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“Those are absolutely false insinuations that are not worth any comments. Such kind of ‘information’ is disseminated by those who are not pleased with the new state of the Russian-American relations,” he said.

Recent escalations

Since 2007, according to two U.S. intelligence officials, American posts in Belarus, Russia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have complained about instances in which junior Foreign Service officers have come home to find jewelry rearranged, cigarette butts stubbed out on the kitchen table, defecations in the bathroom, and break-ins with nothing of value stolen.

More recently, visiting congressional staff on official delegations have complained of having their hotel rooms broken into and seeing their things rearranged, according to these officials.

David A. Merkel, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in 2008 and 2009, said he had seen an escalation in these kinds of direct actions starting in the last two years of the George W. Bush administration.

“It’s meant to limit a diplomat’s ability to meet with individuals by aggressively demonstrating that they are being watched. If you are a political officer and you are cognizant your actions are being watched, you are less willing to meet with people, even if this is a normal activity for a political officer,” said Mr. Merkel, who also served as director for European and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council from 2005 to 2007.

Other U.S. officials said the intimidation campaign escalated even more in 2010 after the Obama administration expelled 10 Russian “deep cover” agents as part of a spy swap.

Mr. Merkel said these acts of intimidation were reported throughout what Russia calls its “near abroad,” or the independent states that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

“It’s mainly focused on people whose jobs are domestic politics and human rights reporting,” he said. “You have to appreciate how much courage it takes for a foreign national, a Russian or a Belarusian to meet with our diplomats because they know they are being watched.”

Another diplomat who was targeted for embarrassment was Kyle Hatcher, who served at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as a political officer responsible for tracking religious freedom in Russia.

In August 2009, two Russian newspapers printed stories based on spliced video footage of Mr. Hatcher at a hotel room, claiming he was employing the services of a prostitute.

Two U.S. officials familiar with the incident, who asked not to be named, said the U.S. intelligence community saw this as the work of the FSB.

“They intercepted some phone calls he made and spliced them in a way that made them look strange. Then they took footage of him in a hotel room or something. They made it all look like they had footage of him in sex acts with prostitutes in a hotel,” one of those officials said.

Long history

Moscow’s intelligence services long have played dirty tricks on U.S. diplomats. In the “Spy vs. Spy” world of the Cold War, operations known as “honey traps” - a young, attractive woman woos a U.S. Foreign Service officer into state of semi-undress where he can be photographed and blackmailed later - were commonplace.

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