Growing up, we wanted to be the next 007. Don’t judge us.
To practice, we studied his adversaries and noted that all Bond villains had some cool lairs and ingenious ways to take over the world. As adults, it’s the sheer logistics of some of their plans that intrigue us. With enough cash, one could build a chalet on a snow covered mountain, like Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But what about that underground lab? How would you blast your way without bringing the whole thing tumbling down?
Not all the villains’ plans were terribly far fetched. Variants of some of them have been used; Eliot Craver’s plan to control the media in Tomorrow Never Dies is similar to the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird. Scaramanga’s tropical hideaway in The Man With The Golden Gun probably served as the inspiration for the American purchase of Diego Garcia to build their secret island base.
In all seriousness, government plots through the years have used a blend of ingenuity, science and lunacy to come up with quite a few movie-worthy plots. This article will look at some of the wackier ones from the CIA, FBI and other countries, too.
10. Project Seal, the Tsunami Bomb
Towards the end of World War II, more countries were focused on developing extensive defense systems. The Americans had started the Manhattan Project and were about to launch Operation Crossroads at the Bikini Atoll. The English were doing their classified rocket testing in the Woomera Prohibited Area of Australia.
New Zealand decided to come up with a defense program of their own. Project Seal involved the generation of tidal waves on enemy shores to cause flooding of their cities. Since they didn’t have Storm from the X-Men on their side, they were going to use explosives to blow the entire shoreline up.
Carrying out 3,700 smaller test explosions over a seven-month period, they found the plan feasible but risky. While a bomb with a bigger payload could create a 30 meter high wave, the risk of getting shot while planting the bombs was considered too high.
To put this weapon in context, the tsunami that overwhelmed Fukushima was only 13m tall!
9. Project A-119 a.k.a Nuke the Moon
In a classic case of one-upmanship, the world as we know it could have ended around 1959. As the Soviets had just launched the world’s first satellite, the Sputnik, the USA felt like they were losing the race to conquer space.
To intimidate the Soviet Union, the U.S. Air Force developed Project A-119. One part of the secret project involved firing an atom bomb like the infamous “Little Boy” at the moon. The “show of strength” would be enough to scare any enemies straight.
The launch would also help the USAF assess the feasibility of establishing their own nuclear launch sites on the moon. As insane as this plan seems, the lead physicist on the project, Leonard Reiffel, confirmed it was “certainly technically feasible.”
Thankfully, the plan was abandoned amidst fear of public backlash and the effect on the Earth from the radioactive fallout.
8. Polyus-Skif or the “Laser Barbarian”
In a March, 1983 address, Ronald Reagan announced the launch of the the Strategic Defense Initiative. The SDI was a plan to counter the offensive Soviet missile threat with defensive measures. The Soviets saw this move as America going on the offensive and put plans in place to launch a battle station into orbit. The station would act as a space weapons system that could disable US anti-missile satellites.
Reviving their Polyus-Skif and Kaskad projects, they directed as much money and manpower as they could at being the first to launch this “satellite killer.” The fact that America didn’t have any anti-missile satellites in existence or production didn’t matter.
After failing to convince Reagan to abandon SDI at a US-Soviet summit in Reykjavik in October, 1986, Gorbachev gave the go-ahead for the launch of the Polyus-Skif. In May, 1987, the laser-equipped Polyus spacecraft rocket launched without any problems and it even got into orbit.
But in the rush to meet the imaginary deadline, certain crucial components had been switched around during development. Thanks to a tiny software error, the spacecraft tumbled back to Earth, broke up and fell in burning pieces into the Pacific.
And that’s how we avoided a Die Another Day-type death ray satellite.
7. Project Popeye – “Make Mud, Not War”
If New Zealand’s plan to trigger a tsunami scared you, the CIA’s Operation Popeye will only freak you out more. During the Vietnam War, the US military made it rain for two years. By seeding rain clouds with silver iodide pellets, they could trigger longer periods of rain and a longer monsoon season.
If this seeding was done carefully over selected enemy routes, they could slow down the movement of Vietnamese troops and even trigger landslides to totally halt movement. Under the slogan “make mud, not war”, the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron seeded clouds from 1967 to 1972.
Flying two sorties a day, the missions were run only during the rainy season and led to a 30% increase in average rainfall.
6. Using Non-Human Spies
Monkeys solve puzzles, ravens can work out tricks, rats remember complicated sequences; we agree that animals are quite intelligent. It was only a matter of time before humans dragged them into the theater of war.
At the height of the Cold War, they enlisted the services of Bob Bailey, an accomplished animal behaviorist who was trained by B.F Skinner himself. With an unlimited supply of funding, he quickly created America’s “mini-soldiers.”
By training animals to do certain things in response to stimuli, Bailey trained cats, pigs, pigeons, etc. He created the “squab squad”, a flock of pigeons that, when deployed from a truck, would fly ahead and signal an ambush. How? They were trained to land if they saw an enemy soldier in the road ahead.
