During World War II, the OSS (precursor to the CIA) hatched a plan to defeat General Rommel's Afrika Korps by using synthetic goat poop. The idea was to drop huge amounts of pathogen-laced pseudo-poop over African towns. Local insects would be attracted to the stuff and would then carry the pathogens to Rommel's troops. However, before the plan could be carried out, Rommel's troops were withdrawn from the area and sent to Russia.
In February 1942, General Rommel's Afrika Korps pummeled U.S. forces in North Africa, and the Americans became worried that their defeat would encourage fascist Spain to join the Axis alliance. Moreover, the Germans were amassing troops in Morocco, in preparation for cutting off the railroad from Casablance to Algiers — the sole supply line for Allied forces. A covert operation was needed to debilitate the German troops, break the momentum of the Axis, and save the Allied lifeline... This called for flies.
The plan was to weaken the enemy forces by using flies to spread a witch's brew of pathogens. Given the agency's inability to rear an army of flies, [OSS Research Director] Lovell decided to conscript the local vectors...
Lovell was a chemist, but he'd been out of the laboratory often enough to know that flies love dung. And with a bit of research, he discovered a key demographic fact: There were more goats than people in Morocco — and goat are prolific producers of poop. Lovell now had the secret formula: microbes + feces + flies = sick Germans. Now all he needed was a few tons of goat droppings as a carrier for laboratory-cultured pathogens.
The OSS collaborated closely with the Canadian entomological warfare experts to launch one of the more preposterous innovations in the history of clandestine weaponry: synthetic goat dung. Of course flies are no fools; they won't be taken in by any old brown lump. So the OSS team added a chemical attractant. The nature of this lure is not clear, but a bit of sleuthing provides some clues.
Allied scientists might have crafted a chemical dinner bell by collecting and concentrating the stinky chemicals that we associate with human feces (indole and the appropriately named skatole). While these extracts would have worked, the more likely attractant was a blend of organic acids, some of which had been known for 150 years. Two of the smelliest of these are caproic and caprylic acids, which, by no coincidence, derive their names from caprinus, meaning "goat." Etymologically as well as entomologically astute, Lovell named the operation Project Capricious. So with a scent to entice the flies, Lovell's team then coated the rubbery pellets in bacteria to complete the lures.
All the Americans had to do was drop loads of pathogenic pseudo-poop over towns and villages where the Germans were garrisoned, and millions of local flies would be drawn to the bait, pick up a dose of microbes, and then dutifully deliver the bacteria to the enemy. Lovell worried about keeping the operation clandestine. The Moroccans had to be persuaded that finding goat droppings on their roofs the morning after Allied aircraft flew over was a sheer coincidence. Presumably a good disinformation campaign can dispel almost any suspicion, or, as Lovell intimated, if the plan succeeded there would be very few people in any condition to raise annoying questions about fecal pellets on rooftops...
In the end, however, Lovell didn't have to worry about getting caught by either friends or foes, as the secret weapon was never deployed. Just as the OSS was gearing up to launch the sneak attack, the German troops were withdrawn from Spanish Morocco. They might well have preferred to take their chances with pathogen-laden flies, given that Hitler was sending them to the bloody siege of Stalingrad.
Urban Dictionary defines 'newsbabe' as "a sexually-attractive female news anchor or reporter on TV." It sounds like a modern term, but it actually was in use as far back as 1949, and originated in the context of radio news.
Back then, Christina Ohlsen earned the title of newsbabe while she was working at the U.S. Army's radio station in West Berlin (RIAS, or Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor). On-air, she played a character called 'Das Botenkind' which was a Berlin slang term that got translated as the Newsbabe. She would essentially make fun of the headlines in the Soviet newspapers, while in the persona of this newsbabe.
According to her obituary in the Washington Post (she died in 2012), she later married Air Force Col. William Heimlich, who was her boss at the station, moved with him to Falls Church, Virginia, and taught dance classes there for the rest of her life.
In an interview, her husband offered some recollections of her times as the newsbabe:
Q: How did you meet your wife, who was then Christina Olsen?
A: Christina Olson. She was a guest of my British opposite, Colonel E A Hollard, at a tea to which I was invited. I saw her, I thought she was the loveliest thing I'd ever seen in my life and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her - on the spot. I - came to know her then when she was in RIAS, came to know her much better, and when she came to the United States as a guest of the State Department in 1950 - yes, 1950, we were married here.
Q: If you describe exactly what she was doing for RIAS?
A: In RIAS she was an actress of course and a charming one, a very popular one, and - she did particularly a role called 'Das Botenkind' or 'The Little Messenger - The Newsboy, that's about the only way I can translate that. And she would sing song a pompous news story that appeared in, let us say, the T&aumb;gliche Rundschau, the Soviet Newspaper, and then poke fun at it. Typical example: 'The meat ration this month will not be filled. Instead you will receive four hundred fifty five grams of sugar.' or 'The potato ration this week will not be filled. Instead you will get thirty- three hundred and fifty grammes of soya beans.', or 'The travel cards between Berlin and Dresden will no longer be honoured until further notice. There will be no German personnel allowed to leave the city of Magdeburg until further notice' These pompous things would appear constantly in the Soviet newspaper, and she would talk about it on the air and say, 'I don't understand it. But the big ones, they've got to understand it. All of these things which violated agreements between the Western and the Eastern allies.
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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
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