Satellite and drone photography are vital in today’s espionage arena, but there was a time when pigeons were the go-to for aerial photography.

You know if the Central Intelligence Agency has dabbled in certain areas of underknown espionage techniques and they refuse to elaborate on specific details there’s probably something to their methods, right? It might seem a bit strange to be name-dropping the CIA alongside the message-delivering accomplishments of our feathered friend the pigeon, but in the early 19th century pigeons started finding a place as airborne photographers. During World War I pigeons with small automatic cameras attached to them were able to provide a closer view of troops and enemy positions, and do so relatively unnoticed.

Of course, the CIA being what it is (secrecy in the name of security for an entire nation and all that), their pigeon photo missions and studies are still classified. By the end of World War I the need for re-purposed carrier pigeons fitted with cameras declined as improvements in aircraft and camera technology improved. Although primarily used by the Germans during the war, it was also looked at as an espionage tool by the Swiss and French forces.

Story by Jay Moon