Back in the day leaders didn’t have access to hidden cameras or tapped wires to spy on their allies or opponents. Instead, they used a rather curious technique to find out all they could about the personality of their competitors—they examined their stool. Turns out that USSR leader, Joseph Stalin, used this very technique before meeting Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong in 1949.
Unusual spy technique
In 2016, BBC uncovered this Russian method when in conversation with former Soviet agent Igor Atamanenko. Atamanenko discovered evidence of this practice when he was conducting his own research in the archives of the Russian secret services. He told BBC:
In those days the Soviets didn't have the kind of listening devices which secret services do today.
That's why our specialists came up with the most extravagant ways of extracting information about a person.
Extravagant? More like intensely foul.
But how did this technique actually work? Atamenenko explained that certain elements found in faeces could reveal a lot about one’s personality. For example, if high levels of ‘amino acid tryptophan’ were detected, then it means the person is calm and approachable. On the contrary, if there were little to no amounts of potassium in the excrement, it indicated that the person had insomnia and it was ‘seen as a sign of a nervous disposition.’
Examining Mao’s stool
So, in order to learn more about his Chinese counterpart, Stalin sent an envoy to secretly collect Mao’s stool. Apparently Mao was given a ‘special’ toilet that wasn’t connected to the sewage system—it had a secret compartment which stored the excrement. During Mao's 10-day stay, he was then overloaded with food so that they had enough samples to collect every day.
Unfortunately, the results of the test have not been divulged but the following February, the two governments signed a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance so it looks like Mao’s faeces didn’t reveal anything too horrific.