Did Russia spy on G-20 by handing out free thumb drives?

posted at 2:41 pm on October 31, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

It can’t be this easy, can it? The espionage spotlight shifted abruptly from US surveillance on allies to Russian snooping on fellow G-20 members in St. Petersburg last month.  According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Russians handed out swag bags to the ministers at the conference that included teddy bears, diaries, thumb drives, and smartphone cables.  The latter two, however, were later found to have some intriguing modifications:

According to the paper, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, had a debriefing with security officials after returning from St. Petersburg. The report was swiftly picked up by news agencies and newspapers in other countries.

The security team then conducted an examination of the thumb drives, which the Russians distributed as gifts to the 300 foreign delegates, who also received stuffed teddy bears, cups, diaries and cables to connect smartphones with computers, the Italian paper reported. Later, the European Council’s security office sent a report to Group of 20 participants, warning that some of the USB drives, as well as the cables, appeared to have been tampered with, Corriere della Sera said.

The European officials then handed the devices to German intelligence services, which conducted more tests and concluded that the sabotaged electronic equipment could be used to intercept data from computers and mobile phones. Corriere della Sera also reported that Italian secret service agents were still examining some of the devices distributed to Italy’s delegation.

In Brussels, a media official in Mr. Rompuy’s office declined to comment on Wednesday. “There are always measures in place to protect the infrastructure of the council and, as a rule, there is a cooperation with member states,” said the official, Nicolas Kerleroux. “But we won’t comment on any specific matter.”

No one at the conference was dumb enough to actually use them, were they? Or did they just figure that the country that has been run by a former KGB official for more than a decade could be trusted not to snoop on them now that they’re all friends?  After all, Putin gave Edward Snowden asylum for exposing those rotten Americans for collecting foreign signals intelligence with an agency that shares the collection with, er, most of the people in the room.  Or something.

On the other hand, we have to appreciate the old-school spycraft that went into this effort.  The US can tap into the Internet any time they like and has the resources for the brute-force method of data mining. Hiding devices in swag bags … that has the authentic ring of the Bond era, no?

Speaking of Snowden, he has a new gig:

Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer for former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, says his client has found a technical support job at a Russian website.

Kucherena told the RIA Novosti news agency Thursday that Snowden starts his new job on Friday. Kucherena declined to name the company that has hired Snowden but says it’s a major Russian website.

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?


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