5 Times Old-School Spycraft Sounded Like Straight-Up Looney Tunes
We like to think that spying is serious business. To the world of espionage’s credit, it usually is. Stick around long enough and you’re likely to have your fingers in some pies that sitting politicians could only dream of. You get to chuckle at what the newspapers think is happening in North Korea over your morning coffee. And of course, if you get caught, you’re in for an all-time ass-widening by possibly multiple governments.
That said, though, sometimes the world of spycraft is much dumber than you could have imagined. “It’s not stupid if it works” is a saying that does, in fact, extend to international intrigue. For every high-tech marvel or carefully planned misinformation campaign, there’s a couple plans of considerably blunter variety that have either been put into use or been fully prepared and ready for whenever they’re needed.
Here are five times that spycraft sounded as if it was pulled straight out of a slapstick comedy…
When A Blackmail Orgy Backfired
The “honeytrap” or “honeypot” is a time-tested and classic way to get some dirt on a target. After all, why try to reason or confuse the logical part of someone’s brain when you can instead talk to the more feral areas? Just find out someone’s sexual preferences, hold a little impromptu CIA’s Hottest Agent competition and send them off to slap-and-tickle their way into some state secrets.
It’s also used for blackmail, but one very important thing to remember about blackmail is that you should make absolutely sure the target would actually be embarrassed by it. After the KGB sent a squadron of operatives dressed as flight attendants to romance Indonesian president Achmed Sukarno, they probably thought they were now sitting on some grade-A kompromat. When they informed Sukarno the whole thing had been recorded, though, they found he was still mightily pleased about the whole affair, even asking for copies of the tapes.
Assassination By Exploding Shellfish
Nothing has a more classic Looney Tunes vibe than a random item swapped out surreptitiously for a bomb-based facsimile. Obviously, it’s a lot less charming when skull fragments are swapped out for a cartoonishly sooty mug to camera. A famous, but likely legendary tale of the CIA trying to assassinate Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar sounds like it was straight-up brainstormed over Saturday morning cartoons and a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.
Two parts of this are true though: The CIA wanted to kill Castro very very badly, and they cooked up some off-kilter explosives to do so. In addition to his love for stogies, Castro was also a big-time skin diver, which I promise isn’t as sexual as it sounds. The CIA looked into creating an irresistibly beautiful seashell, one that Castro would obviously have to swim over and admire, which was packed with enough explosives to make his oxygen supply no longer relevant.
Pigeon Spy Photographers
Say you’re in the thick of an unpleasant war. Perhaps, specifically, World War I. You’re in desperate need of intelligence about the enemy, the kind of thing that would be easily spotted from the air. The problem is, you’re stuck with big, clunky aircraft that’s definitely not what anyone would call “unnoticeable.” So what do you do? I mean, you can’t just tie a camera to a pigeon and let it fly around taking pictures, can you?
Yes, you absolutely can. Pigeons, already being used as messengers, turned out to be valuable little spies in their own right. All they needed was a camera and harness that was light and non-intrusive enough to keep them from slamming into German chimneys and they could provide a literal bird’s-eye view of enemy territory. Plus, good luck torturing any valuable information out of a pigeon if they get caught.
Radio Transmitting Turds
Sometimes, the answer to a question is staring everybody in the face, just waiting for the one person brave enough to suggest it. Case in point: When the U.S. military was looking for a way to disguise small radio transmitters during the Vietnam War. They both had to go unnoticed, and if noticed, not be further examined. So something small and plentiful… in areas of heavy wildlife… that nobody wants to look at closely.
From here I can only imagine a slightly uncomfortable silence before someone finally said, “Look, it should be fake animal shit, right? Tell me I’m wrong.” Wrong, they were not. The U.S. successfully deployed many radio transmitters camouflaged as animal dung in Vietnam, and they were so effective they often would only go out of service when their internal battery died, completely undiscovered.
So hey, sometimes what works for your spare pair of keys can work just as well for the CIA.
Spy-Grade Stink Spray
Most of this list resides in the realm of “goofy but effective,” but none of the other entries are quite as juvenile as this one. Even fake tiger turds pale in comparison to the time and money put into developing what was a military-grade fart spray. The compound was cooked up by a man named Ernest Crocker, with the intent of letting an operative spray it on a Nazi, who would, if all went according to plan, be embarrassed and ostracized by their new stench. The cherry on top, though, is the olfactory weapon’s official code name: “Who, Me?”
No joke. The war ended before it could be used, and it also proved, well, difficult to apply without some collateral scent.