Briton David Ballantyne Smith, 58, is said to have been driven by an intense hatred for his own country. Prosecutors alleged he had wanted to hurt the UK and the British Embassy, where he had worked for eight years, and that he was angered at the flying of the Rainbow flag in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
He was accused of collecting intelligence about the embassy and leaking secret documents to Russia, such as the private details of various British civil servants. Smith reportedly wanted to live in Russia or Ukraine during the time he passed on secrets. He began leaking documents from May 2020.
Smith pleaded guilty on 4 November at the Old Bailey to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act, but reporting restrictions were initially put in place. They were then lifted on Friday (11 November) after the prosecution indicated it would not seek trial on a ninth charge that Smith had denied.
The former security guard will be sentenced at a later date. He faces a maximum of 14 years in prison.
His plea comes over a year after he was arrested at his home in Potsdam, Germany, in August 2021, where he was found with 800 euro in cash. The Mail Online published photographs of his living room where he had Russian memorabilia and a Russian flag, a series of history books, and a novel by the late John le Carre, who is best known for his Cold War spy thrillers. He now has no fixed address.
The first count against Smith stated that he had communicated with General Major Sergey Chukhurov, the Russian military attache based out of the Russian Embassy in Berlin in 2020 - giving 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 German Embassy. He is said to have hated Germany, as well as the UK.
On 5 August 2021, Smith collected unauthorised photocopies of documents provided by a person known as Dmitry. He also reportedly collected recordings of CCTV footage of Dmitry, which was, again, said to be “useful to an enemy, namely the Russian State”.
On the day of his arrest on suspicion of spying for Russia, 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 14 May 2020. The letter confirmed he worked at the embassy and wanted anonymity as he offered a book, classified as “official sensitive”, which contained pictures of staff security passes and personal information, emails and documents classified as “secret”, and posters and whiteboards in the embassy.
Following a probe by British counter-terrorism police, a request was made for his extradition in November 2021 and he was brought back to the UK in April 2022.
Smith’s lawyer Matthew Ryder KC told the court that the defendant’s basis of plea differed from the prosecution case. He said: “There is a very large difference between the Crown and Mr Smith about his motivation. 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 thought his actions would help Russia.
The news comes after it was revealed in 2020 that former defence worker Simon Finch, 52, from Southport, disclosed “damaging” top secret details of a UK missile system. He admitted to the charges and is currently serving an eight-year jail term.