“For most of the twentieth century, the combination of ineptitude and secrecy created an organisation (MI5) that retreated more and more into a world of fictional conspiracies in order to disguise its repeated failures. The question is whether the same is true today?”
Adam Curtis — Bugger (August 8 2013)
Have Intelligences Agencies really trained various animal species to spy on their enemies? To be sure, some allegations are highly dubious, if not ridiculous. Some stories are just rumours never actually proven and a few of them are just ‘April fools’ pranks. However, the story of the MI5 gerbils is absolutely true! Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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UPDATE (July 31 2018) — Did you change clothes while at the airport? Get to the boarding area late? Fall asleep during the flight? Use your phone? If you’re on the Transportation Security Administration’s new Quiet Skies list, then a federal air marshal knows the answer to all of those questions – and more.
Quiet Skies is a TSA domestic surveillance program that specifically targets travelers who are not under any kind of investigation or on a terrorist watch list.
Behaviour indicators that marshals must track are excessive fidgeting or perspiration, facial flushing, rapid eye blinking, strong body odor, sweaty palms, a ‘cold penetrating stare’, wide open staring eyes, face touching, and an ‘Adam’s apple jump’.
US media report several sources have said “Quiet Skies” has sparked criticism within TSA.
John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, said in a statement that the programme “does not meet the criteria” of “acceptable” missions.
“The American public would be better served if [air marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended, and violations of federal crimes can be properly and consistently addressed,” he told the Globe.
Hugh Handeyside, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said the surveillance was “a big waste of taxpayer money and raises a number of constitutional questions”.
“These concerns and the need for transparency are all the more acute because of TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Whistleblower Robert MacLean is an air marshal who was awarded protected whistleblower status after he raised concerns about agency practices in 2003. The TSA attempted to fire him, but in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he was reinstated. He regularly tweets about his concerns over the lack of secondary barriers to block access to the cockpit when pilots enter or exit during flight.
“This goes back to what I say over and over, the air marshal’s job is to protect the cockpit and the pilots,” MacLean said. “Let somebody else do the intelligence and criminal investigative work.”
The air marshal program cost about $1 Billion annually. Around 50 passengers are tracked each day. Have a safe flight. And, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… END of UPDATE
The spies live conveniently behind a wall of secrecy. And whenever one tries to criticise them, the spooks respond by saying that they have just prevented a terrorist attack and saved countless lives. Of course, they cannot speak about the evidence… because it is secret!
In “The Recruit”, Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is a CIA trainer with a list of slogans he uses to drill his operatives. In the beginning of their training, Walter Burke reminds his students that:
“Our failures are known. Our successes are not.”
Maybe, Mike Pompeo watched the movie before taking the top job at the Agency last year.
In his first public speech, the former CIA Director told his audience that:
“Our accomplishments generally remain classified, but a few special ones are known to the world.”
Here is the story of a spooky project that cannot — by any stretch of the imagination — be described as a success. This project was in fact doomed from the start. Why would a government fund such a nonsensical research programme is beyond reason.
The “MI5 Gerbils” programme was revealed by Sir Stephen Lander, who served as Director-General of the British Security Service (MI5) from 1996 to 2002.
The Story of the MI5 -Trained Gerbils
Back in the 1970s – at the height of the obsession with traitors – MI5 trained a special group of counter-spies to detect traitors and terrorists.
Gerbils have a very acute sense of smell. Some genius figured that these gerbils could observe suspects during their interrogations and tell whether they were releasing adrenaline while sweating. Surely, this would prove that the suspects were under stress and thus lying!
Perhaps, the gerbils could even detect terrorists boarding a plane with a bomb?
Unfortunately, the gerbils get easily confused. Even when they try their best, they can hardly distinguish a terrorist from ordinary people who are frightened of flying, or simply exhausted by a heavy luggage.
And so the “Gerbils Project” came to an end. The MI5 files — a thick volume of them– are still classified.
You may wonder who came up with this ludicrous idea anyway? It seems that the research was initiated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Shin Bet –the Israeli internal security service –were the first to put it to test at the Tel-Aviv airport.
“They had kept the rodents in cages next to security check areas in Tel Aviv airport.
Carefully placed fans wafted the smell of a suspect’s hands towards the animals’ nostrils.
The gerbils were trained to press a lever if they detected rises in adrenalin.” (BBC)
In early 2001, we learned that MI5 was planning to use conventional US-style lie detectors.
Maybe the “Gerbils Project” was not that ridiculous after all.
PS: MI5 also trained peregrine falcons to intercept enemy pigeons used to convey secret messages. But that will be another story in this series.
The CIA Trained Animal Spies
The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States plays an integral role in collecting foreign intelligence.
But their most highly trained spies have reportedly been animals like cats, birds or dolphins.
According to a former trainer, a variety of animals were conditioned and taught certain behavior to be used as spies for the CIA.
Working under the guise of the Animal Behavior Enterprises in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Bob Bailey trained animals to act as surveillance tools for government agencies.
Ravens have been trained to land in a specific window, open desk drawers, and carry large packages or files.
One infamous operation, known as acoustic kitty, utilized a cat to spy on an Asian diplomatic target that would have cats moving in and out of the room during meetings.
The cat was trained to listen to a certain voice and was then used as a transmission device to listen to the target’s meetings.
The cat could be controlled by ultrasonic sound to make it move in a certain direction.
Even insects were considered by the US military to be used as spies.
That is a spooky world!
Bugger by Adam Curis — BBC
US airport security’s ‘Quiet Skies’ programme tracks passengers — BBC (July 30 2018)
Animal Spies & Warriors — The MI5 – Trained Gerbils
Animal Spies & Warriors — The MI5 – Trained Gerbils (UPDATE: US TSA Adopts Program; Replaces Gerbils with US Marshals)