MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia’s intelligence service said that it had uncovered a spying ring involving four diplomats from the British embassy.
“Four British diplomats are suspected. I am not ready to give their names yet, but this is all being investigated,” a Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman told AFP.
The alleged spying ring was uncovered late last year, according to a documentary on state-run Rossiya television late Sunday, which was made in cooperation with the FSB.
In a twist worthy of the most elaborate spy novel, Russian counter-intelligence discovered a high-tech communications point disguised in a stone left on the ground in the outskirts of Moscow, the FSB spokesman said.
The FSB said one of the diplomats, identified as a 30-year-old archivist, was seen near the stone, which was allegedly fulfilling the traditional spying function of a letter-box or dead drop, in the autumn of last year.
“At first we thought this was a normal, typical secret drop-off point camouflaged under a stone. However, later when our specialists carried out their investigation it became clear that the stone contained an electronic device,” an FSB officer told Rossiya television.
The stone allegedly contained equipment able both to receive and transmit information, the officer said. “This was absolutely new spy technology.”
Rossiya television said that Russian informants would leave or retrieve information by passing near the stone and transmitting from a pocket personal computer. Days later, a British diplomat would allegedly visit the stone and access the same system.
One Russian citizen connected to the alleged ring had been arrested, Rossiya said.
According to Rossiya, one of the British diplomats was “linked to several Russian non-governmental organisations.”
NGOs and charities operating in Russia with foreign backing have come under growing pressure from the authorities amid accusations that they are covers for spies. A controversial new law has extended the authorities’ control over NGOs.
In London, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are concerned and surprised at these allegations. We reject any allegation of improper conduct in our dealing with Russian NGOs.
“It is well known that the UK government has financially supported projects implemented by Russian NGOs in the field of human rights and civil society.
“All our assistance is given openly and aims to support the development of a healthy civil society in Russia.”