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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov Stars in a Secret Memo

A confidential British Foreign Office memo that was posted on the Internet gives details of closed-door meetings two years ago with Sergei Ivanov and lightly pokes fun at the man who would become Russia's defense minister.

Russian officials said the leaked memo was an embarrassment for British authorities but not for the Kremlin.

The memorandum concisely describes the security issues that Ivanov, then secretary of the Security Council, discussed with unidentified officials from Prime Minister Tony Blair's staff, the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defense and Parliament during his visit to Britain from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, 2000.

The Dec. 2, 2000, memorandum was classified as "confidential," according to the text of the document displayed at the U.S.-registered site www.cryptome.org. The memo is a rather straightforward summary of Ivanov's position on security issues and mostly reflects what he said at press briefings during his visit, which culminated in a meeting with Blair.

One of the few exceptions is Ivanov's admission that Russia may have an "over-rosy" view of the Iranian leadership and his claim that China is the main supplier of technologies to Iran, which the United States has accused of pursuing a clandestine nuclear arms program.

Another of Ivanov's reported statements that had not been made public previously is his assertion that the Kremlin was considering invoking Article 50 of the UN Charter to ask for exemptions from the trade sanctions on Iraq to retrieve some of Iraq's multibillion-dollar debt to Russia, "particularly in respect to civil aviation." It is unclear what Ivanov had in mind.

On the personal side, the memo's Foreign Office authors note that Ivanov, who spent most of his career in the foreign intelligence branch of the KGB and reportedly lived in England in the 1970s, was "particularly at ease with the SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service], but also socially, he tended to rigidity in the more formal meetings" during his visit.

The memo also claims that Ivanov had said no reconstruction of Chechnya was possible due to security concerns. Ivanov viewed Chechnya as a "black hole of terrorism" and warned of threats posed by Islamist terrorist organizations, according to the memo.

The memo's authors belittle Ivanov's warning, saying "he did not seriously advance the Islamic galactic plot theory." The memo also mentions a "diatribe" by deputy secretary of the council Oleg Chernov that the Internet could pose a major threat to world security in coming years.

Less than a year later, al-Qaida struck the United States on Sept. 11 in the culmination of elaborate plot whose participants used e-mail to communicate.

Neither Ivanov nor his spokesman could be reached for comment. The defense minister was meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

According to one Defense Ministry official, however, Ivanov's decision to refrain from commenting on the leaked memo, which was first reported by The Sunday Times, speaks for itself.

"There is nothing really sensitive in what has been leaked. It is sort of bad for their [Foreign Office's] reputation, but from our perspective it just repeats what Minister Ivanov has said in public," the official, who asked not to be named, said in a telephone interview.

Ivanov, who is one of President Vladimir Putin's closest confidants, retired from the Foreign Intelligence Service in August 1999. He took over the Security Council in November 1999 and transformed the consultative body into a policy-making powerhouse before becoming defense minister in March 2001.

During his visit to Britain, Ivanov also stated Russia's opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO and to U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense system, and he called for international cooperation to battle drug trafficking, according both to the confidential memo and press reports at the time. Ivanov also told his British hosts that the United States had overplayed its hand in the Middle East, but agreed that the situation should be stabilized there, the memo says.

Press officials at the Security Council and Foreign Ministry declined to comment Tuesday. Calls to Chernov, who remains a deputy secretary of the council, went unanswered. One Security Council official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is "evident" that the leaked memo is an embarrassment for the Foreign Office, but would not elaborate.

A Foreign Office official, reached in London by telephone, would not confirm the authenticity of the memorandum, which was sent to the British Embassy as a coded cable, according to the text of the memorandum posted at Cryptome.org, which is known for posting leaked classified information.

The official acknowledged, however, that "it appears to be a leak" and that the Foreign Office is "investigating very seriously."

The Sunday Times report describes the leak as "embarrassing" for the Foreign Office.

Less than a month ago there was a leak of three secret Foreign Office memos, which listed the names and telephone numbers of 15 top officials in MI6, the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan police; GCHQ, the government eavesdropping office; and the Foreign Office. The list was posted on the same web site, which is registered in Manhattan, New York, in the name of John Young.

According to one prominent Russian espionage expert, leaks of top secret information occur rather rarely in Britain.

"Mostly what is leaked does no damage to their national interests. These leaks are mostly attempts by one rival clan within their bureaucracy to embarrass or discredit another one," said retired Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, former head of the KGB's foreign intelligence branch.

Leonov also said he could not rule out that that the leak of the memo could have been an attempt to sling mud at Ivanov himself, particularly over his remarks that no restoration of Chechnya was possible due to security concerns.