Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff says Britain did use intelligence equipment disguised as a rock to spy on Russia despite attempts by the government to dismiss the story at the time. In an interview broadcast as part of Brook Lapping's series Putin, Russia And The West, starting tonight (Thursday) on BBC Two at 9pm, Jonathan Powell also describes the spy rock episode as ‘embarrassing’.
The revelation comes after years of uncertainty about the circumstances behind a video released in 2006 by the Russian government, featuring a ‘spy rock’ which they claimed was being used by British spies in Russia.
The video shows a man walking on a street along the pavement, slowing his pace, glancing at a rock and after a second, picking up his pace. Next the camera films another man, who walks by and picks up the rock.
Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, in 2006 accused British agents of storing and exchanging classified information using this fake rock on a Russian street.
It appeared that the British had been framed, but the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff at the time, Jonathan Powell, reveals that the footage was genuine.
He tells Brook Lapping’s BBC series Putin, Russia And The West: “There’s not much you can say. The spy rock was embarrassing. They, they, I mean they had us bang to rights. Clearly they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.”
Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time, refused to comment on the allegations in 2006 saying: “I’m afraid you’re gonna get the old stock in trade of never commenting on security matters. Except when we want to, obviously.”
The Russian government used the incident to help justify a new law cracking down on human rights and pro-democracy groups, which Putin said were funded by Western secret services.
Putin said at the time: "I want to stress that this law had been adopted to stop foreign powers interfering in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation."
Notes to Editors
Putin, Russia And The West is a four-part BBC Current Affairs commission from Brook Lapping Productions, delving into the West’s fraught relationship with Russia since the turn of the millennium.
The series is produced by acclaimed documentary maker Norma Percy and the Brook Lapping team that made the multi-award winning documentaries The Death Of Yugoslavia, The Second Russian Revolution and Iran & The West.
Norma Percy is known for her insightful way of telling the behind-the-scenes stories of significant political moments through interviews with prominent people. It was her BBC Two series Israel And The Arabs: Elusive Peace (2005) that revealed that President George W Bush had told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq - and create a Palestinian State, attracting headlines around the world.
In Putin, Russia And The West, Putin’s top colleagues and Western statesmen tell the inside story of the past decade, from the grip that Russia has tried to keep on the former Soviet countries to the clamp down on human rights and the diplomatic efforts to cut nuclear arms.
Key interviews include Putin’s first Prime Minister, his Foreign, Defence and Economy ministers, as well as Presidents of Georgia, Ukraine and Poland. The West’s side of events is told by, amongst others, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Robert Gates, David Miliband and Gerhard Schröder.