UK spied on Russians with fake rock

 

Russian TV first reported the fake rock allegations five years ago

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A former UK government official has admitted Britain was caught spying when Russia exposed its use of a fake rock in Moscow to hide electronic equipment.

Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but this is the first time anyone in the UK has publicly accepted them.

Jonathan Powell, then Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, told a BBC documentary it was "embarrassing", but "they had us bang to rights".

He added: "Clearly they had known about it for some time."

They had been "saving it up for a political purpose", he said.

The story was first aired on Russian television, which ran a report showing how the rock contained electronic equipment and had been used by British diplomats to receive and transmit information.

FIND OUT MORE

Vladimir Putin
  • Putin, Russia and the West, BBC Two, 21:00 GMT, Thursdays from 19 January 2011
  • Watch afterwards online via iPlayer (UK only) at the above link

It showed a video of a man walking along the pavement of a Moscow street, slowing his pace, glancing at a rock and slowing down, then picking up his pace. Next the camera films another man, who walks by and picks up the rock.

The Russian security service, the FSB, linked the rock with allegations that British security services were making covert payments to pro-democracy and human rights groups.

Shortly afterwards, then President Vladimir Putin introduced a law restricting non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from getting funding from foreign governments. Many closed down as a result.

"We have seen attempts by the secret services to make use of NGOs. NGOs have been financed through secret service channels. No-one can deny that this money stinks," said Mr Putin.

Start Quote

Tony Brenton

All of our activities with the NGOs were completely above board”

End Quote Tony Brenton Former British ambassador in Moscow

"This law has been adopted to stop foreign powers interfering in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation."

"All of our activities with the NGOs were completely above board," said Britain's ambassador in Moscow at the time, Tony Brenton.

"They were on our website, the sums of money, the projects. All of that was completely public."

One human rights group accused of receiving secret payments took the FSB to court for slander but lost.

"They said there was no slander and threw out the case," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The FSB successfully argued that the allegations did not represent slander as the secret payments showed the Moscow Helsinki Group was a "serious organisation".

The documentary series, Putin, Russia and the West, is on BBC Two on Thursdays at 21:00 GMT from 19 January 2012. Watch online afterwards via iPlayer (UK only) at the above link.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 92.

    You can have all the spy sats and listening devices you like, but there is no substitute for 1st hand Intelligence gathering, and that usually includes having operatives on the ground.Is it a newsworthy story? Of course not, espionage has been part of the game since day 1 and will go on until the world ends.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 91.

    Not as good as David Attenborough LOL

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 90.

    "Why do we pay money to Russian NGOs anyway ??"

    Why do we send aid money to countries with nuclear arsenals?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 89.

    84.
    ship-of-fools

    Fair do`s on that one, ship. Despite my political sympathies I do have to admit I tend to nod off when DC is speaking so usually miss what he says

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 88.

    David Blake, bang on, there are many marxists in the BBC and you can see that such a large organisation, especialy its news dept, could well be rife with well placed sleepers waiting for the day of trouble.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 87.

    "Why do we pay money to Russian NGOs anyway ??"

    For the same reason that Russia used to bankroll far-left political organisations, perhaps?

    Never mind: At least it was merely a rock full of electronics, rather than lethal radioactive isotopes fed to a defector.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    suddenly Spooks looks a bit low tech although I missed part of series 8 so that must have been when Harry ordered Roz to deploy the camera-rock in the most bad-ass-but-covert way she could.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 85.

    re 27
    "Watson, I think we should have an exhibition"
    "An exhibition? Ideal, Holmes!"

    There's a very good new film in which the Russians invent a micro chip listening device that can fit into a pastry crust- topped dish in a restaurant.
    That's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Pie"

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 84.

    76. roaminoff
    75. ship-of-fools
    "UK film possibility: Carry on Spying, how about it Eton-boy?"

    I think the Blair boy was in charge at the time , check your intelligence
    ===

    You're right of course, however, I was using this story to cleverly link two items of news: this one and Flashman's recent comment on the UK film industry's need for blockbusters. Didn't really think I'd need to explain ;)

  • rate this
    -15

    Comment number 83.

    The question I want answered is how much tax payers money was spent researching, developing, placing and then monitoring this completely rediculous piece of equipment?

    Would it not have been better spent telling the intelligence community that the Empire is over and we closer to an international laughing stock rather than an international policeman.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 82.

    79.
    Susan


    "And the Russians didn’t partake in a little bit of spying with various gadgets themselves I suppose?"

    They managed not to get caught though which is the clever thing

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 81.

    . . . if you're going to play cloak and dagger, you can at least do it professionally!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 80.

    The fake rock was a very successful diversionary tactic used to great effect it seems, the FSB completely overlooked the satellite linked fake dog poo cleverly attached to the sole of the FSB agents boot, ah ha Russia! Little did you know that we knew that you knew that we knew that you knew.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 79.

    And the Russians didn’t partake in a little bit of spying with various gadgets themselves I suppose?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 78.

    Another 'none' news story.
    The BBC are rubbish, they rarely give us the chance to comment on any story that is even vaguely relevant or current to what is going on.
    6 years old and as if we aren't spying on pretty much everyone and pretty much everyone is spying on us.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 77.

    I remember the British press (including the then BBC Moscow correspondent) rubbishing the allegations and actually laughing and mocking - nervously - at them. It was propaganda and not journalism. It was then that I was sure of the true nature of the Kremlin allegations. Anyway, they did not amaze me at all. Everybody still spying on everybody.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 76.

    75.
    ship-of-fools
    "UK film possibility: Carry on Spying, how about it Eton-boy?"

    I think the Blair boy was in charge at the time , check your intelligence

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 75.

    Oh dear, Q? Put on the pointy dunce's hat and stand in the corner throughout tea-break. Even our "intelligence" agencies (a more than generous description to say the least) must be amongst the most inept and mediocre in the world. Oh well, I did think that SPOOKS was too good to be true, more an aspiration than a reflection of reality.

    UK film possibility: Carry on Spying, how about it Eton-boy?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 74.

    So long as Putin doesn't suspect the microphone in the legs of his office chair this rock is expendable?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 73.

    Good grief this news is 6 years old: what purpose does it serve dredging it up now.

    In any case, I would be much more concerned if we weren't trying to spy on the Russians.

 

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