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28 Feb, 2024 16:06

Moscow responds to claims US intel attempted to track Putin

The Kremlin’s spokesman has said he’s unaware of cellphone-signal operations detailed in a recent book by reporter Byron Tau
Moscow responds to claims US intel attempted to track Putin

Moscow is unaware of any US tracking operations aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, described in a recent exposé, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has stated. Former Wall Street Journal reporter Byron Tau claims that a novel surveillance tool was used to harvest geolocation data from the cellphones of people close to the Russian head of state, and in this way to infer the president’s actual location.

Excerpts from Tau’s book, titled ‘Means of Control: How the Hidden Alliance of Tech and Government Is Creating a New American Surveillance State,’ were cited by Wired on Tuesday. The account describes how a researcher, specializing in “obtaining unique data sets for government agencies,” came up with a tool that enabled near real-time tracking of individual devices’ location within a given area.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Peskov said that the Kremlin was not aware of any such surveillance directed at the Russian president. The official also noted that Russian authorities do not know what the allegations made by Tau are based on.

Peskov reassured reporters that “of course, our special services do everything necessary to ensure the security of the head of state.” The Kremlin representative went on to point out that “any smartphone with any operational system is absolutely transparent for surveillance.”

According to the book, in the mid-2010s US researcher Mike Yeagley started exploring ways to harness the geolocation data routinely collected for advertising purposes. He allegedly worked for several firms bankrolled by the CIA and the Pentagon. The software, reportedly named Locomotive and later rebranded as VISR (Virtual Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), is said to have enabled its developers to “track phones in the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entourage.” The necessary data was being sourced from dating and weather apps, as well as games that require users’ location, Tau claims.

While none of the devices in question were owned by the Russian leader personally, PlanetRisk believed it had access to the smartphones that “belonged to the drivers, the security personnel, the political aides, and other support staff around the Russian president,” according to the account. This presumably meant that President Putin’s whereabouts could be identified, too.

The exposé alleges that Yeagley’s brainchild was received enthusiastically by the US intelligence community, and was adopted “as part of an interagency program.”

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