As part of a historical review program, the CIA released an internal memo documenting the various “cranks, nuts, and screwballs” that have reached out to the organisation over the years.
The CIA would routinely receive thousands of letters from conspiracy theorists, mentally ill individuals, and pranksters. In the 1965 fiscal year alone, the CIA received 1,143 letters from people who were, in the Agency’s view, “cranks,” not including letters addressed to specific people or field offices.
Almost invariably, these correspondences had no real intelligence value, and were useful only as entertainment. Here are seven of the strangest examples.
1. The Hypnotist
In 1957, a school superintendent “of unassailable reliability” claimed in a letter to the CIA that he could induce clairvoyance in an engineering student. He claimed that while in a hypnotic trance, the student managed to describe the designs of a previously unknown Soviet ballistic missile in minute detail. The student used technical and scientific terminology that neither he nor the superintendent could be expected to know. The CIA was intrigued, but ultimately decided that “clairvoyance would be ‘a very risky approach to the collection of Soviet guided missile data.'”
2. The Mechanical Chess Player
At some point during the Cold War, a “responsible businessman” claimed to have built a mechanical chess-playing machine that could counter any move with a pre-punched IBM card. The businessman proposed to take this machine to Moscow, where he would become friends with Soviet military planners. Once ingratiated, he would change his chess-playing game to include symbols for “tanks, infantry, hills, forests, planes, and fields of fire.”
The businessman would play a modified, military strategy-based variation of chess against his new friends, recording his opponent’s moves. He would ask the generals to explain each of their moves and tactics — and later transcribe their moves onto IBM cards. The businessman would make extra copies of these cards and bring them to the American Embassy, so that the U.S. could have an insight into Soviet military strategy.
3. The James Bond Fan
An individual, identified as a “probable James Bond fan,” suggested developing explosive cigars to easily dispose of targets — and also offered to allow the CIA to dispose of bodies in his home meat grinder.
The CIA might have actually liked this person’s ideas, since a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar had been considered by the agency.
4. The Czechoslovakian Uranium Spy
One man volunteered to become a spy for the CIA inside communist Czechoslovakia’s uranium mines. The man admitted that he was scared of becoming sterile from his time around radioactive material. But he insisted that he had solved this problem by carrying around a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes while wrapping his genitals in tinfoil.
5. The Name Caller
In 1964, someone wrote addressed to “Snuffy McDuffy, Top Floor, Closed Door, CIA, Washington, D.C.” The letter found its way to the director’s office, and apparently contained “a fairly reasonable suggestion for propaganda.” The writer concluded the letter by stating, “If you don’t take appropriate action I’ll write to the President and tell him you’re chicken.”
6. The Soldier Of Fortune
A self-described mercenary “fresh from Cuba” provided a host of useful and worthwhile information during a debriefing with a CIA domestic office.
The debriefing was cut short when the soldier was arrested for leaving a bag of dynamite in his hotel room.
7. The Slovak Economist
An economist from communist Czechoslovakia routinely tried to pass information to the CIA since 1948. He impressed numerous top officials, but CIA contacts eventually discovered an internal burn notice that identified him as a fabricator. During his time as a source, the economist sued a shoe store in Washington for $US25,000 because “his shoes were too tight.”
The legal brief that the economist presented claimed that “as a spy he needed to run fast.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.