The spy who squawked at me

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A suspected spy held in Egypt refused to say much. After persistent questioning, he wouldn't give his interrogators anything more than a plaintive "Ark, Ark". The Egyptian secret service frantically tried to trace an interpreter fluent in stork.

The bird was spotted by a fisherman on the Nile in the village of Quena about 300 miles from Cairo. He noticed an electronic device attached to its feathers and jumped to the conclusion that it was up to no good. Police suspected that the device was a spy camera, recording equipment or even a bomb.

Veterinary experts were called in and after a brief chat with the bird were able to tell officials that "Ark Ark" meant that the stork was claiming that the device was attached by some French busybody researchers while the stork was taking his annual holiday in Provence. It was the old "yeah, I was forced to carry it by some sinister foreign blokes" excuse.

The story stood up however, and the French insisted, with lots of exasperated shrugs, that the equipment didn't work outside of French territory anyway. The stork is either being released or treated very kindly in the hope that he can be "turned" and used as a double agent.

It might be unfair to accuse the Egyptians of being paranoid. Or accurate. The military coup that overthrew President Morsi has put the country on high alert. A security guard recently reported a pigeon to the police, because he suspected it was smuggling microfilm. Even before the coup, back in 2010, shark attacks along the Mediterranean coast were blamed on "GPS-controlled" sharks sent by the Israeli secret services.

They are looking in all the wrong places of course. It's the cats they have to worry about. The warnings are written all over the pyramids, if only anyone had the sense to notice.

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