espionage Agencies with Interesting Acronyms

C.I.S.O. (Canadian International Security Organization), from the Captain Canuck comic book series. Not to be confused with C.S.I.S., the current Canadian spy agency.

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C.L.I.T.O.R.I.S. (The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society), from Red Dwarf

 

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C.O.B.R.A. (Criminal Organization of Bloodiness, Revenge and Assassination), an international terrorist organization, headed by Cobra Commander, from the G.I. Joe series.

acronym2

 

G.R.A.M.P.A. (Global Reaction Agency for Mysterious Paranormal Activity), an international intelligence agency in Marvel Comics.

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I.S.I.S (International Secret Intelligence Service) is the agency employing the lead characters in Archer (TV series). Not to be confused with those blood thirsty Muslim terrorists.

acronyms3

 

K.A.B.O.O.M. (Key Atomic Benefits Organization oMankind), from the movie The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.

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SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), from the James Bond series.

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  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R.(The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves), from Tower Comics.

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U.G.L.I. (Undercover Global League of Informants) in the Hardy Boys book, Secret Agent of Flight 101.

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U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and T.H.R.U.S.H., from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. (The meaning of T.H.R.U.S.H. was never revealed on the series; but, in the novelizations it was stated to be “Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity”.)

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V.E.N.O.M. (The Vicious, Evil Network OMayhem), the evil mask-wearing cohort from the 1980s Saturday-morning cartoon M.A.S.K.

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V.I.L.E. (The Villains’ International League of Evil), Carmen Sandiego’s band of international thieves.

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Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage), from the movies Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

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A Real Cone of Silence in Washington D.C.

The Environmental Protection Agency is spending nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in the office of Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to government contracting records.

“What you are referring to is a secured communication area in the administrator’s office so secured calls can be received and made,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement. “Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held. It’s called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). This is something which a number, if not all, Cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated.”

It would look something like this:

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Edward Scott Pruitt (born May 9, 1968) is an American lawyer and Republican politician from the state of Oklahoma who is the fourteenth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nominated for the EPA position by President Donald Trump, Pruitt was confirmed by the United States Senate to lead the EPA on February 17, 2017.

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Pruitt represented Tulsa and Wagoner Counties in the Oklahoma Senate from 1998 until 2006. In 2010, Pruitt was elected Attorney General of Oklahoma. In that role, he opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulations as a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” In his campaigns for Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt received major corporate and employee campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, taking in at least $215,574 between 2010 and 2014, even though he ran unopposed in the latter year. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt sued the Environmental Protection Agency at least 14 times regarding the agency’s actions. In 2012, Pruitt was elected as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, and re-elected for a second term in February 2013.

Pruitt rejects the scientific consensus that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are a primary contributor to climate change, and has falsely claimed there is no scientific consensus on climate change. As EPA administrator, Pruitt reversed and delayed numerous environmental rules, relaxed enforcement of existing rules, and halted the agency’s efforts to combat climate change.

From the 1960’s TV spy comedy ‘Get Smart’ the Cone of Silence. Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, always wanted to use the Cone of Silence when what he thought was sensitive information was going to be discussed with the Chief.

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Portable Cone of Silence

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The NSA can take complete control of any Smartphone

 

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Edward Snowden interview: ‘Smartphones can be taken over’

BBC

Smartphone users can do “very little” to stop security services getting “total control” over their devices, US whistleblower Edward Snowden has said.

The former intelligence contractor told the BBC’s Panorama that UK intelligence agency GCHQ had the power to hack into phones without their owners’ knowledge.

Mr Snowden said GCHQ could gain access to a handset by sending it an encrypted text message and use it for such things as taking pictures and listening in.

The UK government declined to comment.

Mr Snowden spoke to Panorama in Moscow, where he fled in 2013 after leaking to the media details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by his former employer, the US National Security Agency (NSA).

He did not suggest that either GCHQ or the NSA were interested in mass-monitoring of citizens’ private communications but said both agencies had invested heavily in technology allowing them to hack smartphones. “They want to own your phone instead of you,” he said.

Mr Snowden talked about GCHQ’s “Smurf Suite”, a collection of secret intercept capabilities individually named after the little blue imps of Belgian cartoon fame.

“Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off without you knowing,” he said.

“Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool. For example if it’s in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you – even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.

“Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.”

Peter Taylor’s film Edward Snowden: Spies and the Law also covers:

  • The contentious relationship between the British government and social media companies. The intelligence agencies and the police want the companies to co-operate in detecting terrorist content but the programme learns that not all companies are prepared to co-operate to the extent that the agencies would like.
  • Documents leaked by Mr Snowden that appear to show that the UK government acquired vast amounts of communications data from inside Pakistan by secretly hacking into routers manufactured by the US company, Cisco.

