Why These Animals Were Accused Of Being International Spies

From lizards to dolphins, these animals have been accused of espionage.

DEEP WITHIN URANIUM mines, lizards were lurking around, attracting atomic waves and delivering intel on the Iranian government.

Or at least that's the narrative Iranian military advisor Hassan Firuzabadi told media outlets earlier this week.

Firuzabadi's comments came after being asked about a group of environmentalists under arrest since late January. According to the Times of Israel, a local Iranian news agency quoted Firuzabadi as saying that, in the environmentalists' possession, they found lizards and chameleons. Allegedly these were deployed to find where Iran was mining and developing uranium.

The lizards' skin, Firuzabadi said, was capable of attracting atomic waves. The espionage effort, he added, had failed.

It's unclear how or why Firuzabadi reached this conclusion, but this alleged attempt would have failed regardless because lizard skin isn't capable of absorbing measurable atomic waves, say scientists. Further, as cold-blooded animals, the lizards likely would not have sought out cool, dark caves. 

It's not the first time animals have been accused of spying—not by a longshot. Read on for more surprising examples.

Scavenging for Intel

In 2016, a large griffin vulture with a 1.8 metre wingspan crossed the Israeli border into Lebanon. When the bird was caught by local villagers, it was found to be wearing a small tracking device on its foot. The locals suspected the animal was being used to spy on them.

The real reason the vulture was wearing a tracker? It was part of a program to repopulate raptors in the Middle East and had been living at the Israeli Gamla Nature Reserve. According to the BBC, it was eventually returned to its home after UN peacekeepers intervened.

An Israeli vulture was also detained in 2011 by the Saudi Arabian government. That griffin vulture was wearing a GPS tag owned by the University of Tel Aviv, which was studying the endangered bird's movement patterns.

Squirrely Behaviour

Iran isn't a stranger to alleging animal espionage. In 2007, they detained 14 squirrels that local news agencies said were equipped with spying equipment. Allegedly, the squirrels had some sort of small recording or radio device that was used for eavesdropping.

At the time, national police confirmed they were aware of the story, but did not divulge more information about where they thought the squirrels came from or what happened to them.

NPR interviewed a former CIA agent, and wildlife professor John Koprowski, who were both extremely sceptical that squirrels could be trained for such a purpose.

A Few Good Dolphins

While lizards, vultures, and squirrels are more outlandish accusations of animal spies, some may not be as far-fetched.

In 2015, Hamas—a Palestinian political organisation that the U.S. State Department has accused of terrorism—claimed they apprehended a dolphin that was spying for Israeli forces.

The Times of Israel reported allegations that the dolphin was outfitted with spying equipment, including but not limited to cameras.

The details of that story remain murky, but it's indisputable that dolphins have been used in military tactics a number of times over the years.

K-Dog, a Bottle Nose Dolphin, leaps out of the water in front of Sgt. Andrew Garrett while training near the USS Gunston Hall in the Arabian Gulf.

In 2014, when Russia took over Crimea and infiltrated a Ukrainian military unit, they found several "combat dolphins." The marine mammals were believed to be used to find underwater targets like mines or to block intruders from entering restricted areas.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Navy ran a similar program. Speaking with National Geographic in 2014, a representative from the marine mammal research program at the University of Hawaii said that the U.S. has not only used dolphins as guards, but the animals are also highly skilled at detecting underwater mines.

Dolphins' echolocation is so precise, they've even been used in lieu of machines.

Lead Image: Chameleons were among the lizards accussed of spying on Iranian nuclear facilities. PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL NICHOLS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address