Historian, author exposes secret projects, ideas, and plot for ‘Nuking the Moon’


Editor’s note: Originally aired May 29, 2019, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.

MYSTERY WIRE — Did you hear the one about the plan to turn house cats into deadly secret weapons?  No, that’s not a joke; it’s a plot.  It was a plot called “Operation Acoustic Kitty,” which was one of the dozens of creative, offbeat intelligence proposals that were funded and studied by the US government over the decades.  And many of the plans were hatched in Nevada.  

Nevadans know that secret projects of all kinds have been designed and planned at Nellis Air Force Base, or the Nevada National Security Site, or what is famously known as Area 51.  For example: “Operation Plowshare,” a series of nuclear explosions designed to find out if atomic bombs could be useful for digging canals or other massive projects.   

Historian Vince Houghton has collected dozens of once-secret plans, fancy gadgets, even assassination plots. One of the plans is the title of his book titled, “Nuking the Moon: Nuclear Intelligence Schemes Left on the Drawing Board.”  

Investigative reporter George Knapp spoke with the Houghton, who is also the curator of the International Spy Museum, ahead of a June 1, 2019, event at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

In the darkest days of the Cold War, right after the Russians shocked the world by launching Sputnik, the first satellite, intelligence officials wanted to make the most dramatic statement possible for the sake of American prestige.

“So we had to do something very fast and very big in order to catch up or at least supercede the Soviets,” Houghton said. “So the idea was, let’s detonate a thermonuclear weapon on the moon. And let’s do it along the terminator, which is where the light and the dark side of the moon meet up, so that everybody on Earth could watch that perfect mushroom cloud go up on the moon. And everyone at that point would know that America, we’re the toughest kid on the block.”

A young grad student named Carl Sagan did the calculations.

The plan was spiked when it became obvious that a nuke explosion on the moon, which has no atmosphere, would make an unimpressive display for those watching on Earth.

And then there are the plots — more than 600 of them — to take out Fidel Castro.

One plot included recruiting mobsters to assassinate the Cuban dictator, a plan that was hatched and discussed in Las Vegas.

Others were less drastic. “Putting thalium salts in his shoes so that his beard would fall out … the idea that the Cuban people wouldn’t follow him anymore if he didn’t have his beard,” Haughton said. “To lacing his radio station with LSD, so that when he gave his weekly radio address he would be tripping and act all crazy and the people wouldn’t follow him anymore.

And Area 51 played a part in some of these wild plots.

Haughton says the ideas look goofy through 21st century hindsight, but back then, we didn’t know how the Cold War would end.

“When the Soviets had 65,000 nuclear warheads pointed at us, I understand how scary that is,” he says. “But a lot of people today don’t. And so, I want people to put themselves in the shoes of the people acting and making the decisions at the time.”

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