Berlin spy David Ballantyne Smith was a lonely ex-serviceman who turned traitor while consuming online conspiracy theories and pro-Putin propaganda.

Born in Paisley in Scotland, the 58-year-old spent 12 years in the RAF before moving to Crawley in West Sussex and getting jobs at Gatwick Airport.

He has a grown-up daughter by an earlier relationship and had been married to his second wife Svetlana for 20 years, the Old Bailey was told.

Smith told the court he was a patriotic Scot and had been proud to serve his country before his life went ‘downhill’ after getting a job at the British Embassy in Berlin as a security guard.

He claimed he turned to drink and became depressed and lonely after his Ukrainian wife went back to the war-torn eastern region in her home country.

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.’

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.

A life-long collector of military memorabilia, Smith’s support for Russia appeared to be on prominent show in his home in Potsdam.

His living room was stuffed with Russian books and ornaments including a Russian Federation flag, Soviet military hat and a life-sized cuddly Russian toy Rottweiler and Communist toy Lada car.

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.

After his arrest, Smith 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 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.

Giving evidence, Smith claimed he only wanted to give his employer ‘a slap’ for the way he had been treated, saying his depression worsened during the Covid lockdown.

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

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‘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.’

His spying was said to have begun on March 9 2018 when he took the first of 69 files, including one video, using an LG mobile phone and a Sony DSC camera, saving them onto a USB stick under the name ‘Berlin holiday PicsNew.’

The files, discovered during searches after his arrest, included 29 pages of images of staff from the British embassy in Berlin, photographs of diplomatic passports, and photographs and names of the ‘defence section’ of the Berlin embassy.

On August 14 2018, Smith took 34 images on his phone of a booklet classified ‘official sensitive’, showing the ‘defence engagement strategy’, relating to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Libya, and liaison deployments with allied nations.

It was not until two years later, on May 14 2020, that Smith wrote a letter to a Colonel Sivov, a military attaché at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, later found on an SD card.

In it, he said he was an employee at the British Embassy in Berlin and that he would ‘like to send you this book from the defence section, classified as official-sensitive.’

‘I’m certain that you will be able to get it translated,’ he added. ‘Knowing the embassy, it will take some time before they even realise that it is missing.

‘Obviously, I would like to remain anonymous for the time being, but I do have further information, which I will send you later.

‘I hope that you respect what I have written and understand my reasons for you [sic] wishing to remain anonymous, since no one wishes to get caught.’

The first letter was not detected and it was only six months later, on November 17 2020, that a letter was intercepted which he had sent to a different official, this time to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, the military attaché in the Russian Embassy to Berlin,

The letter, in a British embassy envelope, written on embassy headed notepaper and addressed to ‘Dear Major General Ckukhrov,’ saying: ‘I hearby attach a small update to the British embassy in Germany.’

It contained what was described as ‘highly sensitive information’ about the British embassy, and those who worked within it, including names, home addresses and phone numbers.

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It included images of security passes with the department the individual worked for written on the document by Smith.

There were also a number of documents of a ‘highly sensitive nature,’ written by someone referred to only as ‘ Diplomat X’ who was the lead officer dealing with Russia at the embassy.

Diplomat X had been based in Moscow for two-and-a-half years and was said to work on a daily basis with the German government to co-ordinate the international response to Russia’s ‘malign behaviour.’

‘The potential importance of X to the Russian authorities could not have been higher,’ Alison Morgan KC, prosecuting, said.

One of the documents was a working note for an unclassified speech he was to give on relations between Russia and Germany that he had printed on a fifth-floor printer on October 9 2020, while working on the fourth floor, and left there by mistake.

There was also a visitor notification form dated September 9 2020 with details of senior German officials visiting that day, including one labelled as ‘Russian director.’

A handwritten annotation in German, read: ‘Visitors for a video conference sanctioned against Russia,’ written by Smith.

It was not until the middle of January 2021 that Smith was identified as the ‘prime candidate’ to be the author of the letter sent the previous November.

The letter had been posted in Potsdam and Smith was the only member of embassy staff who lived in the area.

However, by then he had almost certainly met officials in the Russian embassy – possibly by walking in and making an approach – and had been paid for his services.

Analysis of Smith’s finances showed the absence of cash withdrawals suggesting he had an alternative source of cash.

Between January 1 2020 and November 25 2020, there had been a downward trend in the balance of the account and an overdraft of at least 200 euros

However, from January 2021 onwards, there was a notable decrease in the number of transactions coming out of the account.

Between the start of February 2021 and the beginning of May 2021 there were no cash withdrawals at all.

An image was taken on Smith’s phone on February 5 2021 of a white envelope containing five 100 Euro notes which had been sent to his wife on the Telegram messaging platform and then deleted.

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There was no corresponding withdrawal of cash from Smith’s account around the same time to account for the money.

During the search of Smith’s home address, another 800 euros were found, in 100 Euro denomination notes, bringing the total he was paid to at least 1,300 Euros, although prosecutors believes that was ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ of what he had been paid.

In June 2021, Smith used a Goextreme Impulse camera to film nine videos which made up an hour-long ‘walk-through’ video of the embassy, revealing information that was so sensitive the judge had to view it in private.

Smith filmed the majority of the embassy, including the names on office doors, at times filming out of windows in order to locate where a room was in relation to the street.

Prosecutors said the filming with ‘quite deliberate’ and had probably been ‘tasked’ by the Russians to identify specific rooms and make the location clear.

At one point, Smith could be seen opening a drawer and rifling through documentation to find a copy of a letter to the prime minister about ‘sensitive trade matters’, returning later to film it more thoroughly.

The letter, classified as ‘secret,’ was sent to Boris Johnson, then the Prime Minister, from Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and Alok Sharma, then the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on November 23 2020.

Ms Morgan said the letter was one of the documents highlighted in the ‘harm’ category for the judge.

For some documents Smith filmed, he turned the pages and scanned from top to bottom so the viewer could see their detailed content, including a document on defence which was over 80 pages long.

Police only found the material after Smith’s arrest, along with images on the Sony camera, also taken in 2021, including a photograph of a white board relating to staff deployments in Berlin and images of communications equipment.

Further images showed the itinerary of a British military officer for a visit to Germany in June 2021 and a letter from the Australian ambassador to Germany to the British ambassador, as well as names and contact details of Army and Royal Air Force exchange personnel in Germany.


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