NATO, Other Democracies Challenge Russian “Beluga Spies” With Own Specialists

From Our “YOU JUST CAN’T MAKE THIS SHIT UP” Files: When will The Spy Museum feature an exhibit on these cetacean, canine, and other James Bond wannabes in the new arms (and legs) race?

May 1, 2019

By Andrew Squibley and Arthur Bushwhacker (with additional reporting by John Le Carré and David Attenborough)

Bond. Beluga Bond.

BRUSSELS — Signaling the existence of purported Russian spying whales as a significant threat to regional security, NATO chiefs are dusting off old Cold War plans to utilize a variety of mammals of their own to counter the “weaponization” of sea-based animals.

The measure was ordered within days after Norwegian fishermen last week spotted a beluga whale five miles off the coast in the North Sea, within view of a major Norwegian naval installation, NATO officials told Rueters.

Suspected Russian “beluga spy” peacefully turned itself in to Norwegian fishermen last week in what NATO officials are saying is a new twist on an old Soviet-era spy playbook: Using animals to carry photographic equipment or, in some cases, bombs. If the belugas only knew! (Photo by Norwegian News Agency via Rueters)

When the whale defied normal behavior and continued to harass their boats, the fishermen spotted a strange harness wrapped around its body. “Property of V. Putin. Please return to Kremlin. Reward.” read an English inscription on the harness they later recovered.

The inscription and the beluga’s location near the naval base, viewed together, raised red flags. Norwegian coast guard leaders were notified and it was they who alerted NATO, a spokesman told Rueters.

Researchers say that the harness could have carried weapons or cameras, triggering new speculations about a sea mammal special operations program that the Russian navy is believed to have pursued for years.

Although the Russian Defense Ministry is denying the existence of such a program, the same ministry in 2016 published an ad in PETA’s flagship magazine, Animal Cruelty Sucks, seeking three male and two female bottlenose dolphins, seven belugas (either sex), a male sea-lion, 32 sea otters (no sex specified since they are nature’s most popular bi-sexuals), 14 Emperor penguins (average height 4 feet) and a pug terrier puppy.

“We never could figure why the puppy. Pugs can’t really swim, can they?” a NATO spokesman said.

Well, yes, actually they can — given proper motivation.

Russia’s curious 2016 shopping list of sea mammals rang bells with some veteran NATO officers who said the 29-member defense organization once had a unique counter to the old Soviet Union’s use of belugas.

NATO in the 1980s brought in specialists from the US, UK and several non-member countries to a special facility in the Belgian port city of Ostend to train killer whales to eat the Russian-trained belugas believed to be spying along the shores of the Baltic and North seas.

“We thought it was a natural solution, and undetectable,” an intel officer told Rueters. “Killer whales eat belugas in the wild, so who would suspect anything if they gobbled the Russian ‘spies’?”

But the plan never made it into practice. “The orcas (killer whales) were more interested in eating their trainers than those stupid belugas. We must have lost close to a dozen of them over a two-year period. Don’t you remember the shortage of trainers in the US thirty-some years ago? It was all over the media. Now you know why.”

After abandoning the so-called “Where’s The Beluga!?!” strategy, NATO turned its training efforts to a mix of land-based critters who wouldn’t be suspected of spying on Soviet facilities and who also possessed remarkable swimming skills.

From left to right: Russians never suspected a pig that could swim to secure locations while carrying a fake-bird camera on its back, one of NATO’s most successful animal-spy operations; Australia gave its NATO friends a rare find, a swimming kangaroo that could surreptitiously patrol Soviet waters while imitating a deer; and Uganda, hoping one day to join NATO, offered one of its prized pachyderms outfitted with radio-signal detectors in both tusks. “Find me one Russki beluga who’d fuck with this guy,” remarked a NATO source.(Photos by NATO)

Not all animals are cut out for the spy business, NATO trainers learned. Pugs really are nervous around water and aren’t large enough to carry a camera; labradors are as lazy as they are stupid, it turns out; but cats crave adventure and danger, this one landing in a swimming pool after evading capture by jumping from the 20th floor of a hotel in St. Petersburg, “Mission Accomplished.” (Photos by NATO)

NATO officials told Rueters they would put their motley collection of spying cats, dogs, pigs, kangaroos — and even the odd elephant — up against anything the Russians could throw at them, including disheartened hungry belugas.

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