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The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has gained a reputation for extreme paranoia and a willingness to embark on expensive, occasionally unlawful, and frequently ludicrous programs in an attempt to outmaneuver rivals. These 12 bizarre spy operations, which range from telepathic hippies to spy pets, are some of the most bizarre ones the government has ever financed or suggested.

What functions does the CIA perform?

To protect national security, the CIA gathers, assesses, and disseminates critical information on political, military, economic, scientific, and other developments overseas.

Which five missions make up the CIA?

First Line of Defense: The goal of the CIA is to go where others cannot go and accomplish what others cannot. The Agency's goal has been defined by five primary mission strands throughout the last seventy-five years: partnerships, counterintelligence, covert action, all-source analysis, and clandestine collection.

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time
Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs In The History

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs In The History

1. Acoustic Kitty

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time
The CIA once spent $20 million on a cat as a spy

The CIA certainly believed that the average home cat might be a skilled espionage agent, even if most people wouldn't. According to reports, US intelligence reportedly invested more than $20 million on "Acoustic Kitty," a top-secret project that employed cats as recording devices, in the 1960s.

The effort involved surgically implanting microphones, antennae, and batteries into the tails of a bunch of carefully trained cats, and releasing the animals close to the Russian embassy. With its advanced radio equipment, an inconspicuous feline might approach groups of communist officials and eavesdrop on their conversations, relaying the information to agents.

Eventually, the plan was implemented, but the first cat dispatched into the field was allegedly struck by a cab before it could record, leading to the quick cancellation of operation "Acoustic Kitty."

2. Project Pigeon

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time

During World War II, renowned behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner was hired by the government to try and train pigeons for use in a missile guidance system, which seemed to be one of the most absurd military operations ever. At the time, Skinner was regarded as a leading proponent of operant conditioning, a method of behavior control that employed rewards and punishments. Skinner put a number of pigeons that had received specialized training into missiles with these concepts in mind. The missile's flight path was captured by a camera mounted on its front and shown on a screen for the pigeon to observe.

The birds were trained to identify the intended target of the missile, and if it was veering off course, they would peck at the screen. The weapon's flight controls received this data and were subsequently updated to the new coordinates. Skinner was first granted $25,000 to launch the initiative, and he was able to achieve some modest success. However, the program's blatant ridiculousness was always too much for government officials to ignore, and finally it was shut down.

3. Project MKUltra

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time
A doctor sprays LSD into another doctor's mouth as part of project MKUltra's mind control experiments

Project MKULTRA was a vast, top-secret CIA operation that began in the early 1950s and featured tests in "chemical interrogation" and mind control. It is one of the most eerily unsettling government initiatives and the source of innumerable conspiracy theories. To put it briefly, MKULTRA was a scheme to obtain information, manipulate behavior, and even change brain chemistry through the use of medications, psychological stress, and unusual interrogation techniques.

Much of the project's information is still classified, but what is known is that the program tested and questioned private citizens, frequently without their knowledge or consent, to determine whether certain drugs could be used as truth serums. This involved administering shock treatment in addition to high dosages of amphetamine, mescaline, and LSD to the individuals. In one instance, it is said that participants received an acid dose for 77 days in a row in an effort to assess the consequences of prolonged drug exposure. There are several conspiracy theories regarding the true intentions of the project; some claim it was a scheme to create mind-controlled and brainwashed zombie assassins.

Early in the 1970s, news stories concerning CIA power abuses prompted a Congressional commission, which ultimately resulted in the release of certain information regarding MKULTRA. Though many believe that similar CIA operations still exist today, the initiative was eventually shut down.

4. Enhanced Interrogation

Following 9/11, the Bush administration authorized a campaign of torture that violated the Geneva Conventions, using the term "enhanced interrogation" to describe the practice. Some of the innocent individuals who were subjected to torture tactics against suspected terrorists included waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, threats against the detainee's family, extreme cold, and sexual assault.

Instead of offering helpful information, the strategies generated a lot of made-up stories. Later, an ineffectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques was found by a Senate committee.

5. Iran-Contra

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time
Members of the Sandinista army capture United States pilot Eugene Hasenfus after he was shot down during a covert mission in Nicaragua in October 1986. (Reuters / Carlos Duran)

Iran was in dire need of weapons during the brutal Iran-Iraq conflict. The Reagan administration sold $30 million worth of weaponry to Iran in secret in exchange for assistance in freeing American hostages who were being held by terrorists supported by Iran in Lebanon, despite the United States being under a trade embargo. The controversy was further heightened by the revelation that $18 million from the armaments sale was utilized covertly to aid the Contras in Nicaragua who were opposing the Sandinista government in communism.

