Fake Rock ScandalReferring to the incident as “embarrassing,” a former British government official now admits that a fake rock found by Russian authorities in a Moscow park back in 2006 hid a communications device planted by spies.

“They had us bang to rights,” says Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, using a British euphemism for being caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar. “Clearly, they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.”

The documentary “Putin, Russia and the West”, which is ¬†scheduled to begin airing Thursday on the BBC, includes Powell saying, “The spy rock was embarrassing.”

Video had aired at the time of Russian agents inspecting the rock, along with footage showing the device being taken apart to reveal sensitive communications equipment inside.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin then began a crackdown on foreign-funded organizations, saying they were a ruse for Western intervention in Russia’s affairs.

Espionage scandals were commonplace among British-Russian relations during the Cold War. Although they are less frequent today, ties between the two countries have been strained in recent years by allegations of secret operations.

Tony Brenton, who was a British ambassador to Moscow at the time of the incident, said on BBC radio yesterday that te fake rock scandal was “a considerable headache.”

“It was unfortunate that one of the people involved was also dealing with our relations with Russian nongovernmental organizations and therefore the Russians were able to use the rock incident to launch accusations against the support we were giving to Russian nongovernmental organizations,” he said.

Brenton said British-Russian relations were deteriorating and the incident “led us down the route which led us to the [Alexander] Litvinenko murder ‚Ķ to attacks on me personally” and other issues.

In November 2006, Litvinenko, a former Russian security service officer who had gone on to become an investigative journalist, died in a hospital in London of radiation poisoning.

His reports had targeted corruption in the Russian government. On his death bed, he accused Putin of orchestrating his poisoning.