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Embassy contractors under review after Berlin spy sting

Jill Gallard CMG became Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany on 11 November 2020.
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The arrest of David Smith, 57, on suspicion of spying for Russia prompts calls for review of embassy contractors

Private British contractors, including former military personnel, wanting to work in British embassies across the globe will be under greater scrutiny and security clearance. The security review is in direct response to the arrest of a British security contractor on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Russian government while working in the British consulate in Germany.

The former junior airman with the RAF, but was now a civilian working for a private contractor. Britain only uses military personnel in the riskiest locations, whereby US embassies specifically have marines guard their premises.

The news follows Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas signing in June a Joint Declaration on foreign and security policy cooperation. It is the first such bilateral agreement between the UK and Germany on foreign and security policy issues.

Jill Gallard CMG (pictured) became Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany on 11 November 2020. Before joining the Embassy, she was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Deputy Political Director (2018-2020) and Director of Human Resources (2014-2018). From 2011 to 2014 Jill served as British Ambassador to Portugal.

Suspected working for Russians for months

Germany’s highest public prosecutor said a British national, named David Smith, 57, was “strongly suspected” of having worked for the Russians since at least last November.

Several news sources including The Telegraph report that MI5 and German intelligence are understood to have been watching Smith for months as he allegedly passed sensitive counter-terror documents to his Russian handlers in exchange for cash bribes.

Whitehall sources said Smith had been hired locally by a private contractor providing security for the British Embassy and does not hold diplomatic immunity, The Telegraph said.

Facing trial in Germany

German officials suggested Smith would be likely to face trial in Germany rather than being extradited to the UK. However, British detectives are understood to have flown to Berlin to assist the investigation.

A statement from the German prosecutor said: “Until his arrest, David S worked as a local employee at the British Embassy in Berlin. On at least one occasion he forwarded documents obtained in the course of his professional activities to a representative of a Russian intelligence service.

Security vetting of contractors in question

MPs and senior defence figures said the arrest of Smith raised serious questions over security vetting for private contractors in British embassies.

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence select committee, called on the Government to review the security of all contractors working at its embassies. He declared the move “standard protocol following such an incident”, which he described as a “disturbing throwback to the Cold War days”.

G4S, considered one of the largest security firms, in April accepted its takeover by Allied Universal. Allied Universal said over 90% of G4S PLC shareholders accepted its takeover offer, meaning it could compulsorily buy the remaining shares.

G4S delisted from the London Stock Exchange on May 5.

Allied, a California-based security and staffing provider, paid 245 pence per share for London-based peer G4S, valuing it at GBP3.8 billion.

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