British naval officer spied for Russia to pay off wife's debts

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The Independent Online

Some did it for Mother Russia and others were entrapped by sex, but for Sub-Lieutenant David Bingham the motivation behind spying for the Soviet Union was a little more unusual: paying off his wife's shopping and gambling debts.

A secret report by the security services into the case of Bingham, who confessed in August 1971 to having passed eight documents on naval tactics and armaments to the Russians, reached the conclusion that he had been forced into espionage by a £5,000 debt run up by the mother of his four children. Documents released yesterday at the National Archives show that officials privately admitted Bingham had severely damaged British naval capabilities by handing over a secret volume on battle manoeuvres described by one senior commander as "almost beyond price" to Moscow.

The activities of Bingham, a sonar specialist on submarines and frigates who had access to documentation about Britain's nuclear weapons, were only discovered when he approached his commander in Portsmouth and confessed. MI5 investigators found that the serviceman had been handing over documentation for more than 18 months after facing mounting domestic problems caused by the spending habits of his wife, Maureen, who had run up a huge debt by playing cards and spending in expensive shops.

In one report, an officer wrote: "In October 1969 he returned home on compassionate leave following a telegram from his wife saying that she was in debt and was placing the children in care ... On rejoining his ship after leave, he assured his Captain that he had sorted the situation out. But two months later he started spying."

His wife, prompted by her debts, had initially approached the Russians.