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Spy Pigeons
October 20, 2008 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Iran says it caught two pigeons spying on it's nuclear reactor. It sounds crazy, but it's not as farfetched as you might think. The lowly pigeon has been used in military operations since the 12th century. Commando the Pigeon flew 90 missions in German-occupied France during WWII. Pigeons like Commando, Winkie, and Paddy had a lock on the Dickin Medal for animal bravery during WWII. Then again, maybe it's just crazy. Last year Iran said it had arrested 14 squirrels for espionage.
posted by up in the old hotel (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty bad ass. Do you have any idea how hard it is to catch a pigeon?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:35 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Director of Iranian Counter Espionage should be pleased.
posted by JHarris at 8:45 PM on October 20, 2008


I like that they "arrested" the pigeons. That's adorable. I wonder if that's an election gimmick, like the local county sheriff is running this year and needs some paper showing he's hard on spying. Next week they'll shoot off some bottle rockets at the KH satellites that're probably shooting enough Robo-flies, I'm not sure they have enough holding cells.
posted by empyrean at 9:11 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


"That's pretty bad ass. Do you have any idea how hard it is to catch a pigeon?"

Pretty easy if your name is George Costanza
posted by lilkeith07 at 9:12 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Less than symbol borked the previous, oops.

I like that they "arrested" the pigeons. That's adorable. I wonder if that's an election gimmick, like the local county sheriff is running this year and needs some paper showing he's hard on spying. Next week they'll shoot off some bottle rockets at the KH satellites that're probably shooting enough 5" resolution film to wallpaper Tehran.

Hopefully nobody has told them about the Robo-flies, I'm not sure they have enough holding cells.
posted by empyrean at 9:12 PM on October 20, 2008


He flew 230 miles across the English Channel in four hours and five minutes [2], the fastest recorded crossing

That's from the Wikipedia article on Paddy, now did I do my math wrong or did he fly 56 MPH?
posted by lilkeith07 at 9:14 PM on October 20, 2008


Did I do my math wrong or did he fly 56 MPH?

Wind-assisted.

The return trip took four times as long and they lost his luggage.
posted by rokusan at 9:33 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't forget the most famous feathered hero of all — Cher Ami, the U.S. Army Signal Corps carrier pigeon who lost a leg saving hundreds of 77th Infantry Division soldiers from friendly fire in 1918.
posted by cenoxo at 9:37 PM on October 20, 2008


its
posted by yath at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pigeon-guided missiles
posted by lukemeister at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2008


Uh ... metal rings?
posted by dhartung at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2008


Plotting a coo?
posted by lukemeister at 9:47 PM on October 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Plotting a coo?

ouch. lol

Some charming details to enjoy in this story.

"One of the pigeons was caught near a rose water production plant in the city of Kashan"

Rose water production is a lovely Eastern detail when thinking about espionage. Rose water is an interesting ingredient in Eastern cuisine. Kashan, where they caught the birds is near Qamsar, Iran's biggest center in the Middle East in production of rose water?

This makes sense actually that the birds were caught in Isfahan Province because Bell Helicopters is situated there and that's where most of the arms are man in Iran. (A few old friends went to teach English there in the 70's).

the report cited an unnamed informed source as saying, adding that some metal rings and invisible strings were attached to the bird.

I'd love to see what "invisible strings" look like. Could they mean transparent, as in fishing line kind of thing?

Adding to the pigeon theme: Rooftop Pigeon Guys

Spy swifts and spy flies. Spy dust even.
posted by nickyskye at 9:48 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Word is that one of the squirrels was accompanied by a moose.
posted by eye of newt at 10:21 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


for those interested in finding out more about the awesome that is the pigeon, check out the recently published superdove by courtney humphries
posted by recklessbrother at 10:38 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


They caught the squirrels, but there's still a mole in the organization.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:40 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Pigeon Search and Rescue Project (PROJECT SEA HUNT) was tested by the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1970s-80s:
...used three pigeons a small observation bubble on the underside of a helicopter. The birds faced 120 degrees from each other so that they covered the entire 360 degrees under the aircraft. The pigeons were trained to recognize objects floating in the water and communicate with the helicopter pilots by pecking a key that would help guide the pilots to the targets. The pigeons were 93 percent accurate at locating objects floating at sea and their false positive rates were extremely low. Human flight crews were accurate 38 percent of the time.

When combined with human searchers, the pigeons' success rate was nearly perfect. Also, unlike humans, the pigeons did not get bored as [Navy scientist Jim] Simmons had trained them to respond even when there were hours between sightings. Eventually, the Coast Guard recognized the value of Simmons' pigeons and called this project "the best daylight search system" yet developed.

