On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War

Stephanie Schoppert - April 4, 2017

The Cold War was an unusual period for both the United States and the Soviet Union. Both sides were desperate to have the upper hand and ensure that if either side attacked, they would be able to retaliate or beat them to the punch. To that end, there were a number of different Cold War plots and ideas that served a variety of purposes.

Some were meant to be a warning, showing the other side what they were capable of, some were to get information, and others were to figure out alternative uses for the massive number of nuclear weapons that both sides possessed. Some of the plots and schemes were successful, brilliant, and advanced the military strategy and capabilities of their respective countries…others, not so much.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Depiction of nuking the moon. thehigherlearning.com

Project A119

Project A119 was one of the more potentially devastating plots of the Cold War era. In 1958, the plan was developed by the United States Air Force under the pretense of learning more about astronomy and astrogeology. The truth of the matter was that it was really supposed to be a bit of a PR mission. The plan was to detonate a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon.

There were a few justifications for why this was a good idea (and a few thousand reasons why it was a bad one). The first reason was that if they were able to detonate a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon (as opposed to in a crater), the flash of the explosion would be seen from Earth by the naked eye. This would be a significant display of American capabilities that would hopefully get the world to forget that the Soviets were able to launch the first satellite into space, and that the latest attempts of the United States to launch their own satellite had ended in disaster.

Another reason why the Air Force was interested in such an idea was the rumor that the Soviet Union was planning to detonate a hydrogen bomb on the surface of the moon in celebration of the October Revolution. The Air Force had contemplated a hydrogen bomb as well, but there were concerns about it being too heavy. Research into the project raised a number of concerns, not the least of which was the fact that if the bomb failed to hit the moon it had a high probability of returning to Earth.

Ultimately the project was scrapped because there were concerns that the public would react negatively to the detonation and it would not be the morale booster that the Air Force was looking for. There was also the concern of danger to the public and the unknowns involved with lunar nuclear fallout and its impact on potential lunar colonization.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Artist rendering of how the cat would function. henry4school.fr

Acoustic Kitty

In a plan that was hatched by someone who obviously never owned a cat, the CIA planned to make a cat into a bionic super spy. It was a bit like The Six-Million Dollar Man, except it was more like the 20-Million Dollar Cat. The plan was for the cat to be able to go to the Kremlin and Soviet embassies and be able to record conversations without arousing much suspicion.

The first phase of the plan was to figure out how to implant a listening device into the cat. In a one-hour procedure, a veterinarian put a microphone into the ear canal of the poor feline. Then at the base of the cat’s skull, they inserted a small radio transmitter and then ran a wire into its fur to connect the two components. The operation was a success and then came the hard part, training the cat.

The first issue that was experienced by the trainers was that the cat was easily distracted. Hunger would cause the cat to completely disobey any training or commands, and therefore it was decided that another operation was needed to address the cat’s ability to feel hunger. Even with the operation, it was found that the cat could only be counted to obey for short periods and only when there were limited distractions.

The first mission for the $20-million-dollar cat was to eavesdrop on two men who were on a park bench outside the Soviet compound. The mission failed, but there are disputes as to how and why. Some say that the cat was hit and killed by a car as it tried to cross the road to the park. Another source claims that the mission was abandoned due to the inability to train the cat, and that all the components were removed and the cat lived a long and healthy life afterward.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Blue Peacock landmine. damninteresting.com

Chicken Nuclear Landmines

There are a few schemes during the Cold War that are quite as strange as Blue Peacock. The Blue Peacock was a British tactical nuclear weapon project in the 1950s. The idea was that these ten-kiloton nuclear mines would be stored in Germany. If there was ever a Soviet invasion from the east, the landmines would then be placed on the North German Plain. The landmines were able to be detonated by a wire or with an 8-day timer.

The justification for such a scheme was that it would ensure that the Soviet invasion would be stopped. Not only would the initial blast create large numbers of casualties, but the resulting contamination would prevent any further invasion. Once the bomb was armed, it would detonate 10 seconds after being moved, if the casing of the landmine ever lost pressure, or if it was filled with water.

Strangely enough, the plan got far enough into development that they began to be concerned with cold temperatures. The landmines would be buried underground where the temperature would drop significantly in the winter. There were fears that the electronics in the bomb would not survive the cold. One idea to keep the electronics warm was to design the casing in such a way that a chicken would fit inside.

