That Time the Government Released Glowing Radioactive Foxes in DC

Radioactive foxes and “Operation Fantasia” – it’s another case of reality being far stranger than fiction.

Would the US government consider a false flag operation that involved sending radioactive foxes running through a village merely to demoralize a population? It sounds crazy. However, Smithsonian magazine, a publication from the government, “Trust Instrumentality,” shared the story of Operation Fantasia. As you see the details, it gets more and more outlandish.

Yes, that was the plan, believe it or not. Certainly, it makes you wonder what other types of operations may have taken place merely to mess with people’s heads during wartime. So, whose bright idea was deploying radioactive foxes?

Wild Bill Donovan and the Office of Strategic Services

After the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, America’s wartime intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services OSS, needed to “outfox” the Axis powers. At the time, “Wild Bill” Donovan led the agency, a forerunner to the CIA created in 1947.

Wild Bill was one of the country’s most decorated war heroes and led thousands of employees in the OSS, including 7,500 deployed overseas. Two of Donovan’s employees were Julia Child and her husband, yes that one, the famous chef and author. During her time in the OSS, she developed shark repellant used to keep sharks from bumping into underwater explosives. Ok, that’s pretty crazy sounding too, but back to radioactive foxes. 

William Joseph (‘Wild Bill’) Donovan, Head of the OSS, Public Domain 

Outfoxing the Enemy with Radioactive Foxes?

After Pearl Harbor, Wild Bill asked the OSS scientists to ‘outfox’ the Axis enemies. Then, it appears OSS psychological warfare strategist Ed Salinger took him quite literally. Before the war, Salinger worked in the import-export business in Tokyo, was fluent in Japanese, and was interested in Japanese culture.

Kitsune: Shapeshifting Foxes

Salinger knew about the belief in kitsune, shape-shifting magical Japanese foxes from folklore. Sometimes, they can have nine tails and are popular even today if you’ve seen the animated Ninetales Pokémon character. After a kitsune lives for a century, it can shape-shift into a human. However, the kitsune may still hide a tail and a star ball, the sources of power.

Sometimes, kitsunes could be zenko celestial white foxes associated with the god Inari and called an Inari Fox. Today, there are shrines to these foxes. Thus, the foxes guard shrines as sacred animals. On the other hand, other kitsune foxes could be tricksters, the yako, or nogitsune. In all, there are 13 types of kitsune, sometimes evil but not always.

Kitsune by DoubleWTT via PixabayPixabay License

Operation Fantasia

To outfox the enemies in Japan, Salinger proposed using their belief in kitsune against them. In 1943, he proposed Operation Fantasia, believing they could send foxes painted with glowing paint into Japan to rattle whoever saw them.

“The foundation for the proposal,” Salinger wrote in a memo outlining his idea, “rests upon the fact that the modern Japanese is subject to superstitions, beliefs in evil spirits and unnatural manifestations which can be provoked and stimulated,” wrote John Lisle.

Now, why would Salinger think that people would fall for such a hoax? According to the International Spy Museum curator, Vince Houghton, it showed “the breadth of the racism, ethnocentrism, and general disregard for Japanese culture held by many, if not most, of the top American military, intelligence, and political leadership.”

However, the OSS apparently decided to test out the idea in Washington DC.

Kitsune by Syneha via PixabayPixabay License

Radioactive Foxes and Other Wild Ideas

Before Salinger and the OSS arrived at radioactive foxes, they discussed many outrageous ideas.

  • explosive pancake mix
  • bats that carried bombs
  • spray that smelled like poop

As they explored the fox idea, they pondered:

  • fox-shaped balloons 
  • whistles that made fox sounds
  • artificial fox scent spray
  • a taxidermied fox with a human skull on its head
  • Japenese actors pretending to be possessed by foxes

Finally, they arrived at capturing foxes in Australia and China and painting them with glowing paint, which happened to be dangerously radioactive. From there, they would have to find a way to release the painted foxes into Japanese villages.

Dangerous Radioactive Paint

At the time, the paint used contained radium and was used to paint watch dials. Perhaps, they didn’t know it was so dangerous, but women who painted the clocks had suffered many health problems after using the paint in 1917. At the time, it was “a well-paid, glamorous job” for Radium Girls, reports CNN. Sadly, many women later suffered from Radium jaw after the paint made their jawbones brittle from putting the brushes in their mouths. In all, thousands of women suffered for the rest of their lives.

Nevertheless, after testing out the paint on a raccoon, the OSS decided it was time to release 30 glowing radioactive foxes in Washington, DC., in Rock Creek Park. Yes, really.

“On a summer night in 1945, OSS personnel released the foxes in the park, and the creatures scampered along the trails with promising results. The sight of the ghostly apparitions at first confused and then terrified passersby on their evening strolls. One citizen was so concerned that he notified the National Park Police, which reported on the incident, “Horrified citizens, shocked by the sudden sight of the leaping ghost-like animals, fled from the dark recesses of the park with the ‘screaming jeemies.'”

Foxes in the Chesapeake Bay

From there, the OSS had to figure out the logistics of releasing the foxes on foreign soil. Unfortunately, the animal cruelty involved is even more appalling. To see if the foxes could swim for long distances, they threw them into the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately, the foxes swam to shore, but then the paint came off.

Undaunted, Salinger suggested sending in a large wave of glowing creatures that may have included:

  • Coyotes
  • Raccoons
  • Minks
  • Muskrats

Fortunately, none of these ideas were carried out, except in Washington DC and the Chesapeake Bay. (!!) It’s one example of a not-so-foxy false flag, but it was just the beginning of many strange government-funded programs. For example, Operation Northwoods, MKUltra, or Project Monarch. 

Today, secret CIA programs inspire popular shows like Stranger Things. When fiction writers need creepy far-out source material, they seldom beat what happens in the real world. 

Featured image: fox by TheOtherKev via PixabayPixabay License, ehanced