MOSCOW, January 23 (RIA Novosti) - The British Foreign Office has rejected allegations made in a Russian television program that its diplomats were engaged in espionage in the Russia.
Reacting to a program shown on the Rossiya television channel on Sunday night, the Foreign Office said it was "concerned and surprised" by the allegations that individuals had gained access to classified data by using a high-tech piece of equipment disguised as a rock.
The Special Correspondent program on the state television channel featured interviews with people who claimed to be representatives of Russia's domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB). In echoes of the Cold War, they said that British agents had planted a transmitter in an imitation rock on a Moscow street to record classified computer data, which was later downloaded by British embassy officials. The allegations in the program were made based on a recording made by a FSB hidden camera.
The program also alleged that Marc Doe, a first secretary, had been authorizing regular payments to Russian non-governmental organizations. Several documents signed by him were shown as evidence of cash payments to NGOs operating in Moscow, including 23,000 pounds (about $40,000) to the Moscow Helsinki Group, and 5,719 pounds ($9,700) to one more organization, the Eurasia Foundation. Another document signed by Doe, a 27-year-old graduate of Durham University, contained information on cash payments under an obscure project for establishing schools of public inspectors in remote areas of Siberia and Russia's Far East.
Apart from Doe, the program said embassy officials Christopher Pirt, 30, and Paul Cronton, were also involved in espionage, as was 32-year-old researcher Andre Fleming.
FSB spokesperson Diana Shemyakina said thousands of NGOs were currently working in Russia, of which only 92 are officially registered by the Justice Ministry. Most of them were founded and provided with funds by the U.S. government and public organizations, and by its NATO allies, she added.
The role of NGOS has been under the microscope in Russia since "revolutions" in other former Soviet republics brought new authorities to power amid allegations of external funding and interference. A controversial new law was passed at the end of last year placing certain restrictions on foreign organizations.
The Foreign Office said that some well-publicized payments had been made to human rights activist in a bid to help a "healthy" civil society develop. "We reject any allegations of improper conduct in our dealing with Russian NGOs," it said.
The Russian political elite has been seeking to establish a civil society in Russia and the television program coincided with the election Sunday of top officials to the Public Chamber, a watchdog set up by the president to act as a bridge between the legislative and executive branches and the public.
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