British embassy spy 'put lives at risk' by selling state secrets to Russia

A British Embassy spy has apologised for selling state secrets to the Russia, and said he only wanted to give his employer ‘a bit of a slap’.

David Ballantyne Smith, 58, spent three years collecting secret material on behalf of Russia while working as a security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin before he was busted by an undercover sting operation in 2021.

Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act in November, including having ‘leaked details about the identities and activities of UK agents’ to General Major Sergey Chukhrov at Berlin’s Russian Embassy.

He was also accused of intercepting a letter to Boris Johnson, who at the time was prime minister, from Liz Truss during her tenure as international development secretary.

Despite initially appearing ‘keen and polite’ upon starting work at the embassy in 2016, ex-RAF officer Smith’s behaviour quickly began to change when his wife left to return to her home country of Ukraine in late 2018.

Following her departure, he began to develop ‘strong anti-UK views which he expressed to others’, in addition to pro-Putin and pro-Russia beliefs.

Giving evidence at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Smith apologised for his behaviour.

He said: ‘I am disgusted with myself. At the time I did not think what I was doing.

‘Now I have had a year-and-a-half to look back on it, I am disgusted with myself and ashamed at what I have done.’

Defence barrister Matthew Ryder KC asked him: ‘Did you intend to cause serious harm to anybody?’

Smith replied: ‘At no time. I just wanted to give the embassy a bit of a slap because I did not think that they were treating me very well.’

The former RAF officer, who while in Belmarsh Prison was sent merchandise relating to the Azov Battalion in Ukraine, denied having far-right sympathies.

But he expressed an interest in online conspiracy theories, saying: ‘Yeah, I look at David Icke and Alex Jones InfoWars to get an alternative view. I just like both sides of the story.’

Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC told the court Smith was vocal in expressing his views about the war in Ukraine, collected German uniforms from World War Two, and had a cartoon of Vladimir Putin holding Angela Merkel’s severed head in his work locker.

Morgan said over a period of years, Smith collected ‘a range of highly sensitive information from and about the embassy with the intention of supplying it to the Russian Federation’.

Other items recovered included photographs of whiteboards in the embassy with staff information on, and footage filmed by Smith as he conducted a ‘walkaround’ of the embassy, which were stored on USB sticks.

‘In return, the defendant received substantial amounts of cash, unexplained by any identified and legitimate source of income,’ she added.

Smith was snared in an undercover operation involving the deployment of two fake Russian operatives after he sent a letter in November 2020 to member of military staff at the Russian Embassy in Berlin.

The first undercover role player purported to be a ‘walk-in’ Russian informant called ‘Dmitry’ who Smith escorted into the British Embassy on August 5, 2021.

Afterwards, Smith was captured on CCTV in his security kiosk filming the earlier footage of Dmitry wearing a flat cap and glasses.

Smith was then approached by a woman called ‘Irina’ on August 9, who claimed to be a Russian agent but was actually an undercover British operative.

‘Irina was deployed to play the role of the GRU officer and to see whether someone – Dmitry – was providing information to the UK that could be damaging to Russia,’ Morgan said.

The prosecution claimed Smith was ‘hedging his bets’ throughout the interaction, and was unsure of whether he could trust her.

Commenting on footage of their interaction, Ms Morgan said: ‘His failure to end the conversation, his failure to respond, is consistent with him trying to work out whether this was genuinely a Russian official he could engage with or if he should say anything.

‘He told Irina that he would have to check with someone.

‘The video shows the defendant engaging in general discussion about the Embassy, displaying some kind of contempt for his employment, saying he’s worked there for five years too long.’

The prosecution argues the aggravating features of Smith’s offending are the prolific nature of his activities occurring over a three-year period, and acquiring vast amounts of sensitive material.

They said the defendant must have realised the highly sensitive nature of the material placed the lives of others at risk.

On the day of his arrest, Smith left work early complaining he was feeling ill and was approached by German police at his home.

A request was made for his extradition to the UK in November 2021 following a probe by British counter-terrorism police, and he arrived back in the UK on April 2022.

The court heard how Smith claims his actions were intended to cause ‘inconvenience and embarrassment’ to the British Embassy, motivated by grievances with his employer’s claims he was suffering from mental health issues.

Smith denies receiving any payment for his actions, but Ms Morgan said he had provided ‘no explanation as to why he chose to send material to the Russian Embassy in particular’.

Smith will be sentenced on Friday, and faces a maximum of 14 years in prison.

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