Why The ‘Arrest’ Of A Spy Pigeon By India Should Not Be Made Fun Of

No one in India bothers to talk about the R&AW, either because it is too good at keeping its affairs secret or because it is yet to do anything significant, but when a certain section of the Indian media starts cooing about India’s external spy agency, it revolves around the flight of a pigeon.

A pigeon was arrested by Indian authorities in Pathankot in the last days of May on charges of spying for Pakistan. The authorities came to their conclusion from an illegible Urdu message on one of its wings though the words ‘Tehsil Shankargarh’ was clearly visible in English.



It is funny, no doubt, and Pakistanis took this opportunity to mock at India’s over-paranoid security establishment using #PigeonVsIndia:



The R&AW has been mocked at by everyone who knows how to use a keyboard. In fact, such has been the height of derision aimed at R&AW that Pakistan’s leading newspaper, Dawn, published an otherwise impressive satire on Ghutargoon Khan aka The Pigeon.



But is this an incident ripe for ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ database?

To those uninitiated with spy games, Carrier Pigeons have been in use as spies since the 11th century.

Pigeons have a remarkable homing ability, making them the perfect avian messengers.


They were extensively used in World War I and a pigeon named Cher Ami was awarded one of the highest military decorations of France for carrying a crucial message that helped save the lives of many soldiers.


War Pigeon

A file photo of Cher Ami. Armed Forces History Museum

Pigeons were used for aerial reconnaissance during the World War II. The UK even maintained an Air Ministry Pigeon Section.


Switzerland was the last country to have actively maintained a pigeon corps for security purposes before disbanding it in 1996.


Spy Pigeon

The camera attached to the pigeon in this photo from an exhibit was specially designed for spying.  Sipa USA/REX

Okay, so the spy games must have ended with that, you say. No.

A California-based researcher measured the city’s air pollution by attaching a camera, a re-engineered mobile and a special device to a pigeon.


Scientists in China have successfully implanted electrodes in a pigeon to remotely control it. The pigeon was made to fly in any direction the scientists wanted.


Pigeons are still very much in use in the third world and conflict-ridden countries where they are used for anything from drug supply to ransom collection.


Carrier Pigeon


And do you know that while you were enjoying the humiliation of India’s security agencies, the Indian Coast Guard caught a pigeon in a port area of Gujarat’s Jamnagar district? That pigeon was fitted with a transmitter.


Pigeon Spy


This is exactly why we should not start jeering at the very idea of using a pigeon for spying. Yes, there may have been an unwarranted drama over a bird in the Pathankot case, but this does not mean that pigeons cannot be used for spying.


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