January 26, 2006

Russia marvels at high-tech British “spy stone”

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A fake stone alleged to have been used
by British spies to communicate with Moscow agents was a
"wonder" of technology that cost tens of millions of pounds
(dollars), Russia's FSB security service said on Thursday.

FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko praised the high-tech spy
stone, which would look at home in a James Bond film, and
listed its extraordinary qualities.

The stone was revealed by the FSB on Sunday in a television
program that apparently showed four British spies using it as a
dead letter drop.

"This is like space technology in its qualities. You could
throw this stone from the 9th floor, it can survive a long
period in water, it has several different kinds of defense,"
Ignatchenko said in televised comments.

"According to our experts' assessments, this device costs
several tens of millions of pounds. You could only create this
technological wonder in laboratory conditions."

Britain has not admitted the Russian charges, and President
Vladimir Putin has said he is undecided on whether to expel the
group - as is traditional for diplomats caught in espionage.

Ignatchenko said the stone was one of two used to secretly
store data that was detected by the Russians, and that the
other one had been removed by the British before the FSB had
decided what to do with it.

Although some observers giggled about the spat, especially
scenes that apparently showed a British spy kicking the stone
to try to make it work, human rights groups say it is serious.

The FSB accused the British not only of spying but also of
funding non-governmental organizations (NGOs), although it was
unclear how the two charges were connected.

The suggestions were damaging for NGOs just days after the
final approval of tough new curbs on them, which will give
security services and tax authorities broad oversight over
activists' activities.

Putin had backed the law despite the curbs being criticized
in the West, and on Wednesday he said the spy spat showed the
law was necessary and would stop spies infiltrating Russian
society in future.