I was merely perusing through various Snapchat filters and stories of my peers vigorously studying their lives away for finals week when I stumbled upon Snapchat’s explore feature. This feature allows popular media outlets to post intriguing, shocking, and hilarious news stories on a large scale platform. I tapped on the Daily Mail news outlet and sure enough, I was greeted with an amalgam of odd stories, factual news, and celebrity gossip. After I had grown tired of the significant amount of blabber about Kylie Jenner’s recent break up with Tyga, I found a interesting article about a government-funded operation involving cats. The project, known as Operation Acoustic Kitty, enlisted the unwilling help of domesticated felines in the government’s endeavors to spy on foreign threats during the Cold War. I scoffed, thinking that this article was just another piece of fake news, but then I decided to research the failed operation. Sure enough, I found countless news articles about the concept coupled with redacted file briefings on the program. The rather gruesome procedure involved an incision starting at the ear and spanning the length of the participant’s spinal column to the tip of the tail which would house an antenna. Then another incision would be made inside the chest cavity which would encase a battery pack. Of the cats that survived the procedure and fully recovered, only a handful were actually trained. Unlike dogs, cats do not display the same desire to please a human companion. The rogue ‘agents’ would often times wander off if they were distracted or hungry. Over the course of seven years, the government spent approximately $15 million dollars on the classified experiment. In the end, the operation was deemed a failure. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if this ‘failed’ cyborg kitty experiment was actually a successful shift towards an integration of cyborgs into our society.
I don’t believe that the government intended to create a monstrous cyborg, however this precise blend of machine and organism perfectly encompasses Haraway’s definition of cyborgs. If only the government agencies heading this experiment would have indulged themselves with a copy of the Cyborg Manifesto then maybe they would have been able to come to terms with why their project was ill-fated from the start. These cyborg cats were “the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism”. Much like Haraway predicts the cats were destined to be inherently defiant to their cause. Their organic bodies refused to cede to its implanted cyborg identity. When tasked with a mission, the cats would abort the mission at the first chance. One of these deserters even wandered off into traffic and was promptly struck by oncoming traffic.
From the moment these prosthetic devices were implanted into their skin, these cats were no longer cats. They became something totally different. Not necessarily a cat, but not completely a robot spy. These creatures were a beautiful paradox between animate and inanimate life. These agents were transgressing boundaries of biological and technological–suspended in the fluidity of a boundless space between the two mediums. The monstrosity that this experiment created was not something sinister at all. Haraway states that “a cyborg body is not innocent, it was not born in a garden, it does not seek unitary identity and so generate dualisms without end”. However, once Operation Acoustic Kitty proved to be a lost cause, the agents were reduced to their original biological bodies. The equipment was removed from inside them and they supposedly lived long fulling lives. These organisms had been abruptly whisked away from their longstanding identities as exploited government-issued cyborgs and redistributed as ‘normal’ frisky felines. If you ask me, nothing is quite normal about the exploitation of a furry companion enlisted to serve as a spy on foreign states…but I guess weirder things have happened…
This case represented an overdue progression–a means to a more technologically advanced end. In this case, the biological overpowered the technological. But with impending medical advancements and an increasing interest in technology, the biological will soon face its end. Cyborgs are already among us hiding under the cover of prosthetic limbs and devices, its just a matter of time before we allow ourselves to be penetrated and integrated with technological modifications .
Haraway, Donna (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,”