Reports recently surfaced that David Smith, a contract security guard at the UK Embassy in Berlin, was arrested at his Potsdam flat and charged with spying on behalf of the Russian Federation. Evidence made public indicates the investigation into Smith’s skullduggery began in November 2020. He is currently sitting in Karlsruhe Prison.

David Smith – Russian asset

Smith was a contract security guard at the embassy for the past three to four years. He is a UK military veteran, and for the past 20 years, he has been married to Svetlana Makogonova, a Ukrainian, who according to media, separated from Smith just months prior to his August 10 arrest.

It is believed that Smith passed classified materials to Russian intelligence, which focused on terrorism topics. UK media has opined that in addition to the terrorism information, Smith passed information on the activities within the embassy in sufficient detail to permit the identification of up to 20 UK intelligence officers operating clandestinely in Germany.

Furthermore, like the Russian asset who provided information on the German parliament, it is believed Smith provided British embassy specifics – alarms, floor plans, entry systems, etc.

Smith was allegedly ideologically motivated, though he did not turn down significant remuneration. An inspection of his Potsdam flat showed it to be decorated with a Russian flag and Soviet era memorabilia. In addition, a framed shoulder patch was on display of a Russian military unit believed to be directly involved in the combat zone within the Ukraine.

As we know from the Peter Debbins case, Russian intelligence desires to have their sources accept money, even when ideologically motivated, as a means to more deeply compromise their activities and reduce the likelihood of an nascent asset falling off the proverbial hook.

Germany-UK Counterespionage efforts

The funds, provided by the Russians, were to prove to be his achilles heel. Smith, the trusted insider, came to the attention of the UK counterintelligence folks when it was observed that he was no longer paying for goods and services with his credit cards or from his checking account, rather with cash.

His Russian handler no doubt was kicking himself for the basic OPSEC failure associated with Smith’s use of funds provided by the Russians. Those who follow Russian espionage cases will recall CIA officer, turned intelligence asset for the Russians, Aldrich Ames, was living beyond his means, utilizing funds provided by the Russians.

In addition, it appears that Smith maintained a Russian social media account which he utilized under an alias, and to which he posted photos attesting to his affection toward the Russian Federation.

Smith the insider threat realized

Smith wouldn’t be considered to be a crown jewel of an asset by any intelligence organization, yet he would be considered sufficiently valuable to retain and groom to greater access. His ideological bent, with the willingness to accept cash for secrets, sufficiently compromised Smith, while at the same time proving to be his undermining.

FSO’s will be well served to utilize the Smith case in their counterintelligence briefings, as an example of how everyone brings value to the intelligence collection matrix. Smith’s information, while perhaps low-level may have allowed the Russian intelligence machine to identify previously unknown UK operatives, as well as, provide sufficient information to allow the Russians to consider mounting a technical operation against the Embassy.

 

 

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com