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`Spy rock` was genuine, says UK ex-official

The "spy rock" row that damaged relations between Britain and Russia in early 2006 was not a work of fiction after all.

London: The "spy rock" row that damaged relations between Britain and Russia in early 2006 was not a work of fiction after all. British agents had placed an artificial rock with a transmitter inside next to a Russian street to steal data.

Britain initially laughed off accusations from Moscow that spies had been caught "red-handed" using the fake rock to contact agents and download sensitive information.

Now six years on, former British Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell has admitted that the "embarrassing" episode was true, the Daily Mail reported Thursday.

In an interview broadcast on Putin, Russia and the West, a BBC Two series, which starts Thursday night, he said: "There`s not much you can say. The spy rock was embarrassing."

Vladimir Putin, then Russian president, claimed the groups were being funded by Western government agencies.

A video, which appeared at the time to be an effort to frame the British, showed men alleged to be British agents walking past the rock located next to a Moscow street.

One clip showed one of the men kicking the device, possibly because it had malfunctioned, while another British diplomat was seen picking up the football-sized rock and walking away with it.

The Russian intelligence service broadcast close-ups and X-rays of a hollowed-out rock filled with circuitry and accused four British men and one Russian of using a transmitter inside to download information onto palmtop computer.

They claimed the informant could wirelessly store information in the rock where it was retrievable by the British agents.
But then British Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to play down the allegations, smiling as he told journalists: "I think the less said about that, the better."


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