Tuesday, January 24, 2006
"The spies came out of the water..."
Those cheeky Russkis certainly have a lot of damned gall.
Not content with ruining the Premiership through the lavish Chelsea spending of Roman Abramovich (the Harvey Nichols of football club-buying oligarchs), then cruelly encouraging the hopes of deluded Pompey fans with the promises of Alexandre Gaydamak (the Lidl of...)
No, now they're loudly claiming to have caught 'red-handed' four evil British spies masquerading as mild-mannered Moscow embassy diplomats.
Their crimes? The cunning use of a 'dead drop' box, packed with high-tech transmitters yet disguised as a roadside rock. And the donation of, ooh, thousands of pounds to non-governmental lobbying groups.
Hmm, forgive me I don't quite see the James Bond script literally writing itself as an uncontrollable impulse from me recounting these exploits, but still...
Yet as the picture above demonstrates, this is not all one-way traffic.
Only mere months ago Aleksei Burikov was boasting of his astonishing achievements in the until-now-neglected sphere of turtle espionage. Burikov - who, you will not be over-surprised to learn, is Russian - actually works as head of biology at the Rostov State Pedagogical University near Siberia, and has been slaving the last few years to train these dastardly double agents of the future - from Russia with love...
Okay, so these unlikely undercover agents may be no match for our own 007 in his turbo-charged chases, but they make up for any lack of speed with their surprising stealth.
The turtle spies are directed by electronic devices which send vibrations through their shells.
Cameras can be fitted to the shells, allowing them to send back reconnaissance pictures.
And these mechanic mini-Philbys could - apparently - even be trained to plant bombs or deposit recording devices.
Ingenious, eh? To strike at us how we least suspect, with enemy agents more pond-life than Bond-like.
They would not, of course, be the first water creatures sent into combat.
The US Navy used dolphins and sea lions in Vietnam and the Gulf to
protect warships and track attackers.
Trained whales have also managed to find a dummy torpedo at 500 metres
and attach a recovery device.
Above ground, British forces used about 250,000 pigeons to send messages to the front
during the Second World War â€“ the most reliable performers were awarded military honours.
(Hmm... I wonder whether this might make a franchise...
USED BY: French troops during the 1871 Franco-Prussian War.
MISSION: Airlifted over Prussian lines then sent back to under-siege Paris with microdot photos of Prussian defences.
GADGETS: A simple pouch - one US pigeon given an aerial camera around his neck returned on foot two days later, unable to fly.
STRENGTHS: Dedication. One bird, called Cher Ami, saved 200 US soldiers by delivering the last of 12 messages from Verdun in October 1918 - despite being shot through the breast.
WEAKNESSES: Adept at evading enemy fire - but not so good at surviving birds of prey.
USED BY: Belgian research group APOPO, which trained Gambian giant pouched rats to sniff out mines.
MISSION: Began searching for landmines in Mozambique last January.
GADGETS: A harness and rope attached to the rats as they scamper about - stopping to scratch where they sense explosives.
STRENGTHS: Small enough to avoid setting off any mines. They have a highly sensitive sense of smell and are trained to associate the scent of explosives with a food reward.
WEAKNESSES: They have very poor eyesight and can carry disease - they have been blamed for a 2003 outbreak of the monkeypox virus in the US.
USED BY: US military.
Missions: Patrolling and protecting Trident submarines and warships; detecting mines around Iraqi ports; escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers.
GADGETS: Dart guns, controlled by electrodes under the dolphin's skin and
in a special neck harness.
STRENGTHS: One of the world's most intelligent non-human creatures. Uses acute sonar to intercept enemy messages.
WEAKNESSES: Many trained dolphins were feared lost at sea after being washed out of their compound by Hurricane Katrina last September.)
But still, I do find it a little rich for the Russians to start cranking up another Cold War - or at least, mildly chilly tiff - over a rather basic misconception of Moscow street furniture, all the while fine-tuning a fighting force of terrifying, even terrorist turtles under cover of academic research.
Forget the acres of sympathetic Press coverage of the "People's Whale" (reaching its baffling peak - or nadir - with yesterday's four-page Evening Standard souvenir supplement).
This unexpected intruder was merely the unfortunate advance party, for a more devastating band of aquatic attackers whose first onslaught has surely only been speeded up by the latest Moscow revelations.
'The Russians are coming', our Cold War-dwelling ancestors used to warn.
I'm afraid we've meandered even further into dangerous territory now.
Tell all your friends: 'The Russian turtles are coming...'
Run for your lives.
Though walking may just prove fast enough, too, I suppose...