ROME/MOSCOW — Russia has denied reports that its intelligence services spied on hundreds of foreign delegates at a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg in September using gifts such as teddy bears, diaries and free USB keys.
Quoting a report from the European Council's security office to Italian intelligence services, Italy's Corriere della Sera daily has reported this week that at least 300 such devices were issued at the Sept. 5-6 summit and were revealed to be spy gear during security debriefing sessions last month.
The report fuels controversy over international espionage after reports that U.S. intelligence services had conducted telephone surveillance of allied countries and leaders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he did not know what the source of the latest allegations was.
“This is undoubtedly nothing but an attempt to shift the focus from issues that truly exist in relations between European capitals and Washington to unsubstantiated, non-existent issues,” he was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.
Tension between the United States and its allies has grown over reports that European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been spied on by U.S. intelligence services.
According to Corriere della Sera, a regular debriefing with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and other EU delegates revealed they had been given souvenir USB keys and cables to connect smartphones with personal computers.
It said EU officials alerted German intelligence services which conducted detailed tests on the devices.
“These are devices adapted to the clandestine interception of data from computers and mobile telephones,” the newspaper quoted an initial report as saying.
Daily La Stampa newspaper said the devices showed “anomalies” and signs of “manipulation” but it was not certain how much information had been collected by Russian spies.
The reports appear to show a more traditional pattern of intelligence gathering than the reported U.S. snooping.
The Guardian newspaper reported in July that British intelligence services had spied on G20 delegates at a summit in 2009, tricking some delegates into using free internet cafes apparently set up for their benefit.