Just how much spying are the Russians doing?

The US blamed Russia for a leak of a phone call involving a US assistant secretary of state, while a top Kremlin official said Russia had video of Sochi reporters' hotel bathrooms.

By , Staff writer

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    Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland leaves after a news conference at the US embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday. Ms. Nuland's telephone conversation about the political crisis in Ukraine was leaked on the Internet – which the US blamed on Russia.
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An intercepted telephone call in which the top American official in Europe essentially tells the European Union to “stuff it” on Ukraine – but in far less diplomatic terms – is certainly damaging for its content.

But the source behind the interception could become the more pressing story, as the Olympic Games in Sochi kick off today: The US is blaming it on Russia.

Recommended: How well do you know the world of spying? Take our CIA and NSA quiz.

The telephone call from last month, between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, was first covered in the media by the Kyiv Post, and captures exasperation on the part of Ms. Nuland at the way the EU had, to date, sought to end the increasingly violent standoff.

Nuland apologized for her remarks, but the US had harsh words for Russia. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it a “new low” in Russian “tradecraft,” according to a transcript of the press conference.

The recording was subtitled in Russian and released on YouTube anonymously. But according to Ms. Psaki, an aide to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin then tweeted in English: “Sort of controversial judgment from Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland speaking about the EU,” according to Bloomberg. The aide later denied that Russia had any role in the video's release, and said he found it on a social networking site, reports the Associated Press.

But "the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government. I think it says something about Russia's role," White House spokesman Jay Carney said to NBC.

The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy adds that it also says something about the US role as well. While he notes that the recording "could have been easily edited to make it appear the participants were saying things they weren't saying," it also "is a reminder of the disconnect between US government assurances that it doesn't meddle in nations' internal politics and its actual behavior."

"This was not a conversation analyzing unfolding events and how to respond to what comes next," Mr. Murphy writes. "This was about molding a situation according to US interests."

Many newspapers made immediate comparisons between these snooping allegations and that of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has released information revealing widespread American spying on its allies across the globe. Mr. Snowden is currently in Russia, after being granted asylum from US prosecution.

But it’s from Russia that stories of surveillance are currently emanating, as the Olympic Games open today.

The latest stir is from Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, in describing Russian claims that western visitors are intentionally trying to sabotage the success of the event. "We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall, and then leave the room for the whole day," he said, as The Wall Street Journal recorded it.

Officials quickly attempted to backpedal from the statement, but not before headlines around the world asked if shower-time would be under Russian state surveillance.

According to the Journal:

A spokesman for Mr. Kozak later on Thursday said there is absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests. He said there was surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi's venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing. A senior official at a company that built a number of the hotels also said there is no such surveillance in rooms occupied by guests.

But what you say in your hotel room will likely be listened to, according to a story in the Monitor by Mark Clayton yesterday.

“Unlike any other Olympics, including in Beijing and London, digital and other communications transmissions during the Sochi Games are expected to be virtually transparent to Russian intelligence,” cyber security experts told him.

“It’s not ‘if’ your conversation is being monitored. It definitely is – so be wise what you say over the phone,” Drew Porter, senior cybersecurity analyst with Bishop Fox, a US-based corporate cybersecurity consulting firm, said. “Remember that your conversations over phones and Internet-connected devices are no longer private.”

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