Project Capricious

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 However, before the plan could be carried out, Rommel's troops were withdrawn from the area and sent to Russia.

Jeffrey Lockwood tells the story in more detail in his book Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War.

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.

     Posted By: Alex - Sat Jul 20, 2019
     Category: Insects and Spiders | Military | War | Weapons | Excrement | 1940s

I have to wonder whether Chevy realized that the "caprice" could be known in some places as a goat? Rather than the gashogs that they were.
Posted by John on 07/20/19 at 09:53 AM
Not the first time bio-warfare has been practiced. I remember tales of offal and body parts being flung over walls of castles to attract insect vectors of disease many centuries ago.

Still, the synthetic goat dung is a novel idea.
Posted by KDP on 07/20/19 at 03:47 PM
@KDP -- Catapulting bodies of plague victims over the walls was done in several sieges, most notably Caffa.

One account still nags at me: they'd run out of bodies, so the leader of the attackers sent some men to collect more from a town about two days' away. I understand life was cheap back then, and soldiers have always been expendable, but how lowest-of-the-low do you have to be to get selected to go to a town where the black death is known to be in full bloom, load some fresh corpses onto a wagon, and spend two days hauling them back?

I'd like to think I'd be very loyal to an army I joined and would obey any orders given to me, but I'm pretty sure that once I was out of sight, I'd change course fast and start wondering what life will be like two or three kingdoms away.
Posted by Phideaux on 07/20/19 at 11:19 PM
To be fair, the guys' job could have been made easier by the enthousiasm shown by the town's still healthy inhabitants when they said "Bring us your plague victims!" They might even have got some money from said inhabitants out of the deal.
Posted by Yudith on 07/22/19 at 11:56 AM
Why does that remind me of Woody Allen's "I’m very proud of this gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch."
Posted by Phideaux on 07/22/19 at 01:02 PM
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