As you'd imagine, a secret CIA museum is a pretty fascinating place – a safe house for all sorts of curios of the clandestine. But iconic rifles and robotic dragonflies aside, it's the dead rats that really caught our attention. In a recently released video, reporter Oliver Knox was granted a guided tour of the agency's 14,000-square-foot museum in Virginia (a privilege usually reserved for those with top security clearance) and we couldn't help but be intrigued (and a little disturbed) when museum curator Toni Hiley divulged a secret use for deceased rodents.

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A hollowed-out rat ... the CIA's answer to a cellphone. Image: Yahoo News

Hollowed-out rat corpses were apparently an effective way for CIA operatives to obtain secret information from case officers without compromising their cover. It's like WhatsApp for undercover informants ... and it certainly sheds a fair bit of glamour off the secret-agent persona. The morbid messaging method does make some kind of sense though ... no one's about to wiretap an expired rat.

On the unusual method of imparting info, Hiley said: "[The rodents] are so disgusting no one would want to go near (them) … who would want to touch a dead rat?". So forget sports cars and suave one-liners, real secret agents rummage through rat guts.

And it seems rats aren't the only furry messengers 'employed' by the CIA. According to Keith Melton, founder of the overt Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., roadkill and pigeons are also recruited for the job (perhaps this is considered a noble death for ex-war pigeons).

“To make dead rats more repugnant, [officers] constructed and rubberized 'gut parts' to spill out of the carcasses ...”

"The lab animals were humanely killed, then gutted and treated to create an artificial cavity inside the stomach and chest," writes Melton in his 2008 book Spycraft, adding how a dousing of Tabasco sauce could be used to keep pesky cats at bay.

"To make dead rats more repugnant, [officers] constructed and rubberized 'gut parts' to spill out of the carcasses as they lay on the side of the road," according to Melton.

Spycraft also sheds light on CIA plans to fire-bomb Tokyo with explosive bats, and reveals the attempted use of a bionic feline to spy on enemies (they're not winning any awards for ethical treatment of animals here).

The items featured in the video offer only a small sample of the museum's overall collection. An estimated 18,000 artefacts related to CIA operations are housed at a smaller 3,200-square-foot storage facility, so who knows what other macabre messaging methods are hidden from public view. Secret intel written in pigeon poop? That's how we'd do it.

Header image: Jean-Jacques Boujot