A British security guard working at Berlin’s British Embassy received substantial amounts of cash from Russia in exchange for highly sensitive secrets. He was then caught in an undercover operation, according to a court.
David Ballantyne Smith (58), originally from Paisley in Scotland, spent three decades collecting secret material. The Russians paid hundreds of thousands of euros to him, as the Old Bailey was informed.
Smith had been a security guard at the Embassy since 2016. He has pleaded guilty to eight charges under The Official Secrets Act 1911, 1920.
Smith also collected material from Liz Truss, including a letter addressed to Boris Johnson (then the prime minister), in his collection.
At a sentencing hearing, Smith was informed that he held “strong anti-UK views” which he shared with others and also “also held pro-Russian and pro-Putin views.”
Alison Morgan KC, the prosecutor, stated to the Old Bailey that Smith had collected “a variety of highly sensitive information about and from the embassy in the intent of supplying it the Russian Federation” over a number of years.
She stated that the defendant was given substantial cash in return. This money was not explained by any legitimate income source.
After a letter is intercepted, a cover sting was launched
Smith’s actions were discovered after a letter he had sent to a member the military staff of the Russian embassy, Berlin, was intercepted. It contained a number documents from the British Embassy and photographs of staff who worked there.
Smith was then able to launch an undercover operation to gain more sensitive information about Dmitry (an individual Smith believed was Russian citizenship) and help the United Kingdom.
Ms Morgan stated that “Plainly such an individual would have been of obvious interest to those with whom the defendant was in contact within the Russian Embassy.”
‘Deliberate Engagement’ with Russian Authorities
The German police arrested Smith and searched his computer. It was revealed that he had been gathering sensitive information about the Embassy for many years.
Ms Morgan stated that “such deliberate engagement with Russian authorities by providing them confidential and sensitive information demonstrates a clear intent to prejudice the UK’s interests.”
Smith was reported to have started spying on 9 March 2018, when he took the first of 59 files and 10 deleted files. He then saved them to a USB stick.
The files included 29 pages of images, including photographs of British staff in Berlin, and photos of diplomatic passports.
Materials included a’secret’ email sent to Boris Johnson
Later, police discovered a variety of images taken in 2021. These included a photograph of a whiteboard that was related to staff deployments in Berlin and photographs of the rooms within the Embassy.
The material contained a classified “secret” letter sent by Liz Truss (then-secretary for state for international trade) to Boris Johnson, the current prime minister. It was also signed by Alok Sharma (then secretary of state, business, energy, and industrial strategy), on 23 November 2020.
Ms Morgan stated that the letter was one among the documents she highlighted for the judge in the “harm” category.
Video of an ‘extensive stroll-through’ at the Embassy
Police also found nine videos that were said to be part of an “extensive walkaround video” of the Embassy.
Morgan stated that Smith “appears” to have filmed most of the Embassy. He would sometimes film out of windows in an attempt to find a specific room relative to the street.
Smith was arrested because he didn’t have cash withdrawals. He had 800 euros of cash at the time of his arrest.
She stated that “the prosecution relies upon this evidence to prove that the defendant was being paid cash in return for his actions.”
Actions that are intended to embarrass embassy
Smith claimed that his actions were motivated by grievances against his employers and that Smith was suffering from mental illness.
Although he denies any payment, Ms Morgan stated that he provided no explanation for why he sent material to the Russian Embassy.
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“The defendant did not have any legitimate reason to retain this material.” Ms Morgan stated that it is unlikely that the defendant took possession of any material because of a dispute between his employers or because he wanted to expose security flaws.
Smith was employed as security guard starting 15 June 2016. He has sensitive security clearance.
He had been married to a Ukrainian woman, but he told his coworkers that he didn’t like living in Germany so he moved back to Ukraine.
Smith was originally described as “keen, polite, and professional employee”, but his behavior changed around the time his wife returned to Ukraine.
According to reports, he was anti-UK and anti Germany views and stated that he would not return to Britain. His opinions on the war in Ukraine were described by him as being “supportive of Russia”.
Embassy employees worried about Smith’s mental state
Employees at the Embassy were reported to be concerned about Smith’s mental health starting in 2019.
In February 2020, a mental welfare officer from the Embassy and the human resources manager approached him to address his mental health concerns.
Following a concern from a colleague that Smith might commit suicide in 2021, a meeting was set up to discuss a solution.
Ms Morgan stated that Smith had expressed views that were anti-West, anti-NATO to employees, and that she supported Vladimir Putin on the first day.
“The defendant talked a lot about Ukraine, and even discussed traveling there. He had negative views about the German government.