Berlin embassy spy jailed for selling secrets to Russia

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A Berlin embassy spy has been jailed for more than 13 years for betraying his country and colleagues by selling secrets to Russia.

David Smith, a former security guard at the British Embassy in Germany, was motivated by his support for Russian president Vladimir Putin and hatred of the UK when he began collecting classified documents in 2018.

Police launched an investigation after Smith’s second letter to a military attache at the Russian Embassy in November 2020 was traced back to him.

In an undercover sting operation in August 2021, two role players were deployed as a fake Russian defector and intelligence officer.

Smith, 58, pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.

The court was told of “potentially catastrophic” consequences for “each and every” British official in Berlin, with the cost to the taxpayer of updating security estimated at £820,000.

Embassy staff were left with “feelings of anger, betrayal and upset and concern at the implications of their details being shared with a hostile state actor”, the court heard.

Smith’s spying could have harmed Britain’s international trade negotiations and came at a time the UK was “calling out” Russian actions, including amassing vast numbers of troops on the Ukraine border.

Mr Justice Wall had dismissed Smith’s evidence, including his claim that he only wanted to embarrass the embassy.

The judge ruled that the evidence showed Smith was taking money from Russia as part of an “ongoing” relationship.

He had collected material since 2018 with a view to handing it over “at some stage”, the judge found.

David Smith court case
David Smith taking a video of the CCTV monitors in the British Embassy security kiosk (Met Police/PA)

In a televised sentencing at the Old Bailey on Friday, Mr Justice Wall jailed ex-RAF serviceman Smith to 13 years and two months.

The senior judge told Smith that during his “subversive activities” dating back to 2018 he had copied a “significant amount of material”.

He said: “You were fully aware that you should not have copied any of these documents and equally aware were these documents to get into the wrong hands, they might harm British interests or pose a threat to those working at the British Embassy.”

Photographs of embassy staff with annotated descriptions sent to the Russian embassy put colleagues at “maximum risk”, he said.

The judge said: “You established regular contact with someone at the Russian Embassy and this contact was a conduit through which material illegally obtained by you was passed on.”

His conduct from 2020 was not a “one-off” as he was paid by Russia for his “treachery”, the judge said.

Mr Justice Wall dismissed Smith’s expressions of remorse as “self-pity”, saying he failed to acknowledge the “potentially catastrophic consequences for others”.

Smith listened in the dock with the assistance of a hearing aid and made no reaction as he was sent down.

Judge Mr Justice Wall during the live broadcast
Judge Mr Justice Wall during the live broadcast (PA Video/PA)

On August 5 2021, Smith was asked by an embassy staff member to escort an undercover operative posing as Russian defector “Dmitry” into the building.

Smith made a copy of a document Dmitry had brought and kept Sim card packaging with the defector’s phone number on it rather than destroying it as he had been instructed.

Later in his security kiosk, Smith was shown on covert film using a small camera to record about 45 seconds of CCTV capturing Dmitry’s visit saying: “If he works at the embassy they will know him.”

A few days later, Smith was accosted at a tram stop by fake Russian spy Irina who said somebody was passing on information that was “damaging to Russia”.

He appeared sceptical, saying it had been “sprung on me” and he needed to speak to “someone”, in an apparent reference to his handler.

In his evidence, Smith said he was now “ashamed” at his behaviour and counted himself as a proud Scot.

He claimed he was angry at his employer, depressed and was drinking seven pints a day after his Ukrainian wife of 20 years returned to her home country.

He admitted being interested in conspiracy theories espoused by Alex Jones’ InfoWars and David Icke but denied being pro-Russian or having far-right sympathies.

David Smith court case
David Ballantyne Smith, during his meeting with “Irina”. (Met Police/PA)

Alison Morgan KC said a cartoon in Smith’s locker of Mr Putin with his hands around former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s neck summed up his pro-Russia stance.

It mirrored Mr Putin’s false narrative for invading Ukraine, the prosecutor said: “It is precisely what Russia was saying as its justification for amassing vast amounts of troops on the border, and it is a cartoon that depicts Angela Merkel as a Nazi.”

Following the sentencing, Commander Richard Smith, head of the Met’s SO15 counter-terrorism command, described Smith’s actions as “reckless and dangerous”.

“His offending is made worse by the fact that he was exploiting the privileged position and access that gave him.

“In the case of Dmitry, the role player, if that person had been authentic, the information Smith sought to gather about him, if shared, might have put him at very significant risk.”

Nick Price, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “David Smith abused his position in the British embassy in Berlin to covertly collect and pass sensitive information to the Russian state. These crimes were an attack on our country and could have threatened national security.

“His actions were not just driven by money and greed. On multiple occasions he expressed a strong dislike towards the UK and Germany and expressed sympathy with the Russian authorities. These beliefs may have caused further damage had Smith not been discovered and prosecuted.”

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