The project, however, was plagued by problems as two helicopters crashed either destroying or damaging the pigeon system. The project, unfortunately, never got out of the testing phase and was ended in 1983 due to federal budget cuts.
Sure it was. Rumor has it that Simmons died in a small plane crash a few years later when its engine ingested a flock of pigeons flying across the runway...
posted by cenoxo at 10:44 PM on October 20, 2008


That AFP story is pretty light on content. Sounds crazy to me. Metal rings? Invisible strings? (What's an invisible string? Do they mean fishing line?) Maybe the bird was at the local trash pile? Spying pigeons strike me as more difficulty than their worth.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:48 PM on October 20, 2008


Excellent! I don't have much to add, except that catching pigeons reminded me of the scene from Hot Fuzz where they're trying to catch the swan. Poor bastards.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:30 PM on October 20, 2008


Catching show pigeons isn't that hard, actually. There're just two tricks:

1) Make a swift, but not sudden grab. Sudden movements will startle the birds and cause them to fly. Slow movements give them too much time to back off. You've got to be somewhere in between.

2) Do it with confidence. Tell yourself "I am going to catch this bird!" Pigeons, like most less intelligent animals, act on instinct. They know when you're hesitant and will take advantage of it.

That's all there is to it! Then again, I've been around pigeons all my life and have several times helped vaccinate entire coups. So maybe it's not as easy as it seems.

Don't know about spy birds though.
posted by sbutler at 12:25 AM on October 21, 2008


Were these pigeons remote controlled, by any chance?
posted by mullingitover at 12:52 AM on October 21, 2008


License to bill.
posted by flashboy at 1:34 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Squirrel secret agent
posted by genghis at 2:05 AM on October 21, 2008


They get squirrel, ve get moose. Everybody vins.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:23 AM on October 21, 2008


If they sentence them to death for espionage, it's going to be tricky. I imagine stoning a pigeon could be difficult.
posted by acb at 3:57 AM on October 21, 2008


The lowly pigeon has been used in military operations since the 12th century. (You really can't make a statement like that without at least some citation.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:38 AM on October 21, 2008


Lest we forget: RIP acoustic kitty
posted by refractal at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the Animals in War memorial by Hyde Park in London.

I used to cycle by it every day, and marvel at the irony of celebrating the bravery of animals that didn't really have an option to say no and go back to chewing grass in the fields. I don't know why, but the voice of the Hollywood trailer guy would always boom in my head: "Animals in War: they had no choice."
posted by MuffinMan at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2008


No way, there's only one Secret Squirrel.
posted by w0mbat at 8:32 AM on October 21, 2008


Only one group can get to the bottom of this.
posted by lukemeister at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2008


Put June 13, 2009 on your calendars! NYC meetup?
posted by lukemeister at 9:02 AM on October 21, 2008


Last year Iran said it had arrested 14 squirrels for espionage.

That's just NUTS!


There, I said it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:57 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The pigeons and squirrels are conspiring with ACORN to put a socialist in the White House.
posted by lukemeister at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2008


I think this is somehow connected with crow vending machines.
posted by mecran01 at 12:02 PM on October 21, 2008


Better crow vending machine link.
posted by mecran01 at 12:03 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't there an easier way to buy a crow?
posted by lukemeister at 12:33 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


He flew 230 miles across the English Channel in four hours and five minutes [2], the fastest recorded crossing

That's from the Wikipedia article on Paddy, now did I do my math wrong or did he fly 56 MPH?


That is a typo. On a clear day you can see across the English channel if you are standing high enough. It is most likely supposed to read "23 miles" whereby the accuracy of that depends where the pigeon crossed.
posted by Brockles at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2008


Brockles,

Paddy was flying from Normandy, so it very well could have been 230 miles. Pigeons have been known to fly several thousand miles in returning home, and some have attained average speeds of more than 90 miles per hour (145 km/h) in races.
posted by lukemeister at 7:26 PM on October 21, 2008


It's still nowhere near 230 miles across at that point, though (150 tops in a straight line, as the, er Pigeon flies), so how did they compute the extra distance he was supposed to travel? I'm not disputing the pigeon's speed, or stamina, but more the distances involved. It's only a 5 odd hour ferry ride (cars and trucks-type, huge arse boat, rather than hydrofoil) from Le Havre to Cherbourg, so I'd expect a Pigeon to do it a hell of a lot faster than that.

Unless the Pigeon's loft was in London, or something (which doesn't seem logical), and the Pigeon almost certainly didn't fly to Northern Ireland (where it was initially from - much, much more than 230 miles) then where did it go? It sounds like there is either a lot of detail missing from the story (quite likely) or those numbers aren't correct. I'm not saying it isn't true, just that I'd like to see some supporting evidence of the numbers they are using (like take off to landing points). Interestingly, all the speed/times mentioned here (288 miles in 7 1/5 hours, 120 miles in 4 hrs 10 minutes) that are considered of note suggests that either Paddy was either almost twice as fast, or the numbers in the wikipedia page are borked (ImpossibleI I hear you cry!). That link is a good one, by the way, for more Pigeon rescuing goodness.
posted by Brockles at 8:17 PM on October 21, 2008


It was on Fringe, so it must be true.
posted by Lucie at 1:14 AM on October 22, 2008


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