US envoy wonders how Russian TV knows his schedule

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2012 5:23 PM
US envoy wonders how Russian TV knows his schedule

The U.S. ambassador to Russia is perplexed over how a government-controlled television station seems to know his every move and concerned that his email and phone calls may be intercepted.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Michael McFaul said he encounters crews from the NTV channel wherever he goes.

"Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?" he wrote.

In another, he asked: "do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?"

NTV, which is owned by an arm of the state natural gas monopoly, this month aired a documentary-style program claiming that participants in recent anti-government protests are paid U.S. agents.

An NTV spokesman said the presence of crews "is explained by a wide network of informers," according to the Interfax news agency. The station's spokespeople could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, the station showed video of McFaul and its reporters verbally sparring as he arrived for a meeting with Lev Ponomarev, one of Russia's most prominent human rights activists. In the five-minute clip, the reporter peppers him with questions about his meeting and after answering, McFaul complains about their following him.

"Your ambassador in our country goes around all the time without this sort of thing, not interfering in his work. You're with me everywhere, at home _ it's interesting. Aren't you ashamed to be doing this? It's an insult to your country when you do this," McFaul said in Russian, smiling but clearly irritated.

He later asks the reporters how they know where he will be, to which they don't reply.

Governments like the U.S. and Russia do keep close tabs on their officials and their whereabouts.

McFaul has previously come under sharp disdain from state media and elsewhere.

Shortly after taking up his post in mid-January, Channel One state television aired a program describing him as a "specialist in the promotion of democracy" who came to Russia to organize "a revolution." As a Stanford University professor, McFaul wrote extensively on fostering democracy.

Vladimir Putin's campaign for the presidency, which he won in elections on March 4, was marked by heightened anti-U.S. rhetoric that was in sharp contrast to the mollifying tone that had taken hold as the Obama administration pursued its initiative to "reset" relations with Russia. McFaul was a principal architect of that initiative.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner aimed to play down the journalist controversy, saying of the tweets "I think it was simply a rhetorical question he was asking."

He said the embassy has not raised the issue with the Russian government and that he did not know if McFaul's tweets were specifically directed toward the government.

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Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this story.