Ex-RAF security guard who was caught spying at the British embassy in Berlin had an ‘ongoing relationship’ with Russia and was paid for his ‘treachery’ after being motivated by ‘antipathy for his country’, judge rules

  • David Ballantyne Smith, 58, collected secret information that put ‘lives at risk’ 

An ex-RAF serviceman who was caught spying at the British Embassy in Berlin had an ‘ongoing relationship’ with Russia and was paid for his ‘treachery’, a senior judge has ruled.

Scotsman David Smith, 58, gathered secret documents and passed them on to Vladimir Putin’s regime while working as a security guard at the UK government building in Germany.

He was caught following an undercover operation in 2021 and admitted eight charges under the Official Secrets Act. 

Ahead of his sentencing at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Wall ruled on Thursday that Smith was motivated by ‘his antipathy towards this country’ and intended to damage the UK’s interests by his actions.

The judge dismissed Smith’s explanation that he only wanted to ’embarrass’ his employers because he was angry at his treatment and to highlight poor security. 

Berlin spy David Smith (pictured) had an ‘ongoing relationship’ with Russia and was paid for his ‘treachery’, a senior judge has ruled

David Smith, 58, has admitted sending classified documents to the Russian Embassy 

READ MORE: Spy security guard ‘who sold secrets to the Russians snooped around colleagues’ desks at the British embassy in Berlin and copied pictures of their friends and family

Mr Justice Wall told the court: ‘I did not find him to be a witness of truth in general terms.’

He said Smith had not addressed some questions when he gave evidence at the Old Bailey and some of his answers were ‘incredible’.

The judge also dismissed Smith’s case that he only provided information to Russian military attaches twice, saying: ‘I am sure the relationship was in place for some time in 2020.

‘I am also sure in the period before that, in 2018 to 2019, the defendant was collecting information from the embassy with a view to passing it on at some stage. No other explanation makes sense.’

Smith was snared in an undercover sting in August 2021 involving two fake Russian operatives – a Russian defector, Dmitry, who handed a document to the British embassy, and Russian intelligence officer, Irina, who accosted the defendant about it afterwards.

Smith was caught on camera talking to himself about Dmitry as he recorded his visit from CCTV, saying: ‘If he works at the embassy they will know him.’

Mr Justice Wall said: ‘These words must mean that he was going to provide the images (of Dmitry) to someone at the Russian embassy to view so they can investigate.

‘I reject the idea he might simply have destroyed it … This was not a spur of the moment decision to do something and then think about it later.

‘It was a concerted effort to get as much information relating to this visit as possible.

‘He collected this material to pass on to his Russian contact.’

The judge said the filming of private areas of the embassy and identifying colleagues’ offices in June 2021 was not done ‘in drink on the spur of the moment’ as Smith had claimed.

The prosecution alleged that Smith (pictured) holds strong anti-UK views, is in favour of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, and had handed documents over to the hostile state with intent to harm Britain 

A photo issued by the Met Police of David Ballantyne Smith taking a video of the CCTV monitors in the British Embassy security kiosk

He said: ‘I am sure that it was done either under direction or at a time when the defendant had a relationship with someone from the Russian embassy and was done carefully in order to further that relationship.’

The judge also rejected Smith’s claim that he was living off the sale of military memorabilia at German flea markets.

He said it was a ‘safe conclusion’ that he had another form of income from 2020 onwards from his activities with the Russian embassy.

The judge said Smith’s claim he wanted to embarrass embassy staff was ‘illogical’.

He went on: ‘Similarly, I reject his suggestion in evidence that he was acting in a befuddled way because of his poor mental health and regular consumption of alcohol.

‘There is no logical causal connection between personal depression and betraying one’s country.

‘He set about his various tasks in a calm and logical fashion.’

Mr Justice Wall said: ‘I am driven to the conclusion that the main motivation for the defendant to act as he did was because he felt antipathy to the United Kingdom and wanted to damage this country’s interests by providing information to a state which at that time – as now – was regarded as unfriendly.’

The judge said the reason for Smith’s ‘hostility’ to Britain was unclear but that was the impression he gave to people who knew him.

Photographs taken of his flat included a large Russian Federation flag, various Russian books, a Soviet military hat, a Communist toy Lada car and a life-size cuddly Russian toy Rottweiler dog sporting a military hat 

He made negative comments about the UK in his evidence to the court, referring to its ‘skulduggery’ in international affairs.

And at one stage he had openly supported the Russian-backed forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine, where his wife is from.

The judge said the only explanation for the reason why Smith did not resign from the embassy he hated was his desire to use his job to further the assistance he was providing to Russia.

Mr Justice Wall said he would sentence Smith on the basis he had an ‘ongoing relationship with someone at the Russian embassy’ and did not just supply information to Russia on two isolated occasions.

The judge said: ‘He was paid for his treachery and he was motivated by his antipathy towards this country and intended to damage this country’s interests by acting as he did.’

Smith, who is originally from Paisley, Scotland, will be sentenced on Friday.

How did the MI5 sting operation that exposed Smith as a spy unfold?

December 5, 2018 David Smith puts sensitive information from the British Embassy in Berlin on a USB stick. Dozens of sensitive images are later found on an SD card in his home in 2020.

January 1, 2020 Smith’s bank balance steadily decreased until November 25. His finances improved after a payment was made to him in February 2021.

May 14, 2020 Smith wrote a letter to Colonel Sivov, a military and defence attaché at the Russian Embassy. He offered sensitive information and asked to remain anonymous.

Nov 20, 2020 Smith sent a letter to Major General Chukho with highly sensitive information about staff at the embassy. This sparked the planning of the sting operation.

January, 2021 Smith made markedly fewer debit transactions. From February to the start of May he didn’t withdraw any cash. This indicated to MI5 investigators that he may have had another source of money.

August 9, 2021 An undercover MI5 agent posing as a Russian intelligence officer called ‘Irina’ approached Smith at a bus stop and spoke about the British Embassy.

August 10, 2021 Smith was arrested by German officers at his home in Potsdam. Secret and sensitive videos, documents and photos from the embassy were found at his home. Officers also found eight €100 notes. 

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