Berlin embassy spy denies existence of Russian handler

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An ex-security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin has admitted handing classified documents to Russia, but refused to name his alleged spymaster, saying: “There is no-one.”

David Ballantyne Smith amassed a stash of secret and sensitive material over four years before he was caught in 2021.

He twice wrote anonymously to the Russian Embassy, and in one letter revealed the identity of a British diplomat who had lived in Moscow.

David Smith court case
David Smith has admitted spying for Russia while working at the British embassy in Berlin (Met Police/PA)

He said: “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.”

He accepted it was wrong to expose the British diplomat referred to in court as X – in his letter to Major General Sergey Chukhrov in November 2020.

But he said: “As far as I was concerned I thought it was something they already had. It was wrong to send everything, of course.”

Defence barrister Matthew Ryder KC asked if Smith sent any more letters, to which the defendant replied: “Absolutely not.

“I saw diplomat X again face to face. I felt ashamed of myself. I knew I should not have done it.  It was below the belt. I was glad I didn’t put anything else in the envelope.”

Smith’s first letter, dated May 2020, was compiled using Google translate and a contact gleaned from the Russian Embassy website, he said.

He enclosed a book marked “sensitive” about the Arctic, but insisted it contained no details about individuals.

He denied being paid by Russia for intelligence, claiming he got cash from the sale of his collection of militaria at German flea markets.

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

The first posed as a walk-in informant at the British Embassy named Dmitry.

The second role player purported to be a Russian intelligence officer called Irina who accosted Smith at a tram stop to ask him about Dmitry making “damaging” disclosures a few days later.

Smith admitted being “stupid” and “nosy” when he had made copies of a document Dmitry brought with him on his visit.

He also admitted filming Dmitry from embassy CCTV and keeping mobile phone packaging with the informant’s new number on it.

On watching covert video of himself filming Dmitry, Smith said: “When I looked at those videos I thought what an arsehole because I realised what an idiot I had been.”

He told the court he knew immediately that Irina was not a Russian intelligence officer, as she claimed.

He said: “After she turns to me in an English accent and says she’s Russian intelligence I laughed at how ridiculous it was.”

Under cross-examination, Smith was challenged to prove his remorse by revealing the apparent Russian contact who he referred to as “someone” during his exchange with Irina.

Smith replied: “There is no-one. There is no-one. There is no-one.”

Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC asserted: “There is a them, a them who were paying you a lot of money, that money wasn’t coming from flea markets.

“Your suggestion you are ashamed I suggest is just self pitying.”

Smith replied: “Not at all.”

Germany British embassy
An exterior view of the new British Embassy in Berlin, Germany (Fiona Hanson/PA)

The prosecution allege that Smith handed documents over to the hostile state with intent to harm Britain.

Smith denied it, saying: “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 Paisley-born defendant counted himself as a patriotic Scot who had been proud to serve in the RAF for 12 years.

Smith, 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.”

Smith said he changed his views on the conflict in the Ukrainian Donbas region and became “more neutral” after visiting war cemeteries and seeing lines of freshly dug graves.

He said he began collecting classified documents around the time his wife went back to Ukraine in 2018, leaving him “depressed” and “lonely”.

“The more I was on my own, the more depressed I became, and the longer it went on, the worse it got, the more I started to drink,” he said.

During the Covid-19 lockdown in Germany, Smith had been unable to visit his wife and would drink seven pints a day, he said.

He added: “I was angry that everyone was sitting at home with full pay when we were having to go to work every day.

“I just went downhill after that. I would fly off the handle at the slightest thing.

“Call that spoiled child, obstinate prat maybe – I was full of my own self-importance. I wanted to teach the embassy a lesson.”

He said he enjoyed the “self-satisfaction” of what he had done and wanted to highlight security at the embassy which was “not exactly great”.

David Smith court case
Court artist sketch of David Smith (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Items seized from his work locker including a cartoon of Russian President Vladimir Putin in military garb holding the head of former German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Smith faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday.

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