This past November, in a thorough security scan of the British royal family’s residence, it was determined that a samovar which had been presented as a gift to the Queen by the Russians more than twenty years ago might possibly be harboring surveillance devices, leading to its removal from the premises.
The need for security for the British royal family is indisputable, but the whole thing strikes me as a little absurd. I lack professional expertise in Cold War spy technology, but I find it highly unlikely that any hidden and tiny electronic audio transmission device could function for twenty years in any capacity. I also find it unlikely that a samovar would be chosen as a good spy cover. If the royal family were to use it for brewing tea, which it appears they did not, the surrounding environment would be moist, hot and noisy, hostile working conditions for any spy bug. And what the story really leads me to question is why they did not simply disassemble the electronic components and check them. Aside from that, why didn’t someone suspect it in the eighties at the height of the Cold War? I would have thought that paranoia surrounding big brass from the USSR would have been higher than now.
“The ornate 2ft samovar was presented to the monarch around 20 years ago, and had been kept in the corner of a drawing room on the Aberdeenshire estate.
But now British anti-surveillance experts have insisted that it be removed, amid fears that its arcane Eastern Bloc wiring could contain a listening device.
Any bug inside the teapot could have picked up details of the Queen’s conversations with prime ministers and other world leaders, as well as private discussions between members of the Royal Family.”
None of the articles I found showed any pictures of the suspect tea brewing device, but I assume that it was the standard large brass traditional type, although it could have been one of the garishly over-decorated enamel varieties. In either case, it was probably manufactured by Tula Samovars, one of the primary manufacturers in Russia for the past few centuries.
“The samovar was always a bit of an enigma. No one could work out what the Russians thought we were going to do with it,” a retainer told the Daily Express.
“No one considered it a security risk until a recent sweep by these spooks with their electronic devices. They swept everywhere imaginable, public and private rooms, and the first thing to go was the samovar.”
Here is the source article, on the Telegraph.
Countering the claim, “Mikhail Lyubimov, who served in the Russian secret services in Britain for several decades, has dismissed the reports, saying that the alleged bugging method was ineffective and useless.”
I’d be more than willing to take this samovar off of Balmoral’s hands and keep it safely far away from the royal family. I’ve been shopping for a samovar of this type and vintage for some time and haven’t found one that is perfect or affordable yet. I could rewire it to accommodate 110 volt U.S. current and sell any Soviet bugging devices that I find on eBay.
Here is an article on the same topic on the ESET security blog, in which the writer expresses a skepticism similar to mine.