Skip to main content

Quirk of history

When Stalin stole Mao’s 💩

Where’s the gents? Mondadori Portfolio/Getty

During Stalin’s reign, says Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy, Soviet spooks made up for their lack of gadgets by “collecting and evaluating stool samples from world leaders”, including Chairman Mao. During a state visit by the Chinese leader, the KGB installed special loos that “directed Mao’s precious bodily fluids into secret boxes for analysis”. For 10 days he was plied with food and drink and his waste whisked off. After Mao’s stools had been scrutinised, wrote the BBC’s Steven Rosenberg, Stalin didn’t like what he saw and “poo poo-ed the idea of signing an agreement with him”.

It wasn’t just the Russians: a retired French spymaster once told a Time journalist about collecting a urine sample from Leonid Brezhnev. “He was staying at the Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen during a state visit,” the former spook recalled. “Our people rented the suite under his and dismantled all the plumbing. They intercepted his toilet flushings and sent the samples to Paris for analysis.” There are tales like this, “of varying reliability”, about pretty much every other renowned world leader. “You simply aren’t famous unless there is an apocryphal story about an intelligence agency trying to steal your excrement.”