British embassy guard who spied for Russia tells London court he is 'ashamed'

A security guard at the British embassy in Berlin who collected highly sensitive information and passed some of it to the Russian state told a London court on Tuesday that he is "disgusted with myself and ashamed of what I've done".

David Ballantyne Smith, 58, said he started collecting confidential information during a dispute with colleagues and while suffering from depression "to give the embassy a bit of a slap".

"I can only apologise for any distress I've caused to anyone," he told London's Old Bailey. "I didn't set out to harm anyone in any way. I just had a bit of a grievance and I just wanted to embarrass the embassy."

Smith pleaded guilty in November to eight offences under the Official Secrets Act, including one charge relating to passing information to General Major Sergey Chukhrov, the Russian military attaché to Berlin, in November 2020.

The seven other charges involve collecting information which might be useful to Russia, four of which relate to an MI5 officer posing as "Dmitry", a Russian national who was supposedly providing assistance to Britain.

The court heard on Monday that Smith collected highly sensitive information for more than three years, including "secret" government communications with Prime Minister Boris Johnson from two cabinet ministers and other sensitive documents.

Smith said on Tuesday that he filmed the documents after drinking "seven pints of beer", adding: "It seemed like a good idea at the time." But he said he did not pass the documents on to anyone as "it would be knowingly damaging the UK".

His letter to Chukrov, which contained "highly sensitive information about the British embassy and those who worked within it", prompted a joint investigation between British and German authorities, prosecutor Alison Morgan said on Monday.

Smith was arrested in August 2021, the day after meeting "Irina" – an MI5 officer posing as a member of Russia's military intelligence service, who told him she needed help as someone had passed information to Britain which "could be damaging to Russia".

Asked when he suspected "Irina" may have actually been working for British intelligence, Smith said in evidence on Tuesday: "The minute she opened her mouth I knew she was British because she spoke to me in a fluent English accent."

He added that he continued to speak with her after she said she worked for Russian intelligence because he was "playing her along".

The prosecution says Smith told colleagues of his "strong anti-UK views", as well as his support for President Putin, which indicates that he had a "clear intention to cause prejudice to the UK" by collecting sensitive information.

Smith denied that he that he was anti-UK or pro-Putin, adding: "My thoughts on Mr Putin are neither here nor there." He also said he had served in Britain's Royal Air Force for 12 years.

However, Morgan said Smith had collected sensitive information knowing it would be “highly damaging to the interests of the country (and) the people you were prepared to sell out by handing over their identification cards”.