British embassy staffer who spied for Russia gets 13 years in jail

Berlin-based David Smith was “motivated by greed and a hatred of our country” says Crown Prosecution Service
David Smith

By Jim Dunton

17 Feb 2023

A security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin has been sentenced to 13 years in prison after he admitted spying for Russia.

Former Royal Air Force serviceman David Smith, aged 58, pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act at an earlier hearing and was handed his sentence by a judge at the Old Bailey in London today.

Smith had worked at the embassy in Berlin for five years. He was arrested by German police in August 2021 after being captured on covert CCTV reviewing and filming the embassy’s CCTV system.

The Crown Prosecution Service said a subsequent search of his home had found devices containing images of security equipment, personal information about employees and a draft letter to a Russian colonel in which Smith offered to provide sensitive information. It also found €800 that could not be accounted for.

Handing down sentence, Mr Justice Wall said the former embassy staffer’s “subversive activities” dated back some three years before his arrest and had posed a threat to both the nation and Smith’s immediate colleagues.

Judge Wall said evidence showed Smith had developed “decidedly anti-British and anti-western feelings” since he began working at the embassy in 2016.

“The people with whom you worked would hear you criticising this country and your then country of residence, Germany,” he said.

“They formed the impression that you were more sympathetic to Russia and in particular to president Putin.”

The judge said Smith had accepted in evidence that at one stage during his employment at the embassy he had been supportive of the Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region of east Ukraine, who wanted to return to Russian rule.

“I have already found as a fact that these feelings were the direct cause of your offending,” the judge said.

Judge Wall said that starting in 2018, Smith used his work-related privileges to visit various offices within the embassy at night, and photographed classified documents either with his phone or a camera. He said a number of those documents were clearly marked “secret”. Another was a “sensitive” report sent to then-prime minister Boris Johnson by cabinet members.

He described the quantity of documents Smith photographed as “significant”.

“You were fully aware that you should not have copied any of these documents and equally aware were these documents to get into the wrong hands, they might harm British interests or pose a threat to those working at the British Embassy,” he said.

Smith also wrote a letter to a major general who was an attaché at the Russian embassy in Berlin. It contained an update on staff who were new arrivals at the British embassy and photographs that Judge Wall said had been “deliberately annotated” with personal details of the people pictured.

“You put those people at maximum risk,” he said.

Judge Wall said some of the video footage collected by Smith showed outside views from different offices at the embassy. He said that footage could only have been intended to allow its recipients to identify individual rooms from the outside of the building.

The judge said the embassy had to undertake an overhaul of its security processes to ensure that it did not remain compromised as a result of Smith’s actions, and that the cost to UK taxpayers was £820,000 so far.

The judge said Smith had been paid by Russia for his treachery. He said that while precise evidence of the exact value of the payments Smith received was not available, the former security officer had been able to amass savings of €800 and exist without making significant withdrawals on his bank account.

Smith was extradited to the UK by German authorities, but could choose to return to Germany to serve his sentence. The Judge Wall acknowledged that while his sentence would not change as a result of whichever nation Smith was jailed in, his entitlement to early release for good behaviour could differ.

Nick Price, head of the CPS’s special crime and counter terrorism division, said Smith’s sentence should send out a “clear message” about the importance of protecting national security.

“David Smith who has just a few moments ago has been sentenced here to a substantial custodial sentence, was motivated by a combination of two things – greed and a hatred of our country,” Price said on the steps of the Old Bailey.

“That hatred was palpable and led him into engaging in what only can be described as despicable behaviour.”

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