Inside the CIA's Top Secret Otter Dossier

A newly declassified file from the Central Intelligence Agency's Project MKUltra isn't about dosing unsuspecting people with LSD; instead, it's about otters. The new document stands out for its (relative) lack of sinister overtones compared to previous revelations from the CIA's experiments in mind control. Its title: "A Dossier on Lutra (The Otter)."

The file was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from John Greenewald, founder of The Black Vault, a site specializing in declassified government records.

Important Document Drop:

Here are THOUSANDS of pages on "Behavioral Modification," #MKULTRA and Mind Control techniques researched by the @CIA. I fought for these docs for YEARS.

Full story/background and documents themselves at: #blackvault

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Laid out similarly to a child's report on their favorite animal, the CIA otter dossier opens with a summary—perhaps the most ringing endorsement otters are likely to receive from humans:

"Lutra, the otter, is a compact, powerful, intelligent animal capable of negotiating land, water, and obstacles with great facility. Lutra can survive in hostile environments such as under ice, in hot water, in raging seas, and even in urban environments. Capable of being easily trained and becomes devoted to humans which sometimes leads to its destruction. It can find its own food if necessary and can make long journeys routinely."

"A Dossier on Lutra" is further broken down into categories like "What is an otter?," "Locomotion" and "Miscellaneous Do's and Don'ts."

At times, the unspecified writer of the report can barely disguise an obvious affection for the semi-aquatic mammals, such as in the section about the sleep habits of otters. "Usually sleeps on back with 'arms' folded. Likes to sleep with humans," the report reads.

"Never, if possible, confine (or leave in zoo or kennel) an otter which has enjoyed any human companionship or freedom," another section of the dossier reads, further advising otter handlers "Do not panic when animal is in rough water, mountainous waves, or under ice."

Very likable. under Creative Commons 4.0 license

While what's first striking about "A Dossier on Lutra (The Otter)" is its seeming lack of practical application, hints throughout point to possible motives for the CIA to create a classified otter dossier. While largely an overview of general otter biology, including taxonomy, physiology and life cycle, there are indications the document is meant to be a primer for CIA projects involving captive otters, including the associated costs: "Basic cost of animal moderate ($75-$250) as is maintenance."

Other descriptions in "A Dossier on Lutra" suggest the CIA was seriously considering the possibility of deploying otters in the field, noting their ability to enter and leave boats easily before listing a number of abilities: "Can open zipper, climb ladder, chew through zinc sheet, turn on water tap, carry stones and marbles … throw objects with head (from mouth), hold slippery objects."

But transportation proved thorny. "Transporting otters is exceptionally difficult. Animal resents restricted quarters and will fight and tear itself to destruction to escape," the report says, while also noting "no matter how brutal transporting can be (and other ways man inflicts pain on the otter) it never seems to resent this treatment." The invention of a special otter harness partially solved the transportation problem.

“Because the animal slides a lot, a ‘breast-plate’ is necessary. The design above was worked out by Maxwell,” the CIA otter report reads. Central Intelligence Agency

There's even a section about raising baby otters, including how to control diarrhea and train them to go overnight without feeding ("just as with human baby").

While the practical application of "A Dossier on Lutra (The Otter)" is unclear, it was disclosed alongside dozens of documents regarding animal experimentation, including the shocking story of six remote control dogs the CIA created using brain surgery. Another newly declassified file outlines the status of "Animal Programs" in 1967, including the development of "animal systems which might carry out a number of useful [REDACTED]."

The CIA's illegal program of human experimentation aimed at controlling the human mind, Project MKUltra officially ran from 1953 until 1973, when CIA Director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of all MKUltra files, permanently obscuring a full understanding of the CIA's use of otters in experimentation. Through Project MKUltra, drugs were administered to thousands of unsuspecting people in the United States and Canada, including amphetamines, salvia, sodium pentothal, scopolamine, psilocybin and LSD. Through hospitals and universities, the CIA sponsored further experiments into the application of sensory deprivation, psychological and sexual abuse.

From the @CIA "Behavioral Modification" #FOIA release: This page shows project names that remain classified that involve the training of cats and dogs for intelligence purposes. Many new docs reveal extensive animal testing with drugs etc:

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But while the CIA otter document seems incongruous with most MKUltra goals, it does fit with previous disclosures, such as the 1980 release of documents related to "a programme to train otters, seals, cats and dogs to carry explosives or microphones to places people cannot reach," described by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. "The otter was regarded best because it travels over land and water."

In response, The Washington Star proposed a further tongue-in-cheek application for otter espionage, combining the CIA program with the 1980 Supreme Court ruling Diamond v. Chakrabarty, which first permitted patents on genetically modified organisms. "All of this holds great strategic promise for the free world," Star columnist Rod MacLeish wrote. "We could, for instance, cross-breed an otter with a nuclear warhead and patent the result so the Israelis couldn't steal it from us. The otter would then dive into Brezhnev's swimming pool, self destruct and we win."