British worker at UK embassy in Berlin pleads guilty to 8 spying charges

Security guard David Ballantyne Smith admits to handing secrets to Russia

David Smith has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey, central London, to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act.
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A British man who worked at the UK embassy in Berlin has pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act relating to passing information to Russia.

David Ballantyne Smith, 58, is said to have been driven by an intense hatred for his own country and a desire to live in Russia or Ukraine when he handed over secret intelligence beginning in May 2020.

Prosecutors claimed he had wanted to hurt the UK and the British embassy, where he had worked for eight years as a security guard.

Photographs of his living room displayed Russian memorabilia, including a flag.

On his bookshelf were volumes on history and a novel by the late John le Carre, who is best known for his Cold War spy thrillers.

At a plea hearing at London's Old Bailey, Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.

The extent of Smith’s activities were set out in the charges laid against him.

The first count stated that he had communicated with Gen Maj Sergey Chukhurov, the Russian military attache based out of the Russian embassy in Berlin in 2020.

In it, he gave information about the activities, identities, addresses and phone numbers of various British civil servants.

He collected intelligence on the operation and layout of the British embassy in Berlin, which was said to be useful to “an enemy, namely the Russian state”.

Some of the material was classified “secret” and related to the activities of the British government and its embassy.

On August 5 last year, he collected unauthorised photo-copies of documents provided by a person known as “Dmitry” as well as SIM card packaging.

On August 5 and 6 last year, he also collected recordings of CCTV footage of Dmitry which was said to be “useful to an enemy, namely the Russian state”.

The day of his arrest, Smith had left work early complaining he was feeling ill, only to be met by German police on arrival in Potsdam.

An examination of his electronic devices revealed footage from the embassy and a draft letter to a Russian military attache dated May 14, 2020.

In it, he confirmed he worked at the embassy and wanted anonymity as he offered a book classified as “official sensitive”.

There were pictures of staff security passes and personal information, “secret” classified emails and documents, posters and whiteboards in the embassy.

Following an investigation by British counter-terrorism police, a request was made for his extradition in November last year and he was brought back to the UK in April.

Smith had often expressed hatred of the UK and Germany and sympathy with the Russian authorities, the court heard.

His guilty pleas last week can only now be reported since the Crown indicated it would not seek a trial on a ninth count, that the accused had denied.

Defence lawyer Matthew Ryder KC told the court that Smith’s basis of plea differed from the prosecution case.

“There is a very large difference between the Crown and Mr Smith about his motivation,” he told the court.

“His intention and why he did what he did and the seriousness of the allegations are disputed by Mr Smith.

“It is right to say there is significant difference as to the basis Mr Smith has pleaded guilty, including him not having a negative intention towards the UK that the prosecution have alleged against him.”

It is understood that Smith cast himself as a disgruntled employee rather than a spy and never intended for his actions to help Russia.

Smith faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for spying.

In 2020, former defence worker Simon Finch, 52, from Southport, admitted to disclosing “damaging” top secret details of a UK missile system and is currently serving an eight-year jail term.

Updated: November 11, 2022, 6:03 PM
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