A British embassy spy was caught on camera “hedging his bets” with a fake Russian operative during an undercover sting, a court has heard.
David Ballantyne Smith, 58, had been collecting documents from the Berlin embassy where he worked as a security guard some four years before his arrest in August 2021.
Smith, who is originally from Paisley, was snared in an undercover operation involving the deployment of two fake Russian operatives, after he sent a letter in November 2020 to a member of military staff at the Russian Embassy in Berlin.
The first undercover role-player purported to be a “walk-in” Russian informant called “Dmitry”.
The Scot was tasked with escorting him into the British Embassy on August 5 2021, copying a document Dmitry brought and disposing of Sim card packaging.
Afterwards, Smith was captured on CCTV in his security kiosk, filming the earlier footage of Dmitry wearing a flat cap and glasses.
The Old Bailey heard he filmed about 45 seconds then said: “This’ll do. I’ll get the rest tomorrow.”
On August 9, Smith was accosted in the street by a second role-player, “Irina”, who told him she was a Russian intelligence officer.
On a covert recording played in court, Smith appeared cautious about engaging with her, saying he needed to speak to “someone” first.
He told Irina: “I don’t trust the bastards I work for. Would you trust MI5 and MI6?”
He went on to complain about his “boring” job, saying: “To tell the truth I don’t want to be there any more.”
Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC said: “Irina was deployed to play the role of the GRU officer and to see whether someone – Dmitry – was providing information to the UK that could be damaging to Russia.
“He (Smith) is someone who has been engaging with the Russian authorities for some time.
“The prosecution allege he has been aware of the Dmitry incident and knows the potential significance of the Dmitry incident because he has taken the recordings with a view to passing that material on.
“So when he is presented with somebody who claims to be from the Russian authorities and inquires about it, the prosecution position is that the defendant was stalling in his engagement with Irina, trying to work out as quickly as he could think about it, what was the more likely – that this was a real Russian representative who he could trust to provide the information, even though Irina was plainly not the ‘someone’ who the defendant was ordinarily engaging with.”
The alternative possibility was that he had been “rumbled”, she said.
Ms Morgan went on: “The defendant will assert he knew from the outset Irina was MI5 and further asserts he said that to her on the recording.”
But she said there were “no words” to that effect on audio played in court.
She said: “The defendant was plainly hedging his bets to see whether or not he could trust her.
“This is a man who was plainly trying to work Irina out.
“The key line is he told Irina that he would have to check with ‘someone’.”
Ms Morgan added that when Irina showed him a picture of Dmitry, he did not react at all.
Smith declined to be interviewed after German officers arrested him at 2.10pm on August 10, 2021 in Potsdam, Germany.
Ex-RAF serviceman Smith, was extradited on April 6 last year and arrested on arrival at Heathrow Airport for offences under the Official Secrets Act.
Smith has pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.
The prosecution alleges Smith held strong anti-UK views and was in favour of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.
An examination of his finances suggests he was receiving unaccounted-for funds, including 800 euro in cash uncovered at his home in Potsdam.
Smith has denied leaking secrets to Russia for money and claimed he only intended to “inconvenience and embarrass” the embassy, where he had worked since 2016.
But the prosecution say his deliberate engagement with Russian authorities, by providing them with confidential and sensitive information, demonstrates an intent to harm UK interests.
Smith is due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday.
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