Bailey also trained ravens to drop listening devices on roof tops and window ledges. These birds were also taught how to retrieve packages from similar locations.
But in a truly mind blowing project, he had the ravens carry a tiny camera in their beaks and take surveillance pictures. The camera was activated by the raven pressing it against the window.
The project was eventually abandoned in 1975.
5. Operation Satanique
The French had their share of sinister plots; one in 1985 carried out by their DGSE led to a death and the French Defense Minister resigning. A Greenpeace serving ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was en route to disrupting a French nuclear test in the waters around New Zealand.
With French interests at stake, agents from the DGSE were called into action. Posing as volunteers and tourists, the agents came up with a plan to sink the boat before it interrupted the nuclear test. They planned to cause confusion by detonating a naval mine temporarily crippling the Rainbow Warrior.
While docked in Auckland, they planted two mines under the ship, with a 10 minute delay between them. They figured people would simply abandon ship when the first one went off. With everyone off, the second mine would go off and finally sink the ship.
The first went off without a hitch and people left the boat. But after the first explosion, some members of the crew returned to the ship to examine the damage. When the second bomb went off, they were trapped on board and a Dutch photographer, Fernando Pereira, drowned.
Two of the agents, Prieur and Mafart, were tried and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. As the world press demanded explanations for the incident, the Defense Minister, Charles Hernu, resigned.
4. Operation Mongoose
Following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the US initiated Operation Mongoose to remove communists from power in Cuba. Number one on the list was Fidel Castro. According to the former head of the Cuban Secret Service, Fabian Escalante, there were over 600 assassination attempts. While this number is debatable, there is evidence that the CIA did try. A LOT.
Taking his love for diving into consideration, the CIA came up with a plan to line his scuba diving suit with spores, hoping he would catch a lethal skin disease. Other diving related attempts included planting brightly painted, explosive-filled mollusk shells in his dive path and hoping he would touch them.
When these plans sank, they tried to use his love of cigars against him. In one instance, they prepared a poisoned cigar to be delivered to his residence. The other cigar plan would have been something straight out of a nightmare. The CIA were developing a cigar that was rigged to explode when smoked!
3. Operation Northwoods
In 1962, America drew up plans to topple the Communist government in Cuba. Titling it “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba”, it was presented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.
The scenarios contained in this plot were as varied as they were chilling. One involved the staging of false flag attacks on American soil. The idea was if American citizens were attacked on U.S soil, it would ignite public sentiment against Cuba. They also planned to manufacture evidence and blame Cuba, if for any reason, John Glenn’s upcoming spaceflight failed.
The operation was designed by an agent that even the President considered to be “America’s James Bond”, Edward Lansdale. Some of the scenarios in Operation Northwood seemed almost insane.
One of them, Elimination by Illumination, was a propaganda campaign to trick Cubans into thinking the Second Coming was here, complete with fake omens and lights in the sky. Although the plan was authorized by the Joint Chiefs, President Kennedy rejected the proposals.
2. Germ Warfare in the Underground
The Americans don’t have the monopoly of putting citizens in harm’s way; the British are close behind. It emerged that for over three decades, the British government routinely doused its own citizens with a wide variety of toxic cocktails.
Using the excuse that they wanted to see how easy it would be for a germ cloud to spread across the country, they carried out “mock” biological and chemical warfare attacks. Most of the chemicals and germs used were either untested or were live versions of the disease.
Between 1955 and 1963, over 4,000 kilos of carcinogenic zinc cadmium sulfate was spread across the country. In May 1964, the government’s chemical and biological warfare research scientists released large quantities of bacteria called Bacillus globigii into the London Underground. This bacterium is known to cause food poisoning.
1. Project Babylon
Already notorious for the possession and use of biological and chemical weapons, Saddam decided to change tact and try a new weapon. He commissioned the development of a series of superguns from Canadian artillery expert, Gerald Bull.
Bull had already developed the Al-Fao, an artillery system that could fire up to 35 miles, but Saddam wanted something bigger. He wanted a gun that could launch satellites into space, blind spy satellites in orbit and launch shells deep into enemy territory.
The first prototype was called Baby Babylon and it was 45 meters in length, with a 38 cm bore. Mounted at a 45 degree angle, it could launch projectiles up to 500 mile away. With the concept tested, plans were created for the Big Babylon; a gun with a 156 m barrel and a 91 cm bore.
With the gun in construction, several nations went on high alert, as the damage such a gun could cause would be catastrophic. The tale of Project Babylon ended when Bull was ambushed outside his Brussels home in 1990 and shot twice in the head.
The British government swooped in on the factories manufacturing the various parts of the gun and seized the pieces. After the Gulf War, Iraq admitted they ran Project Babylon and allowed U.N officials to destroy the pieces.
Next time you see an “impossible” plot by some movie super villain, don’t discredit it. It may be a case of art imitating life.