Leading article: No Russian stone unturned

Share
Related Topics

Six years on, it turns out that British secret agents in Moscow really did use a plastic rock in a park to spy on Russia in 2006, despite attempts by the government to dismiss the story at the time. We should not be surprised. Preposterous as it seems, the more improbable the charge, the more likely it is to be true in the sometimes schoolboy world of spying.

The James Bond-style bug consisted of a transmitter in a fake rock; as they passed by, Russian double-agents could download messages from palm-held computers. British spies could collect them in the same way. It was a hi-tech variation on the "dead letter drop". The problem occurred when the technology failed.

Covert operatives from the British embassy, little knowing that the FSB, successor to the KGB, had the "rock" under surveillance, were filmed walking past it. One was filmed giving sly kicks to see if a bit of old technology, the boot, could jolt the sophisticated device into working again. The clip was shown on Russian television, as was one of another British diplomat picking up the rock and walking off with it.

But if there is something absurd about this episode, so there is too about the fact that, according to MI5, Russia has as many agents based in Britain now as at the height of the Cold War. And presumably the West reciprocates, though Russia is far from the primary threat it was in the days of the nuclear stand-off.

All this has consequences. In 2006, the exposure of Britain's secret agents in Moscow was used by then President Putin to reinforce his campaign for new legislation against the foreign funding of Russian NGOs, and specifically those dealing with human rights and democracy. It also fed into a general deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West.

Now the climate is improving, the carry-on continues, with Nikolai Kovalyov, a former FSB head and now a Russian MP, interpreting the admission as a subtle attempt from London at a diplomatic rapprochement – even though it came in an interview recorded a while back for a new BBC documentary. If this is how Russia wants to see it, that does no harm. But it is high time that schoolboy spies, on both sides, grew up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic / Plant Fitter

£24000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Lancashire based engineeri...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Hollywood: Stop trying to make Superman cool. The world needs a boy scout in blue

Matthew James
A man enjoys the  

If you really want to legalise cannabis, then why on earth would you go and get high in a park?

Peter Reynolds
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders