Aliens, sharks and champagne baths: the best shit from the CIA's declassified docs

Aliens, sharks and champagne baths: the best shit from the CIA's declassified docs

CultureMay 18, 2017 By Isabelle Kohn

Earlier this year, the Central Intelligence Agency released over 930,000 previously classified documents and made them available online through a program called CREST.

And since we have nothing better to do than microwave Hot Pockets and leaf through 12 million pages worth of digital files, we went in search of some of CREST's juicier revelations; a CIA greatest hits edition, if you will.

Inside, we found but a few new and tantalizing discoveries — society clearly isn't ready for the "Aliens Are Amongst Us" report quite yet. However, what we did find is a few vaguely hilarious (and sometimes deeply unsettling) documents that give a new perspective on the way the CIA perceives the world and has been doing so for the better part of the last century. Included are documents relating to everything from electrocuting sharks to a pissing battle over an infamous champagne bath, all of which prove that "intelligence" is sometimes a rather low priority for an agency who bills itself as the most sophisticated in the world.

Experts have recommended that you spend eight or nine hours pouring over these documents to “get up to speed on this collection of documents.” If you have that kind of time, pat yourself on the Tesla. If not, here are some of the better entries from the declassified archive.

And yes, Kevin, there are UFOs. Calm your tatas.

A bitch fight between the East Coast and the West Coast over the act of bathing in champagne

Way before Biggie and Tupac escalated the East Coast/ West Coast psychodrama we know and love today, the CIA was dabbling in its own, proto-version of bi-coastal battling. In 1952, two Agency historians got into a heated snail mail spat over what type of champagne was used in a very decadent bath for a redacted character, and, when the East coast historian suggested it might have been filthy California swill, the West coast representative shot back with some vineyard vitriol of his own.

There's a whole back-and-forth about the relative merit of California champagne, but the East Coast really cut the jugular with the following line:

"Our historian, therefore, is none of your long-haired lads brimming with erudition, but an ex-barfly, who, before advancing years oppressed him, was well-known as an appreciator of champagnes. His average consumption during four decades is high."

Re-live the drama here.

Project Stargate

Gold. Pure gold.

Project Stargate, which was declassified in the 1990s, investigated the use of telepathy and psychic powers for military applications. In the file, there are reports of Soviet use of parapsychology, research about telepathic "remote viewing," thought-provoking sketches of a metal structure and a disturbingly random advertisement for Colorado's Buffalo Bill Wax Museum.

Much of it is redacted, obviously, but there are transcripts from meetings in here that sound like they're straight out of a sci-fi movie, as well as an account of a mysterious magician-healer who used electricity to take "foggy photos of the unknown world."

Shark Repellant Technology

Back in 1964, one of the leading threats to democracy and global stabilization wasn't communism or nuclear bombs.

It was sharks. Just ... sharks.

As such, the CIA invested nine years and countless taxpayer dollars developing a so-called Shark Repeller Device, which was designed to ward off chompies away from submarines and high-profile scuba missions with electric shocks.

Apparently, the CIA thought they'd need about 30 of these things and ordered their production, only to be disappointed because they didn't work; not even in the hands of their creator.

Never ones to tap out of a shark fight, they also funded a massive project to build a "shark screen," which is basically just a life preserver with a sack attached to it.

Thanks, CIA!

A whole universe of "secret writing"

Secret writing refers to the practice of using invisible ink for creating covert notes and invisible photography. These days, invisible ink is more spy nostalgia than hot technology, but treasured finds like the declassified German Disappearing Ink recipe is certainly an endearing throwback to a simpler time when espionage was limited to pen and paper, as opposed to drones and Furbies.

Report on the Berlin Tunnel Project

When we read this report, we weren't sure if we just read a CIA document or a Jason Statham script, but either way, color us sufficiently entertained.

In 1952, the CIA teamed up with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to tunnel into Berlin — then occupied by the Soviets — and secretly tap the phone lines at the headquarters of the Soviet Army. Their construction project was a little too obvious, and an informant tipped the Soviets off. Amazingly, though, the Soviets shrugged and allowed the tunneling and tapping to continue until they very publicly revealed what the British and Americans were doing in 1956.

Proof that the U.S. isn't as kind to prisoners as we'd like people to think

While it's no secret that the U.S. government uses harsh and inhumane techniques to extract information from detained prisoners, it's especially chilling to read about occurrences of prisoner abuse happening from the early 2000s, a time period which is a little too current to be considered "just something they used to do back then."

In the database is a section called “Documents Related to the Former Detention and Interrogation Program,” which, among torture instructions and recommendations that detainee Abu Zubaydah be water-boarded, features a letter (whose sender and recipient are redacted) that reads, “This morning I informed the front office of CTC that I will no longer be associated in any way with the interrogation program due to serious reservation[s] I have about the current state of affairs. Instead, I will be retiring shortly. This is a train wreak [sic] waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.” Buuuurn.

A heavily redacted instruction to field psychologists says in part, “Although these guys believe that their way is the only way, there should be an effort to define roles and responsibilities before their arrogance and narcissism evolve into unproductive conflict in the field.”

Included in this sandwich of fun are legal considerations for people torturing other people so that they may avoid prosecution, and a really disturbing "description of physical pressures" an interrogator may use on his or her subject.

Given how our current administration feels about waterboarding, these issues are more tangible than ever.

Last, but not least ... the moment you're here at all ... UFOs

If you want to believe, well, congratulations. You can stop wanting to and just do it.

The CIA's declassified UFO section is a treasure trove of striking photos and meticulous analyses of alien spacecraft, none of which seems to suggest life from other planets is anything but here and ready to party. One sentence from an analysis of UFO photograph reads, "There is no definite evidence that this photography is a hoax."

And while it's kind of hard to get a yes or no answer about whether aliens are here, amongst us from this data set, it does give the impression that the CIA believes we are not alone. If it didn't, why would it keep and investigate files like this?