Who is David Smith? Conspiracy theorist embassy security guard who sold secrets to the Russians
The ex-serviceman once described himself as a proud Scot honoured to serve his country, but says everything went “downhill” when he started working at the British embassy in Berlin.
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A spy jailed for selling British secrets to Russia says he was once a patriotic Scot and proud serviceman, before conspiracy theories, booze, and pro-Putin propaganda saw him turn traitor.
David Ballantyne Smith, a British national, pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state, in November. On Friday, he was sentenced to 13 years and two months behind bars.
While working as a security guard at the British embassy in Berlin, Smith sent two letters to senior officials at the Russian Embassy in 2020 – one exposing the identity of a diplomat who had worked in Russia – as well as details of colleagues.
Police launched an investigation after the second letter was traced back to him. He was busted after an undercover sting operation in August 2021, where two role players were deployed as a fake Russian defector and intelligence officer.
After his arrest, it was discovered Smith had amassed a stash of secret and sensitive material dating back to 2018, which the court heard could have had “potentially catastrophic” consequences for “each and every” British official in Berlin.
Smith, born in Paisley, Scotland, spent 12 years as a serviceman with the Royal Air Force, and told the court he had been a patriotic Scot who was proud to serve his country. He later moved to Crawley in West Sussex, and equipped with his RAF experience, scored a job at Gatwick Airport.
He had an adult daughter from his first marriage, and married Svetlana - his second wife - in 2002. But he told the Old Bailey his life went “downhill” after getting a job at the British Embassy in Berlin as a security guard.
Smith claimed he turned to drink and became depressed and lonely after Svetlana went back to the war-torn eastern region of Ukraine - her home country - in 2018. He expressed an interest in online conspiracy theories, saying: “I look at David Icke and Alex Jones’ InfoWars to get an alternative view. I just like both sides of the story.”
A life-long collector of military memorabilia, Smith’s support for Russia appeared to be on prominent show in his home in Potsdam, where he lived until his arrest. Russian books and ornaments adorned his living room, including a Russian Federation flag, a life-sized cuddly rottweiler wearing a Russian hat, and a Communist toy Lada car.
The court heard Smith had 800 euro at his flat on his arrest and had stopped withdrawing money from his bank, betraying his alternative income from Russia.
Embassy colleagues said Smith had expressed anti-British and pro-Putin views. Inside his work locker was a cartoon of Russian president Vladimir Putin with his hands around former German chancellor Angela Merkel in Nazi uniform, espousing the false rhetoric used to invade Ukraine.
He continued to collect military memorabilia while at Belmarsh prison in the form of merchandise relating to the controversial Azov Battalion, forcing him to deny far-right sympathies.
The Times reports Smith’s social media activity had also pointed to where his sympathies lay. In 2020 he posted a photo of himself wearing military gear with the emblem of the Somalia battalion, a Russian-backed paramilitary group in Donbas.
Smith said he had been a supporter of Russian-backed Donbas separatists but said he changed his mind and became “neutral” after visiting cemeteries and seeing lines of freshly dug graves in 2019.
At the time of his arrest in 2021, Smith still described himself on social media as “Anti Nato. Anti EU. Anti American”. His Ford Fiesta had the registration plate RU1801 - the first two letters of Russia followed by the year Alexander I became tsar, The Times said.
Smith claimed he only wanted to give his employer “a slap” for the way he had been treated, saying his depression had worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“I was angry that everyone was sitting at home with full pay when we were having to go to work every day,” he said. “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.
Justice Wall dismissed Smith’s attempts to explain away and minimise his activities, saying he was not a witness “of truth”.
“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,” the judge said.
Smith had resisted naming his handler or showing remorse, and Wall said the only reason he did not resign from the embassy job he hated so much, was so he could continue feeding Russia its secrets.