19 years ago
Tue Oct 28,12:35 PM ET Add Technology - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Tabassum Zakaria
LANGLEY, Va. (Reuters) - The CIA (news - web sites) once built a
mechanical dragonfly to carry a listening device but found small gusts of
wind knocked it off course so it was never used in a spy operation.
The agency also tested a 24-inch-long rubber robot catfish named
"Charlie" capable of swimming inconspicuously among other fish and whose
mission remains secret.
Charlie and the dragonfly were among spy gadgets displayed at CIA
headquarters in an exhibit to mark the 40th anniversary of the
Directorate of Science and Technology. It is not open to the public.
"Charlie's mission is still classified, we can't talk about it," Toni
Hiley, curator of the CIA museum, told Reuters on a tour of the exhibit.
"All we can say is he's our work on aquatic robotic technologies."
After seeing the life-like "insectothopter," Hiley jokes that she cannot
look at a dragonfly in the same way anymore.
In the 1970s the CIA had developed a miniature listening device that
needed a delivery system, so the agency's scientists looked at building a
bumblebee to carry it. They found, however, that the bumblebee was
erratic in flight, so the idea was scrapped.
An amateur entymologist on the project then suggested a dragonfly and a
prototype was built that became the first flight of an insect-sized
machine, Hiley said.
A laser beam steered the dragonfly and a watchmaker on the project
crafted a miniature oscillating engine so the wings beat, and the fuel
bladder carried liquid propellant.
Despite such ingenuity, the project team lost control over the dragonfly
in even a gentle wind. "You watch them in nature, they'll catch a breeze
and ride with it. We, of course, needed it to fly to a target. So they
were never deployed operationally, but this is a one-of-a-kind piece,"
Donald Kerr, CIA deputy director for science and technology whose
equivalent in a James Bond movie would be "Q" the master spy gadgeteer,
said the tempo of spy operations has increased since his directorate was
established in August 1963.
"You look at just the number of things we're doing, a week, a year, it's
really quite astounding," Kerr said.
U.S. spy agencies are trying to develop technologies to track
individuals, but the United States has so far failed to find two of the
world's most wanted men -- al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (news - web
sites) and deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).
"It's not a new problem, it's in fact been a problem for law enforcement
for years. So one of the areas we spend a lot of effort on is so-called
tagging and tracking," Kerr said.
"It's everything from 'can I paint a bullseye on your back and follow you
with a camera?' Or do you leave a trail of candy wrappers that are unique
to you that I can use to find you?" Kerr said. "So you're dealing with
the physical and electronic detritus that people leave behind as one way
of tracking." Facial recognition technology can be useful but not to
search for an individual because the databases are too big. "If I have a
picture of somebody in the New York subway and I search it against
pictures of everybody I think are bad people in the world, it's an
immense problem and the false results are overwhelming," Kerr said.
The CIA also showed off its miniature technology.
A microdot camera had a tiny lens on top of what looked like a thick
coin, which contained a film that rotated 11 times to produce 11
Another item on display was newly declassified triangle-shaped
directional antenna, weighing four ounces and used on mobile surveillance
operations throughout the 1980s.