Flag on the British Embassy in Berlin.
London – A British judge has jailed a man for 13 years and two months after he pleaded guilty to spying for Russia while working at the British embassy in Berlin. Briton David Ballantyne Smith worked at the embassy as a member of security and said in court in the fall that he gave the personal data of embassy staff and other classified information to the Russian military attaché in the German capital.
“You put those people at maximum risk,” Judge Mark Wall said at the sentencing hearing. “Your level of culpability is further enhanced by the fact that you received money for your criminal conduct,” the BBC news company quoted the judge as saying.
Smith was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, a violation of which carries a sentence of two to 14 years in prison. Judge Wall said today that there was a strong public interest in protecting classified information and that the sentence for the 58-year-old must be high enough to deter others from committing similar offences. Wall addressed the allegations regarding Smith's activities in 2020 and 2021, but said his “subversive activity began two years earlier.”
The former member of the British Air Force was living in Potsdam, Germany at the time and working at the British Embassy until August when he was arrested by German police. According to the subsequent indictment, Smith felt affection for Russia and, conversely, hatred for Britain. Smith allegedly followed conspiracy theories and pro-Russian propaganda online and was also said to have been angered by the embassy's display of a rainbow flag in support of sexual minorities, British prosecutors said. The defense argued that Smith only wanted to “embarrass” the embassy and that he was suffering from depression at the time.
The man pleaded guilty to eight charges last November and confirmed that he had sent two letters containing sensitive information to the Russian embassy in the German capital. Judge Wall described today that Smith was convicted of collecting classified materials for more than three years, including “secret government communications” with then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
According to prosecutors, the convict provided the Russian Embassy with information about activities and contacts data of employees of the British Embassy, as well as their photos with captions. Smith's espionage further included information on the operation of the embassy and the layout of the building. According to Judge Wall, it was proven that he was paid to do this, but financial gain was not his only motivation.
“Your motive in helping them (the Russians) was to harm British interests,” the judge said. “Your illegal behavior was persistent and somewhat sophisticated,” he added.
Smith was arrested after walking into a trap set by British secret agents. During the operation, the suspect was alerted to a fictional man named Dmitry, who was described as a Russian helping Britain. According to the judge, Smith then copied images of a fake Russian, portrayed by one of the agents, from security cameras at his workplace and wanted to provide these images to the Russian embassy.
BBC reporter Gordon Corera is judging that the authentic materials that Smith gave to the Russians could have been very useful to them. “Potentially, this could have helped them identify British informants working undercover at the embassy and any agents they met. Security camera details, in turn, could have helped Russian spies plan their own operations against the embassy and gather intelligence,” he wrote.