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The senior military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed in a press conference in Tehran today that Western nations had deployed reptiles as nuclear spies. Agence France-Presse reports that Hassan Firuzabadi, previously chief of staff of Iran’s military, justified the recent arrest of environmentalists by claiming that the West had used scientists and environmental activists to spy on Iran’s nuclear program by deploying lizards that could “attract atomic waves.”
Kavous Seyed Emami, a sociology professor and environmental activist who also held Canadian citizenship, was arrested last month and died in prison this past weekend—reportedly hanging himself while held in solitary confinement. Emami was the founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a group dedicated to the protection of Iran’s endangered species.
A number of other activists associated with the foundation were also arrested in the sweep last month, including Iranian-American businessman Morad Tahbaz—a board member—and Hooman Jokar, a vice-chairman of the foundation and head of the Asiatic Cheetah desk at Iran’s Department of the Environment. Kaveh Madani was also arrested and briefly held over the weekend.
According to the Fars News Agency, the head of Iran’s Justice Department said that the activists were arrested “for transferring intelligence to foreigners, and it is likely that more activists will be arrested.”
Firuzabadi told journalists that while he was not familiar with the details of these specific cases, foreign governments often used scientists and environmental “tourists” as spies. ” Several years ago,” he said, “some individuals came to Iran to collect aid for Palestine. We were suspicious of the route they chose.”
When they were detained, Iranian officials found that they had “a variety of reptile desert species like lizards [and] chameleons” in their possession. “We found out that their skin attracts atomic waves and that they were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the Islamic republic of Iran we have uranium mines and where we are engaged in atomic activities,” Firuzabadi claimed.
Ars science editor John Timmer responded to the AFP account of Firuzabadi’s statements, saying, “That’s insane.”
After US nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, Army doctor Colonel Stafford Warren convinced Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William H. P. Blandy to abandon efforts to clean up fallout aboard the target fleet there by showing him an x-ray of a fish from the lagoon–an X-ray taken using only the radiation coming from plutonium in the fish, which accumulated in the fish’s organs and scales. As far as “attracting atomic waves” go, there’s no scientific evidence that reptiles’ scales are effective as Geiger counters. The attention to Iranian environmental activists is likely based on suspicions of their ties to Western educational institutions and subversive Western organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund.