I was a high-tech spy back during the Cold War and the Hot War. Trained as a Russian linguist and radio intercept operator in the U.S. Marines, I worked first at the National Security Agency, then in Vietnam. The technology was crude by today’s standards: The radio signals that I snooped on were usually in Morse Code, and North Vietnamese radios were often “chirpy” instead of pure tones. As I secretly listened to enemy radios in the mountains west of Da Nang trying to make sense of those acoustic signals, I wondered if I were learning anything that could be applied to other animals. I could hear birds chirping in the jungle—what were they saying to each other? I later used some of the skills that I had learned as a radio snoop in my “spying” on animals and figuring out who the world’s greatest singer is.
I’m not alone in combining spy work with the world of animals. Author Ian Fleming was an avid birdwatcher. In fact, his most famous fictional spy was named after the real-life ornithologist— James Bond. But for me, the most important undercover work of all is that of PETA’s investigators. Without these brave souls, how would the world ever find out what goes on behind the closed doors of slaughterhouses, laboratories, circuses, and fur farms? These investigations are costly: They require nerves of steel, the latest high-tech equipment, and often, lone exposure to dangerous conditions for months at a time. Don’t ask me how they do it—I could not. Now, my inner spy is working to help these courageous individuals by getting funding for their operations.
The results of well-executed intelligence work will only change the world if action is taken as a result of the information gained. Back in my days in Vietnam, that meant sending in bombs and the infantry. But in PETA’s work, it means taking action to stop the animal abuse uncovered and documented in meticulous notes, videos, and recordings—and working to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Of that, we can all be proud. Recently, a PETA investigator captured video at the horribly misnamed Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary, revealing horrendous conditions for the more than 300 cats confined there. PETA took action, prompting local authorities to seize most of the cats. Tragically, most of these animals were beyond hope and had to be euthanized, but the survivors will be adopted out to loving homes.
In 2010, a PETA undercover operative exposed conditions in the laboratories of Professional Laboratory and Research Services, Inc. (PLRS) and brought back images so disturbing that PLRS ended up closing the facility and surrendering the animals held there. In late 2009, PETA broke a seven-month covert investigation of U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), an exotic-animal dealer that kept 26,000 animals warehoused in deplorable conditions. Those animals were rescued, and USGE has been shut down. Many PETA undercover videos inform the public about what goes on when no one thinks that they are being watched.
I may be too old and have too soft a heart to be the guy that brings back video footage from slaughterhouses, factory farms, or laboratories. But here’s what you and I can do. Participate in PETA’s action alerts, many of which result from information gained from informants and undercover investigations. Send video links to all your contacts, and post them on Facebook and Twitter. And as I mentioned, this important work is expensive: The average cost for one of these projects is $30,000, and in some cases, bills have gone as high as $100,000. Donate now!
Make your time with your friends and family—including your animal companions—even more meaningful.