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Phone chargers given to world leaders by G20 Russian hosts ‘were able to capture data for the Kremlin’

  • The revelation came after Germany’s  secret service investigated the devices
  • It warned that they were ‘trojan horses’  capable of fishing for information
  • Warnings have gone out to every  government that received them

By  Hannah Roberts In Rome

PUBLISHED: 08:53 EST, 29  October 2013 |  UPDATED: 09:53 EST, 29 October 2013

America’s NSA spy agency has been under fire  from around the world for its surveillance activity over the past few  months.

Now the Russians are facing criticism for  some allegedly shady operations, too.

It’s claimed that USB drives and phone  chargers, given to world leaders at the G20 summit in Russia were ‘Trojan  horses’ capable of sending data back to the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin welcomes David Cameron for the G20 summit - but were phone charger gifts at the event actually spying devices? 

Vladimir Putin welcomes David Cameron for the G20 summit  – but were phone charger gifts at the event actually spying devices?

 

David Cameron did not receive one of the USB  sticks, Downing Street insisted.

But No 10 did not rule out the possibility  that officials were given one of the pen drives that is said to have contained a  Trojan horse programme allowing sensitive documents stored on laptops to be  accessed.

German secret services reportedly discovered  that the gadgets, given out to all delegates at the meeting of world leaders in  St Petersburg last month, were able to retrieve data for use by the  Russians.

Warnings are said to have gone out to all  participating governments, urging them to ‘take every possible  precaution’.

The sensational allegations were made by the  Italian newspapers La Stampa and Corriere della Sera, quoting EU diplomatic  sources.

The alarm was apparently first raised by EU  President Herman Van Rompuy, who was suspicious of the Russians’  gifts.

Within a few days of his return from the  conference, President Van Rompuy asked security officials in Brussels to check  out the contraptions. They then decided to call in the help of Germans, who  confirmed their fears, the sources told Italian media.

The immediate response from technicians in  Bonn sent shockwaves throughout diplomatic and security services of half the  world.

‘Early analysis showed the USB drive and  mobile phone charging cables gifted by the Russians to be Trojan horses-  instruments capable of capturing data from computers and mobile phones,’ sources  told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Controversial charges: It's claimed that the Russians gave world leaders devices that could read data 

Controversial charges: It’s claimed that the Russians  gave world leaders devices that could read data (stock image)

 

The attempted surveillance operation is one  of the simplest but most audacious exposed since the end of the Cold  War.

Official communication sent to intelligence  channels in all participating States explained that ‘the USB stick and power  cables are suitable for the illegal collection of data on computers and cell  phones.’, the newspaper reported.

‘We urge you to take every possible  precaution if these items have been used and if not to entrust them to the  security structures for further inspection.’

The G20 conference in September took place in  a climate of great diplomatic tension between Russia and the West.

Only weeks before, the Kremlin had granted  asylum to Datagate fugitive Edward Snowden, wanted for leaking security  information about US surveillance to the Guardian.

At the same time, the US and France were at  loggerheads with Russia over intervention in Syria.

The conference began on September 5 with  world leaders meeting at Stelna, outside St Petersburg in the Constantine  Palace. Security was impenetrable.

Presided over by Russian President Vladimir  Putin, G20 leaders in attendance included Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Francois  Hollande, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Italian Prime Minister Enrico  Letta as well as the leaders of China, Argentina, Brazil and invited leaders  such as Mariano Rajoy of Spain.

All attendees, including delegation leaders  are believed to have received the gifts, although it is not known if they were  used before the warning went out.

Russia’s powerful spymasters have already  benefited from the global secrets pouring in from Western  whistleblowers.

Over the past five years, material such as  the Wikileaks cache including 250,000 leaked embassy cables and nearly 500,000  Pentagon documents, and now the Snowden leaks, have exposed techniques used to  keep the UK safe and put the lives of security services operatives and their  families at risk.

In 2011 Canadian naval officer Lt. Jeffery  Delisle was revealed to have sold Russian military agents some of the UK’s most  closely guarded defence and intelligence secrets.

Only a week ago Russia was forced to deny  claims that the head of a Russian government-run cultural exchange programme  tried to recruit young Americans as intelligence assets. An embassy official in  Washington said: ‘It’s a shame that echoes of the cold war are heard in  Russian-American relations from time to time.’

Who knows what: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for a review of all spying programs after world leaders found out they were subject to NSA protocols 

Who knows what: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the  chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for a review of all  spying programs after world leaders found out they were subject to NSA  protocols

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland: The government agency has allegedly been spying on European leaders 

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort  Meade, Maryland: The government agency has allegedly been spying on European  leaders

As a result of the NSA scandal,  meanwhile,  Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the chairwoman of the Senate  Intelligence Committee, called for a ‘total review of all intelligence programs’  after it was reported that the agency had been collecting phone records for  dozens of allied leaders.

‘The White House has informed me that  collection on our allies will not continue, which I support,’ Feinstein said  Monday.

‘But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs  to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the  committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection  programs.’

Fresh anger over the NSA’s activities erupted  this week when Spanish media reported that the NSA monitored tens of millions of  phone calls in Spain between December 2012 and early 2013.

The NSA allegedly gathered intelligence on 60  million phone calls made in Spain, which included callers’ numbers and  locations, but not conversations, it was claimed in reports based on leaked  information from Snowden.

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