(MOSCOW) — Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, suggested his emails were being hacked and his phone tapped after he was confronted by a Russian TV news crew as he arrived at a meeting that he had not publicized.
McFaul quickly took to Twitter and wondered publicly how the Russians are finding out about his private schedule.
“I respect the right of the press to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?” he tweeted Thursday afternoon.
According to Interfax, when McFaul arrived for a meeting with the group For Human Rights Thursday, reporters from state-owned NTV began peppering him with questions that kept him on the freezing street without a coat.
“Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn’t tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?” McFaul tweeted.
The head of the group McFaul met with, Lev Ponomaryov, got in touch with the Russian news service Interfax, and suggested perhaps McFaul’s phones were being tapped.
“Michael asked them very bluntly: ‘How did you know that I would come to this office today?’” Ponomaryov said, noting that the meeting hadn’t been publicized and was agreed to over the phone.
“There is nothing surprising here,” said NTV in a response to Interfax. “NTV’s omnipresence can be explained by an extensive network of informers,” the network said.
NTV aired portions of the exchange on its website. In one part McFaul, speaking in Russian, asks the journalists, “Aren’t you ashamed of doing this? This insults your country, do you understand this?”
“It looks like I am in a barbarian country. This is abnormal. It never happens in my country, in England, Germany, or China. It happens only here and only with you,” he told them, according to Interfax.
When the camera crew asked why he was meeting with the human rights activists, McFaul replied, “This is normal. This is called diplomatic work.”
McFaul later said on Twitter that he confronted them about how they knew where he was.
“When I asked these ‘reporters’ how they knew my schedule, I got no answer,” he tweeted.
NTV has recently come under fire in Russia after it aired a documentary suggesting that recent protesters against President-elect Vladimir Putin were paid to attend rallies, suggesting the United States was spurring them on.
Part of the exchange between McFaul and the persistent questioners was caught on cellphone video by a journalist for the Guardian newspaper who happened to be passing by and uploaded the video to Twitter.
McFaul has had a rough welcome to Moscow. State-run TV immediately accused him of trying to foment a revolution and other outlets accused him of stirring up the anti-Putin protests.
Neither Ambassador McFaul nor his spokesman replied to requests for comment. In Washington the State Department sought to downplay McFaul’s statements.
“I think it was simply a rhetorical question he was asking,” deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
McFaul also tweeted that Thursday’s confrontation was part of a pattern. He said he had a similar encounter as he went to meet Anatoly Chubais, an influential former politican and businessman in Moscow.
On McFaul’s second day on the job in Moscow an NTV camera crew confronted a group of civil society leaders who had gathered at the U.S. Embassy to meet with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, in town for other meetings. Ambassador McFaul also sat in on the discussion, officials said. Television broadcasts later claimed the meeting was held so that McFaul could give out instructions to opponents of the Russian government.
In exchanges with his Twitter followers later in the day, McFaul defended his comments, noting that the State Department does not publish his schedule and that his meeting at For Human Rights was not scheduled through the Russians.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Arwa Damon, Waffa Munayyer and Bryony Jones, CNN
Camille Verdier, Steve Visser and Margot Haddad, CNN
Billy Hallowell, Deseret News
Holly Yan, CNN