What Happened When The CIA Invented A Heart Attack Gun?

By Sarah Norman | December 26, 2023

The Cold War Crashed In On Itself In 1975

The year was 1975, and the United States stood at a crossroads. The shocking revelations of the Watergate scandal had cast a pall over the nation, leaving the American public with a newfound, burning curiosity about their intelligence agencies. Senator Frank Church convened a historic hearing on Capitol Hill, one that would peel back the layers of secrecy surrounding decades of covert CIA activity.

Imagine a weapon so insidious that it could eliminate targets with the mere whisper of a needle, leaving no trace of foul play. As Congress delved into the darkest corners of the Cold War, they stumbled upon secrets stranger than fiction. It was here that the world learned of the Heart Attack Gun—a weapon straight out of a spy thriller, yet chillingly real.

But how did it work? What were its origins, and who were the architects of this macabre masterpiece? In this slideshow, we will navigate through the intrigue, the science, and the history of the CIA's most enigmatic creation.

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Keystone Press/Alamy

In 1975, the culmination of over three decades of secretive CIA operations came crashing to a halt as Congress turned its attention to the agency's activities. Senator Frank Church, seated on Capitol Hill, presided over a historic investigation that unveiled some of the darkest, most clandestine aspects of the Cold War era. What they uncovered was nothing short of astonishing and nightmarish, resembling the plotlines of paranoid thrillers and hair-raising spy novels. Amidst a litany of disturbing revelations, one stood out—a weapon unlike any other, the infamous "Heart Attack Gun." Congress had stumbled upon an invention of deadly precision, capable of causing death within moments, all without leaving a trace. This discovery would forever change the way the world viewed espionage, offering a chilling glimpse into the lengths to which intelligence agencies would go to protect their interests.

An 18-Year-Old Figured Out The Most Important Part Of The Weapon

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At the heart (no pun intended) of the creation of the CIA's enigmatic "Heart Attack Gun" was an unlikely figure, Mary Embree. Remarkably, she began her journey into the world of espionage at just 18 years old, armed with nothing but a high school diploma. Her initial role within the agency was that of a secretary, working diligently in a division focused on developing covert audio surveillance equipment, including hidden microphones. Over time, Mary's skills and dedication caught the eye of her superiors, leading to her promotion to the prestigious Office of Technical Services. It was there that she embarked on an extraordinary mission: to discover a poison so subtle, so undetectable, that it could serve as the ultimate tool of covert operations.

Mary's relentless research and tenacity led her to a surprising conclusion—shellfish toxins held the key to creating the perfect, untraceable poison. Her contribution to the development of the Heart Attack Gun would become a chilling chapter in the annals of espionage history, forever altering the course of covert operations.