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Bond-style plot rocks Russia

Moscow, Jan. 23 (Reuters): Russia accused Britain today of running a James Bond-style spying operation in Moscow using a receiver hidden in a fake rock to gather secret information, and said it had been caught “red-handed” funding pressure groups.

A programme aired on state television said four British diplomats used a hi-tech version of the “dead letter drop” of spy novel fame ' a dummy rock by the roadside that could receive information electronically and beam it to a hand-held computer on demand.

But the head of a human rights group named in the programme said its underlying target might be just such non-governmental pressure group (NGOs), whose activities were curbed by a law signed this month by President Vladimir Putin.

The FSB state security service said the spies, working as diplomats at the British embassy, had been caught funding NGOs ' but did not explain why this was illegal.

“The most important thing is that we caught them red-handed while they were in contact with their agents (and established) that they were financing some non-governmental organisations,” FSB chief spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said.

The new law bans foreign funding of any NGO with “political purposes”, though it does not spell out what this means. However, it would not apply to this case since the spying was alleged to have taken place before the law was approved.

Putin, himself a former KGB spy, has said the West is using NGOs as political instruments ' meaning they are being employed to foment unrest of the sort that brought down the pro-Moscow establishment in Ukraine in December 2004.

In London, the foreign office denied allegations of spying and said Britain was open in its support of Russian NGO projects “in the field of human rights and civil society”.

In an episode that recalled the dark days of the Cold War, Rossiya TV named four British diplomats as spies, including one who it said was Moscow station head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.

The British embassy declined comment on their whereabouts. A former Russian spy said the programme was sure to be following a political agenda.

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