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

SAP Business Analyst - Data Migration, £75,000, Manchester

£60000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP B...

SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: MS Dynamics NAV...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lyceum Theatre in the West End  

The West End might be beating Broadway, but think about who it is that can afford to fill the seats

Rosie Millard
 

L’Unita: The venerable organ of Italian communism breathes its last

Peter Popham
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star