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David Ballantyne Smith, a 58-year-old man from Paisley, Scotland, has been sentenced to 13 years and two months in prison for leaking embassy secrets to a hostile power. Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act 1911 and 1920, but claimed that he did not intentionally cause harm. However, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Wall, dismissed Smith’s defense during sentencing at the Old Bailey, stating that the defendant had collected “a significant amount of material” to “damage British interests” and had provided that information to a “hostile power.”
During the televised sentencing, Justice Wall told Smith that it was his job to ensure the embassy was secure and its staff safe, and that his actions were a significant breach of trust. Smith’s “persistent, and to an extent, sophisticated” information gathering had caused “understandable anxiety and stress” to the embassy’s staff and their families, the judge said. Justice Wall also revealed that Smith’s spying could have harmed Britain’s international trade negotiations, which came at a time when the UK was “calling out” Russian actions, including the amassing of vast numbers of troops on the Ukraine border.
Smith’s motivations for leaking embassy secrets were apparently rooted in personal issues. He claimed that he was depressed, lonely, and drinking up to seven pints a day when he started collecting and leaking information, hoping to cause embarrassment. However, Justice Wall did not find this explanation convincing and said that Smith’s actions were deliberate and calculated. The judge also noted that Smith was “paid by Russia for [his] treachery,” but there was no evidence that the payment amounted to “life-changing sums of money.”
Smith’s espionage activities were extensive and involved the theft of sensitive documents, photographs, and even CCTV footage. He provided names, photographs, and personal details of embassy staff to Russian officials, as well as secret documents, including correspondence to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In addition, Smith filmed an extensive walk around the embassy, which revealed the layout of the building and its offices, taking care to film through windows.
The sting operation that led to Smith’s arrest was also detailed during the sentencing. A British agent visited the embassy posing as a Russian defector named Dmitry and offered to pass sensitive information to British authorities in front of Smith. The British intelligence services had been monitoring Smith’s activities for some time and used this opportunity to catch him red-handed.