A Putin cartoon in his locker and a Soviet hat, the British spy who made no secret of his love for Russia

David Smith expressed his anti-Western views to colleagues while selling secrets to Russia, Lizzie Dearden writes

Friday 17 February 2023 16:31 GMT
David Smith was caught in MI5 sting operation in 2021
David Smith was caught in MI5 sting operation in 2021 (Metropolitan Police/AP)

David Smith liked Russia. A lot. And he wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings to colleagues at the British embassy in Berlin.

The 58-year-old security guard kept a poster affixed to the inside of his work locker’s door so that every time he opened it, he was greeted with a cartoon of a muscled Vladimir Putin, who was holding a bayonet in one hand and using the other to drag Angela Merkel by the neck.

The former German chancellor was shown wearing a Nazi uniform and the caption, in German, read: “Russia, please liberate us once more!”

London’s Old Bailey would later hear how he would express stridently anti-UK and anti-Western views to colleagues at the embassy, criticising both Britain and Germany.

“Your colleagues formed the impression that you were more sympathetic to Russia in general and President Putin in particular,” said the judge who jailed Smith for offences under the Official Secrets Act.

A poster believed to be the same as the one in David Smith’s locker
A poster believed to be the same as the one in David Smith’s locker (Handout)

“At one stage during your employment at the embassy you were a supporter of the Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region of Ukraine, who wanted to return to Russian rule.”

Smith had also decked out his home in Potsdam in unique style, with the lounge stuffed with Russian memorabilia and books.

One corner was dominated by a huge Russian Federation flag, while a Soviet cap was displayed proudly on top of a bookcase and a large cuddly toy Rottweiler wearing a Russian military hat sat on the floor.

Alongside various Russian books on his shelf, including those on young female Russian snipers, sat a toy Lada car from the Communist era.

The collection was uncovered in August 2021, when Smith was arrested for using his job at the British embassy to sell secrets to Russia.

A letter to a Russian military attache had been intercepted, and investigators believe it was just one part of a longer relationship that saw Smith hand over secret documents, details of embassy employees and videos showing the layout of restricted areas inside the building.

Despite the overt displays of his allegiances, counterterror police said they had not become aware of the spy until the letter was intercepted in November 2020, and they were not aware of any concerns being flagged by Smith’s embassy colleagues.

Mr Justice Wall found that his covert activity dated back to 2018, and that Smith had been “paid for his treachery”, but the court case did not reveal when his relationship with Russia began.

Social media posts indicate that his love for the Kremlin pre-dated the start of his employment at the embassy in 2016, and the Foreign Office has not answered The Independent’s questions on how he was able to obtain “sensitive-level” security vetting.

On an account in a fake name, Smith wrote in the “about me” section of the page: “Anti Nato. Anti EU. Anti American.”

In 2014, he posted put up an image of President Putin raising a middle finger with the caption “F*** NATO”, according to records obtained by the Daily Record.

Smith posted a photo of himself, clearly showing his face, holding his British passport and a sign reading: “Save Donbass People From Ukrainian Nazi Army.”

Moment spy David Smith is jailed for 13 years for passing secrets to Russia

He expressed support for Russian-backed rebels in the region and called for glory to “Novorossiya” - an empire-era name for an area covering parts of Ukraine.

The Old Bailey heard that after starting work at the British embassy in 2016 Smith was “initially a keen, polite and professional employee”, but that his behaviour changed after his Ukrainian wife moved back to her home country two years later.

He started openly expressing anti-UK and anti-Germany views, stating that he would never return to Britain and “expressing views about the war in Ukraine that were opposed to the Ukraine government and supportive of Russia”.

The period in question was before the invasion in February last year, but followed the annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern parts of the country involving Russian-backed separatists.

The former RAF serviceman expressed an interest in online conspiracy theories, saying: “I look at David Icke and Alex Jones’s 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.

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, and that his attempts to pass secrets to the Russian were driven by grievances at work.

Giving evidence, Smith claimed he only wanted to give his employer “a slap” for the way he had been treated, and “wanted to teach the embassy a lesson”.

Mr Justice Wall dismissed Smith’s attempts to explain away and minimise his activities, saying he was not a witness “of truth”.

The judge said: “He was paid for his treachery and he was motivated by his antipathy towards this country and intended to damage this country’s interests by acting as he did.”

He said the only reason why Smith did not resign from the embassy job he hated was so he could continue feeding Russia its secrets.

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