CIA declassifies Cold War spy pigeons

CIA declassifies Cold War spy pigeons
© istock/Hill illustration

Newly-released CIA files revealed the agency attempted to train pigeons to carry spy cameras and fly secret missions within the Soviet Union.

The BBC reported that files released by the agency revealed a program dubbed "Tacana" that involved pigeons wearing small cameras that would take photographs of key Soviet installations.

The project, began in the 1970s, was born out of other projects launched by the CIA to train animals to carry spying devices, such as falcons, dogs, cats, and dolphins.


The CIA reportedly settled on using pigeons due to the species' uncanny ability to return home when released into unfamiliar territory, which was previously used by the British in World War 2 for a variety of purposes.

According to the BBC, it remains classified how many missions pigeons actually flew for the CIA, as is the extent of the program's lifetime.

One target for CIA missions involving pigeons that was in the declassified report involved Soviet shipyards in Leningrad, where Russian submarines were manufactured.

It appears that the program was shuttered by the late 70's, with a CIA review finding the program to be too unreliable to continue. According to files reported by MSN, several of the birds disappeared with the expensive cameras, while another was attacked by a hawk and lost the device.