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Ecuador: Spy microphone recorded secret conversations inside London embassy

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 6:49 AM EDT, Thu July 4, 2013
Ecuador says a hidden recording device was found inside its embassy in London.
Ecuador says a hidden recording device was found inside its embassy in London.
  • Ecuador says a hidden recording device was found inside its London embassy
  • The "spy microphone" was placed in an electrical outlet, the foreign minister says
  • He calls for British authorities to assist in Ecuador's investigation

(CNN) -- Ecuador is calling for British authorities to help investigate after officials found a secret recording device planted inside the South American country's embassy in London.

A "spy microphone" was found inside the Ecuadorian ambassador's office on June 14, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters Wednesday. It was hidden inside a small white box inside an electrical outlet, partially covered by a bookshelf, he said.

The discovery, Patino said, "very seriously concerns us."

"We are requesting backing from the British government to continue with the investigation of the device found," he said.

The device, he said, contained a SIM card and was designed to transmit private conversations occurring inside the embassy. Ecuadorian authorities believe it had been in place for weeks.

It was found two days before Patino was scheduled to arrive at the embassy, he said.

Patino said authorities have "founded suspicions" that indicate a private British surveillance company was involved, but he did not provide additional details. The company did not immediately respond to a request from CNN to comment.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the Ecuadorian Embassy
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the Ecuadorian Embassy

In addition to serving as an office for Ecuadorian officials abroad, the embassy has also been home for more than a year to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who received asylum from Ecuador in August and risks arrest if he leaves the property.

The revelation comes amid worldwide debate over U.S. surveillance, including reports that the National Security Agency planted bugs in diplomatic offices.

It also comes as Ecuador plays a key role in the global guessing game over the next steps for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who is on the run after admitting that he leaked classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden fueling U.S.-Ecuador row

Snowden has asked for asylum from Ecuador and 20 other countries.

Patino said on Wednesday that his country was still evaluating the request.

Asked whether Assange's presence inside the Ecuadorian Embassy had opened the building to more risks, Patino acknowledged that the WikiLeaks founder's presence had brought greater attention to the embassy.

"Surely, there are risks, yes ... but we are willing to run them when it comes to defending rights," he said.

CNN's Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.

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