In what seems more like a plot from a spy novel rather than an actual intelligence operation, Britain’s MI6 is said to have hatched the plan together with the United States’ CIA and Israel’s Mossad.
British spies have smuggled Russian strategic defence secrets in a tea bag on board a Venezuela-bound supersonic bomber, the Daily Mail reports.
The purported goal was to obtain information about the newest version of Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO code name Blackjack) strategic bomber, which they were afraid could become an elusive target for existing interceptors in case of a potential conflict.
After finding a communicant, MI6 agents reportedly stashed the precious information about the upgrades in a packet of Russian loose leaf tea. It was not revealed, however, whether the secrets were stored on an electronic storage device or the agents simply wanted to do some tea-leaf reading.
The secrets were then to be handed over to intelligence services.
The tea bag somehow made its way on board of one of the two Tu-160s (the same aircraft that MI6 wanted to learn more about) that Russia sent to Caracas last December to conduct drills with the Venezuelan Air Force.
The Russian crew unwittingly used the packet during the flight to Venezuela and then threw it away. The Daily Mail cited an anonymous intelligence official as claiming that an agent retrieved the discarded tea bag from a rubbish disposal point while the plane was refuelling at an airport near Caracas, and then handed it over to a CIA officer who was staying at a hotel in the capital.
“That it worked was due, in no small part, to luck, but such is the way with many operations,” the source was quoted as saying.
While there has been no official confirmation of this “operation” from any of the agencies apparently involved, it is claimed that Western air forces have used the information to adapt their interceptors to better deal with the upgraded Blackjacks.