The chicken would be placed inside the casing of the landmine and given enough food and water to last a week. The chicken would only survive a week but it was determined that it would keep the components warm enough. The project was abandoned over concerns of fallout and the political repercussions of destroying and contaminating allied territory. When the project was declassified on April 1, 2004, many assumed that it was an April Fools’ joke. That was until the National Archives confirmed that it was real stating that, “the Civil Service does not do jokes.”

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Nina Kulagina a woman many believed possessed real psychic abilities. apiemistika.lt

Psychic Programs

Psychics were the subject of intrigue by both the United States and the Soviets. Each of them believed that they had the potential to be an untapped source of information and power. The Soviets first started their psychic program in 1920, but continued throughout the Cold War. The Soviets were still serious enough about psychics that in the 1970s the CIA wanted to have a psychic program of their own.

The Soviets started by focusing on telepathy, thinking that it would be the ideal way to communicate over long distances. Then they looked into psychokinesis, under the impression that someone with psychokinetic power could disrupt delicate missile guidance systems. The Soviets were quite organized and serious about their psychic program and they even came up with a theory about how psychic powers worked.

According to the Soviets, psychics relied on bioenergetics, which for them referred to the energy produced as a byproduct of metabolism in living organisms. The theory was that this could result in humans emitting an energy field termed “bioplasma.” Individuals who were psychic possessed the ability to emit a charged burst of energy that allowed them to manipulate objects or read minds.

The CIA was downright jealous of the Soviet psychic program. Their program in the 1970s was led by Scientologists, and was a disorganized mess. It never amounted to anything and it lost political backers and largely disappeared by 1995, after racking up a bill of nearly $20 million. The U.S. Army also had a psychic program, which they started in 1973, but they learned faster than the CIA and stopped the program in 1985. It didn’t help that the National Academy of Sciences had less than favorable things to say about the program when they assessed it in 1985.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
The test mission of the Skyhook balloon. listverse.com

Dropping Spies By Balloon

The U.S. military and the CIA always wanted to know what was going on with the Soviets, but with strong border security, they were rarely able to sneak their spies into the country without being detected. They needed another plan and so they turned to General Mills and Betty Crocker for help. The Navy had a crazy idea to drop spies into the Soviet Union using balloons made by General Mills and Betty Crocker. It was about as successful as one might expect.

The plan was to fill a large balloon with helium and then a spy would be able to fly through the air and over the heavily guarded borders and drop into Soviet territory without ever being detected on radar. The plan hit a snag when a test flight using a large helium balloon ended in a very public disaster. After the crash made headlines, the Navy decided against using helium. The CIA had latched on to the idea as well and were not opposed to the idea of helium, but had trouble getting their hands on large amounts of it without government or Navy support.

So the CIA turned to hydrogen instead. The first test flight by CIA officer Walter H. Gioumau was conducted in October 1951. He used ballast and a parachute to try and direct his balloon. His first problem was a gas leak and his second problem was a rainstorm. The third problem was when he thought he heard an approaching plane…but it turned out to be a train on the ground below him.

Despite the terrifying moments of his first test flight, he did try again. The second flight went much better than the first but not well enough to keep the project going. Gioumau was deployed to Europe and the balloon division was abandoned for more reliable pursuits.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Richard Nixon. whittiermuseum.org

Madman Theory

Richard Nixon was nothing if not a man that was willing to go all in for what he thought would get him what he wanted. He was willing to risk anything for a scheme that he thought might work, and he banked on the fact that the other major powers in the world would be much more concerned with the preservation of their own countries than he appeared to be at times. Richard Nixon may be the only world leader with a foreign policy that focused on what he called “The Madman Theory.”

Nixon believed that no one would want to push a crazy person with access to nuclear weapons. If someone with the capability to kill millions of people was irrational and unpredictable, he believed that the other world powers would do whatever it took to keep the irrational and unpredictable person happy. So he started having those around him spread rumors that he had a temper, that he was irrational, and that there was only so much his advisers could do to hold him back.

He even went forward with Operation Giant Lance which involved sending 18 B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons toward the Soviet Union. The planes flew in a manner that was easily detectable by the Soviet Union and it was meant to convince the Soviets that Nixon was willing to go to any length in order to win the Vietnam War. The planes took off on October 27, 1969, and flew flight patterns within range of the Soviet Union. Nixon called off the operation on October 30, 1969. The plan was completely top secret and no one knew about it until the plans were released as per the Freedom of Information Act.

Nixon employed the same strategy with the 1970 incursion into Cambodia, as more evidence of him being an irrational madman. The success of the strategy is debatable, as the U.S. did not succeed in intimidating the North Vietnamese enough to win the war, and the Soviets never toed the line in response to the threat. There was a high risk with not much reward to speak of.