The agreement broke not just the embargo against Iran but also the government's restriction on paying ransom for captives. Conversely, the agreement went against laws passed by Congress that restricted funding to the Contras by the CIA and the Defense Department.

6. Deceiving Congress

CIA director Leon Panetta said in a 2009 secret hearing that the agency had withheld important information from Congress for the preceding eight years. A Senate Intelligence Committee study in 2014 found that the CIA had been lying to the public and the government for years about the effectiveness of its harsh interrogation program, despite no information being made public regarding what was being withheld. The cover-up involved blaming the agency's use of torture techniques for the detainees' disclosure of important information, although in reality the information was provided prior to the start of rigorous questioning.

7. The Tacana Project

There were many of ridiculous espionage schemes during the Cold War between the US and the USSR, but The Tacana Project was particularly bizarre. This declassified project's concept was to deploy pigeons, who were already highly skilled at delivering communications during conflict on the front lines, for espionage, a new frontier.

The details of Operation Tacana, including how the US was fitting the birds with microscopic cameras and testing their effectiveness, were covered in a 2019 BBC report. In September 1976, when these experiments yielded somewhat satisfactory results, a full-fledged pigeon mission was officially declared. Unfortunately, the rest of the narrative is still under wraps.

8. The Stargate Project

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time
The Stargate Project

The second CIA-sponsored project on this list you may be familiar with if you saw the 2009 film "The Men Who Stare at Goats." The United States Army created the Stargate Project to investigate the possibility of developing psychic talents in regular soldiers or intelligence operatives.

These so-called "psychotronic" studies—a term used by KGB counterparts in the United States—were not highly centralized and ultimately amounted to very little. In fact, The Stargate Project was widely regarded as a flop and never had more than twenty volunteers. Because people cannot be used as psychological weapons against other countries, you know.

9. Operation Mongoose

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time

The unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion had a direct impact on the CIA's subsequent Operation Mongoose, which was an outright attack on Communist Cuba. For some of these activities, CIA cells worked with the American Mafia, of all people. These included, but were not restricted to, industrial sabotage operations and armament trades, all aimed at forcing Fidel Castro out of Cuba by 1962. Operation Mongoose was purportedly discontinued due to the growing tensions between the United States and Cuba, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, some scholars, including author Noam Chomsky, contend that terrorist activities persisted both during and after the crisis.

10. The Phoenix Program

Top 12 Weirdest CIA Programs of All Time

One of the many tales to emerge from the Vietnam War was The Phoenix Program, which was started in 1967 by the CIA with assistance from Australia and South Vietnam. The Phoenix Program is renowned today for its singular goal of destroying the Viet Cong, even though U.S. engagement was ended just two years after it began. The Phoenix Program included targeted executions, torture, terrorism, and other practices. When the implementation's specifics were eventually made public, the initiative was harshly criticized. The South Vietnamese government kept it going under a new name, Plan F-6, even after it was "officially" shut down in 1972.

11. Operation Gladio

The multinational and organizational cooperation known as Operation Gladio has several facets to explore. In other words, under the Warsaw Pact, preparations were made to counter a possible Soviet invasion of Europe by creating "stay behind" resistance forces in nations like Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. Because of the latter's neutral status, Operation Gladio is especially interesting.

The operation's contentious impact during Italy's "Years of Lead," which were marked by left- and far-left terrorist acts in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, is another issue. The CIA, NATO, and other parties collaborated on Operation Gladio, although specifics of its implementation were not made public until declassification hearings in 1990 and 2006.

12. Operation Mockingbird

This alleged CIA operation that began during the Cold War was used to manipulate the media to promote certain agendas and anti-communist messages. Media networks and journalists, both domestically and abroad, as well as student magazines and organizations, were put on the CIA payroll to fabricate stories and censor news about CIA meddling in foreign governments.

Alternately, the operation also allegedly recruited journalists to gather foreign intelligence and transfer messages to and from spies in communist countries.


The American Central Intelligence Agency has established a reputation throughout the years as the world's most comprehensive, cutting-edge, and successful government intelligence agency. In its history it made weird programs that surprised many. The above list is its weirdest programs in the history with detailed stories followed.

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