Fake Rock Scandal
January 22, 2012 by staff
Fake Rock Scandal, An image broadcast by Russian state-run Rossiya TV in January 2006 shows an x-ray image of the rock, with transmitter.
It was the moment that British spycraft became the laughing stock of Russia. The decision by MI6 to place a fake rock rigged with a hidden transmitter to communicate with agents in Moscow was more Johnny English than James Bond, with Russian state-run television airing a programme dissecting the rock with x-rays and showing grainy footage of British diplomats giving it a gentle kick when it seemed to be out of order.
Thursday’s admission by Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to the then prime minister, Tony Blair, that the rock was indeed the work of British intelligence might seem like a small footnote in history to a forgotten scandal. But inside Russia there was a bigger game at play.
“The spy rock was embarrassing they had us bang to rights,” Powell told BBC2 in its new documentary series Putin, Russia and the West. The Kremlin had known about the rock “for some time, and had been saving it up for a political purpose”, he added.
That political purpose emerged two days after the scandal came to light when Vladimir Putin, then president, said: “It has now become clear to many why Russia passed a law regulating NGO activities.”
Less than two weeks earlier Putin had quietly signed a new law tightening state control over non-governmental organisations, including clauses that gave the government power to shut them down and force greater monitoring of foreign funding. The new regulations followed pro-democracy revolutions in neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine, which Russia argued were orchestrated by the west via foreign-funded NGOs.
The new law, Putin explained, was “designed to block foreign governments from interfering in the internal politics of the Russian Federation”. Critics said it was the latest step in Putin’s growing authoritarianism, a further crackdown on Russia’s struggling civil society. International organisations loudly condemned the law.
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