When you think of famous spies, some names immediately spring to mind. Mata Hari (who was unfairly accused). Ethel & Julius Rosenberg (who were not). Kim Philby. Tippy-Toe.
That last one is actually the name of the animal companion of the Marvel super heroine Squirrel Girl, but it seems appropriate considering the Iranian squirrel spy arrests of 2007.
In July of that year, the Iranian state news agency INRA released a story to the nation. It explained how the country had repelled an attack by invading rodents carrying high-tech gear.
The dispatch translated as follows: “In recent weeks, intelligence operatives have arrested 14 squirrels within Iran’s borders. The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services.”
There is a long history of various military agencies attempting to use animals as trained agents or implanting monitoring devices on them. These regularly fail because most animals are fairly unpredictable. Squirrels, in particular, seem to be highly unlikely to be useful for espionage. While they are fairly ubiquitous and prone to avoid capture, they’re not easily trained, they’re not likely to travel very far from the point of release and, being fundamentally prey animals, they tend to be caught and eaten by larger creatures.
Is it possible that a secret attempt was made to infiltrate Iran with squirrels? Certainly. Is it likely? Not at all… and less so when one considers that these 14 squirrels were supposedly captured, not killed, with spy equipment on them. Capturing wild squirrels without killing them is not an easy task, but apparently Iran was up to the challenge.
Further undermining the credibility of the story was the fact that the news service did not attempt to disseminate word about the squirrel arrests internationally. That happened organically, as various international wires picked up on the accusation and publicized it.
One might think that the squirrel arrests would put an end to Iranian concerns about animal spies. One would be wrong.
In 2018, a senior military advisor to the Ayatollah, Hassan Firuzabadi, revealed another Iranian coup: they’d stopped spy lizards. Firuzabadi claimed that he’d encountered foreign visitors who possessed chameleons and desert lizards with a special skin that detected nuclear radiation. These lizards were being used to determine the extent of Iran’s weapon program development by detecting the residual nuclear waves flowing out from uranium mines and atomic weaponry.
For the record, what was described was simultaneously insane and impossible.
Still, at least it took some of the heat off the squirrels for a while….
Question of the night: Who is your favorite spy/espionage agency agent, real or fictional?