A security guard admitted yesterday that he had stolen some of Britain's most closely guarded defence secrets to sell to Russian agents.
Raphael Bravo, aged 30, who worked at BAE Systems, was arrested at a London hotel when he tried to exchange documents for up to £10m.
Defence experts said yesterday that the documents gave details of state-of-the-art electronic warfare systems designed to protect British and Nato ships and aircraft from enemy missiles.
If Russia had got hold of the information, it would have thrown the defence industry into disarray and cost billions of pounds to change the systems, one source said.
Questions were being asked last night about security at the north-west London offices of BAE Systems, formerly known as British Aerospace, after it was revealed that Bravo, labelled an "opportunist spy", had snatched the documents during his patrols while on a night shift. BAE Systems declined to comment.
When the documents were found to be missing, suspicions immediately fell on Bravo, whose fingerprints were discovered at the scene of the theft. Ten agents started to follow the security guard, who was employed by Crusader, a Watford-based security company under contract to BAE Systems to patrol the London site at Stanmore.
The security services set up a sting operation, and a "Russian agent" contacted Bravo, of Willesden in north-west London. After he left work on 22 August, he agreed to go to the White House hotel in central London to meet the "Russians". He told the undercover officers from MI5 and Special Branch that he had secrets to sell, and they asked him to produce the documents. When Bravo tried to pass them over, he was arrested.
At the Old Bailey yesterday, Aftab Jafferjee, for the prosecution, said: "This case concerns a security guard at British Aerospace in Stanmore, who abused his position of trust by stealing security documents in the course of his night-time patrols. He embarked on an enterprise to sell secrets to a foreign power – in this case the Russians."
The documents were marked as being British or Nato secrets and included details of electronic warfare systems for aircraft including Apache attack helicopters and Harrier jump jets.
A defence source said yesterday that the technology could also have been earmarked for the next generation of combat aircraft still under development. He said that if the documents had got through to enemy hands, there could have been a crisis within the Western defence industry.
"They could see how the enemy is actually operating against them and detecting their weapons. The Russians would probably have gained a lot of intelligence," the defence source said. "It would have changed everything and Nato would have had to have changed all their design requirements." He said a handover could have cost billions. "It would have changed all sorts of things".
Among the documents Bravo stole between 31 May and 5 August were detailed specifications for "Prophet Asic" a secret and sophisticated early warning system designed for Nato aircraft.
Also stolen was the defensive system for Apache helicopters. The Ministry of Defence is introducing 67 Apaches by 2003.
Bravo, wearing a smart blue suit and with glasses, pleaded guilty to nine charges at the brief hearing before the London Recorder, Judge Michael Hyam. The offences related to thefts of property "useful to an enemy and prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State" and breaches of the Official Secrets Act.
Bravo also asked for two other offences, relating to Monopulse, a new radar system, to be taken into consideration. He was remanded in custody until 1 February for sentencing.
Rock Tansey QC, for the defence, told the court that Bravo came from a "very hard-working and decent family". Mr Tansey added: "It is acknowledged that he is in no way politically motivated."Reuse content