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It's a Scandal!': Russia Irate After U.K. Allegedly Hacks Foreign Diplomats' Phones, Email
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Belfast International Airport on June 17, 2013 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo: Getty Images)

It's a Scandal!': Russia Irate After U.K. Allegedly Hacks Foreign Diplomats' Phones, Email

Plus: Russia claims U.S. was involved

LONDON (TheBlaze/AP) -- The Russian government is outraged after the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ allegedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and email when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even setting up a bugged Internet cafe in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations, according to a report by the U.K. Guardian.

Outraged Russian officials claimed Monday that their delegations have been snooped on for years.

"It's a scandal! The U.S. and British special services tapped [then President Dmitry] Medvedev's phone at the 2009 G-20 summit. The U.S. denies it, but we can't trust them," Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected chief of foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russian parliament, wrote on his Twitter feed Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Belfast International Airport on June 17, 2013 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo: Getty Images)

Russian media is also doling out equal blame to the United States as the United Kingdom.  Russia Today contributor Afshin Rattansi claimed the U.K. has long served as a surveillance platform for the U.S.

"The largest spying outfit of the United States is here in Britain," he commented.  "Perhaps the British people will realize that they are living in a state where their media and all institutions surrounding them, all industrial aspects of the civic society are under a kind of surveillance state that is not being covered in the news.”

The Guardian cited more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ's intelligence operations, which it says involved, among other things, hacking into the South African foreign ministry's computer network, targeting the Turkish delegation at the 2009 Group of 20 summit in London and using the vast spying base at northern England's Menwith Hill to monitor the satellite communications of Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev.

Turkey and South Africa have already demanded an investigation, Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying "such (an) act by an allied country would clearly be deemed unacceptable."

"British authorities are expected to present an official and satisfactory explanation on this issue," his statement continued.

It wasn't completely clear how Snowden would have had access to the British intelligence documents, although one Guardian article says source material was drawn from a top-secret internal network shared by GCHQ and the NSA.  British academic Richard J. Aldrich, who wrote a book on the history of the British agency, said he wouldn't be surprised if the GCHQ material came from a shared network accessed by Snowden.  The NSA and GCHQ collaborate so closely that in some areas the two agencies effectively operated as one, he said.

This June 9, 2013 photo provided by The Guardian newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the U.S. National Security Agency, in Hong Kong. (Photo: AP)

One purported document cited by the Guardian appeared to boast of GCHQ's tapping into smartphones, saying spies "exploited this use at the G-20 meetings last year."

Another document cited GCHQ's use of a customized Internet cafe which was "able to extract key logging info, providing creds (credentials) for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished." No further details were given, but the reference to key logging suggested that computers at the cafe would have been pre-installed with malicious software designed to spy on key strokes, steal passwords and eavesdrop on emails.

"It's a bit `Mission Impossible,'" Aldrich commented.

From right, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, US President Barack Obama and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy attend a media conference regarding EU-US trade at the G-8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland on Monday, June 17, 2013. (Photo: AP)

The report - the latest in a series of revelations igniting a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering - came just hours before Britain was due to open the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland on Monday, a meeting of the world's leading economies that include Russia. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward (at a minimum) conversation as the delegates tackle the issues of Syria, taxes and free trade.

"The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable," Aldrich said.

Prime Minister David Cameron declined to address the issue at the summit.

"We never comment on security or intelligence issues and I am not about to start now," he said. "I don't make comments on security or intelligence issues. That would be breaking something that no government has previously done."

GCHQ also declined to comment on the report.

Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa's foreign ministry, said on his Twitter feed that "the matter is receiving attention."


Vladimir Isachenkov in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.



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