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US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with executives from leading technology companies, including Apple, Twitter and Google, in this Dec. 17 archive photo. The documents seen by SPIEGEL indicate the NSA’s desire to “subvert endpoint devices”.

‘Necessary and proportionate’

Mr Snowden also referred to a tool known as Paronoid Smurf.

“It’s a self-protection tool that’s used to armour [GCHQ’s] manipulation of your phone. For example, if you wanted to take the phone in to get it serviced because you saw something strange going on or you suspected something was wrong, it makes it much more difficult for any technician to realise that anything’s gone amiss.”

Once GCHQ had gained access to a user’s handset, Mr Snowden said the agency would be able to see “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with.

“And they can do much more. They can photograph you”.

Mr Snowden also explained that the SMS message sent by the agency to gain access to the phone would pass unnoticed by the handset’s owner.

“It’s called an ‘exploit’,” he said. “That’s a specially crafted message that’s texted to your number like any other text message but when it arrives at your phone it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for it [the phone] but whoever controls the software owns the phone.”

 

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GCHQ is the UK government’s digital spy agency

Looks like something out of James Bond.

Describing the relationship between GCHQ and its US counterpart, he said: “GCHQ is to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA.

“They [the NSA] provide technology, they provide tasking and direction as to what they [GCHQ] should go after.”

The NSA is understood to have a similar programme to the Smurf Suite used by GCHQ on which it is reported to have spent $1bn in response to terrorists’ increasing use of smartphones.

Mr Snowden said the agencies were targeting those suspected of involvement in terrorism or other serious crimes such as pedophilia “but to find out who those targets are they’ve got to collect mass data”.

“They say, and in many cases this is true, that they’re not going to read your email, for example, but they can and if they did you would never know,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the UK government said: “It is long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

“All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

The government believes Mr Snowden has caused great damage to the intelligence agencies’ ability to counter threats to national security.

Mr Snowden maintains he has acted in the public interest on the grounds that the surveillance activities revealed in the thousands of documents he leaked are carried out – in his words – “without our knowledge, without our consent and without any sort of democratic participation”.

Inside The NSA Utah Data Center

Denise Harwood diagnoses an overheated computer processor at Google’s data center in The Dalles, Ore. Google uses these data centers to store email, photos, video, calendar entries and other information shared by its users.

 

NSA Texas

hack nsa texas

 

For quite some time now, the intelligence agency has maintained a branch with around 2,000 employees at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio. In 2005, the agency took over a former Sony computer chip plant in the western part of the city. A brisk pace of construction commenced inside this enormous compound. The acquisition of the former chip factory at Sony Place was part of a massive expansion the agency began after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

On-Call Digital Plumbers

One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years — the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.

Fictional Espionage Agencies with Interesting Acronyms

C.I.S.O. (Canadian International Security Organization), from the Captain Canuck comic book series. Not to be confused with C.S.I.S., the current Canadian spy agency.

acronyms11

 

C.L.I.T.O.R.I.S. (The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society), from Red Dwarf

 

acronyms1

 

C.O.B.R.A. (Criminal Organization of Bloodiness, Revenge and Assassination), an international terrorist organization, headed by Cobra Commander, from the G.I. Joe series.

acronym2

 

G.R.A.M.P.A. (Global Reaction Agency for Mysterious Paranormal Activity), an international intelligence agency in Marvel Comics.

acronyms2

 

I.S.I.S (International Secret Intelligence Service) is the agency employing the lead characters in Archer (TV series). Not to be confused with those blood thirsty Muslim terrorists.

acronyms3

 

K.A.B.O.O.M. (Key Atomic Benefits Organization oMankind), from the movie The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.

acronyms4

 

SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), from the James Bond series.

acronyms5

 

  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R.(The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves), from Tower Comics.

acronyms6

 

U.G.L.I. (Undercover Global League of Informants) in the Hardy Boys book, Secret Agent of Flight 101.

acronym7

 

U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and T.H.R.U.S.H., from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. (The meaning of T.H.R.U.S.H. was never revealed on the series; but, in the novelizations it was stated to be “Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity”.)

acronyms7

 

V.E.N.O.M. (The Vicious, Evil Network OMayhem), the evil mask-wearing cohort from the 1980s Saturday-morning cartoon M.A.S.K.

acronyms8

 

V.I.L.E. (The Villains’ International League of Evil), Carmen Sandiego’s band of international thieves.

acronyms10

 

Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage), from the movies Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

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