In 2012, the U.S Air Force declassified a trove of documents, including records of a secret program to build a flying saucer designed to shoot down Soviet bombers. The ambitious program, called Project 1794, was started in the 1950s, and a team of engineers was tasked with building a disc-shaped vehicle capable of traveling at supersonic speeds at high altitudes.
The declassified documents reveal plans for the flying saucer to reach a top speed of Mach four, which is four times the speed of sound, and reach an altitude of 30,480 meters. The project cost an estimated $3 million, which in today’s money would be more than $26 million.
The project was canceled in 1961 after tests suggested that the flying saucer design was aerodynamically unstable and would be uncontrollable at high speeds.
2. Project Iceworm
Back in the 1960s, the U.S. Army embarked on a mission to build a number of mobile nuclear missile launch sites under the Greenland ice sheet. The aim was to house medium-range missiles that had the ability to strike targets within the Soviet Union.
Engineers built a network of underground buildings and tunnels, including a kitchen, living quarters, a recreation hall, an infirmary, supply rooms, and a nuclear power plant.
The base, which was kept hidden from the Danish government, operated for seven years. The program was canceled in 1966 after shifting ice caused unstable conditions. Nowadays, the remains of Project Iceworm are buried beneath Arctic snow.
3. Operation Paperclip
President Harry Truman, in September 1946, launched a program called Operation Paperclip, which aimed to lure scientists from Nazi Germany to the United States following World War II. Officials at the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA) recruited German scientists to America to aid the country’s post-war efforts, which also ensured that valuable scientific knowledge did not end up in the hands of the Soviet Union or the divided East and West Germany.
This project, which began in 1939 and was cloaked in secrecy, produced the world’s first atomic bombs. From 1942-46, Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers led the Manhattan Project.
The first nuclear bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, during the so-called Trinity test at the Alamogordo Air Base, 193 km south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The explosion created a mushroom cloud that rose 12,200m, and the strength of the explosion was equivalent to more than 15,000 tons of TNT.
A month after this test, two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. To this day, the bombings of these two cities remain the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
5. Oleg Penkovsky
Penkovsky was a high-ranking Soviet military intelligence officer who worked as a spy for the U.S. and the United Kingdom during the Cold War. He supplied the United States’ government with valuable information about the capabilities of Soviet missiles that had been installed in Cuba.
In 1963, he was uncovered by his fellow Soviet intelligence officers and was executed for treason. However, some people believe that Penkovsky was a decoy who was tasked with relaying false information about the capability of Soviet weapons to U.S. intelligence officers.
6. Kidnapping of the Lunik
This kidnapping happened in the early 1960s, at the height of the U.S.-Soviet space race. To make it clear to the Americans that they were winning the race, the Soviets launched a multinational exhibition of their Lunik satellite, the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Earth’s moon.
One night, undercover CIA agents convinced the truck driver transporting the satellite to take some rest at a nearby hotel and leave the satellite in their care. They then took the Soviet satellite and examined its components in detail before sticking it back on the truck. The Soviets never found out.
7. FBI Surveillance Planes
In 2015, news broke of an FBI surveillance program that was using small aircraft to spy on suspects on the ground. The planes contained video and cellphone surveillance technology and were registered to fake companies. When the AP released its reports in June of that year, these planes had already been spotted in more than 30 cities in 11 U.S. states over a 30-day period.
While the FBI declared that its surveillance program is not secret, details about what information the planes collect is highly censored in publicly available documents.
A report from 1967 reveals that the CIA spent millions of dollars in an attempt to train domesticated cats to spy on the Soviet Union. This program, nicknamed Acoustic Kitty, involved planting electronic spying equipment into live cats and then training them to “eavesdrop” on unsuspecting rivals.
9. Operation Crossroads
In July 2016, the National Security Archive posted declassified films, photographs, and documents that show that the U.S. tested atomic bombs in the Bikini Atoll in 1946. Codenamed Operation Crossroads, the tests marked the first atomic explosions since the bombings of Japan during WWII.
While much is already publicly known about these tests, the declassified documents shed new light on how the tests affected the people of Bikini Atoll. They also give an insight into the objections raised by scientists and military officials before the bombings, as well as the rationale behind the decision to carry out these tests despite such objections.
10. Doctor Zhivago
During the Cold War, the CIA decided to distribute the book “Doctor Zhivago” throughout the Soviet Union. The book by Russian writer Boris Pasternak was banned by the Soviets as it displayed an open-minded view of the Bolshevik Revolution and its protagonist, a doctor/poet, was staunchly individualistic.
Seeing the book as a potential propaganda tool, the CIA worked with their allies in Dutch Intelligence to deliver 1,000 copies of this book into Soviet hands. The books were distributed to visiting Soviets at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958 with some help from the Vatican.
Bound in unmarked blue linen and wrapped in brown paper, the books made their way to the Soviet Union, where the CIA hoped they would stir up anti-communist sentiments among disgruntled citizens.