'Erm, Corbyn?' Home Office slaps down Labour in Berlin 'spy' row

‘You wanted to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister’: Home Office slaps down ‘laughable’ Labour after it says ministers ‘can’t be trusted’ with national security as British ‘spy’ is arrested for ‘selling secrets to Russia’

  • British man, 57, identified only as David S., was arrested in Potsdam near Berlin
  • He is suspected of being a secret service agent and spying for the Russian intelligence service since at least November
  • Before his arrest, he worked as a local hire at the British Embassy in Berlin and allegedly passed on documents he received at work to the Russians 
  • David S. was being reportedly monitored by MI5 as his alleged activities ‘had been known about for some time’

Labour was branded ‘laughable’ today after the party tried to trigger a political row over the arrest of a British embassy worker in Germany for allegedly selling secrets to Russia.

The opposition party went on the offensive after police in Potsdam, west of Berlin, revealed they were holding a man named as David S, 57, on suspicion of spying for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.

Shadow security minister Conor McGinn blasted Boris Johnson for failing to appoint a Security Minister since James Brokenshire stood down on health grounds last month.

He said the Government ‘can’t be trusted with national security’, adding: ‘Following today’s events, it raises questions about who in Government is overseeing the most serious task of keeping the British public safe and secure.’

But his comments triggered a furious accusation of hypocrisy from the Home Office, with a source pointing to the behaviour of Labour’s former hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn’s equivocation over who was to blame for Russia’s nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018 which left a local woman dead is seen as having badly damaged the party’s image ahead of its 2019 election mauling. 

Ahead of that election he also accused ministers of planning to sell out the NHS to US businesses, based on a leaked dossier later linked to Russian hackers. 

A source said: ‘The Home Secretary is responsible for matters of security. For the party that tried to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister to suggest we are lax on security matters is laughable’.

The suspect identified only as David S., is suspected of being a secret service agent and spying for the Russian intelligence service since at least November. Pictured: The British embassy in Berlin

Mr Corbyn’s (pictured front, today) initial refusal to blame Moscow for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018 which left a local woman dead is seen as having badly damaged the party’s image ahead of its 2019 election mauling.

Shadow security minister Conor McGinn blasted Boris Johnson for failing to appoint a Security Minister since James Brokenshire stood down on health grounds last month.

German prosecutors said the Briton arrested yesterday is suspected of being a secret service agent and spying for the Russian intelligence service since at least November. 

Reports suggested he was being monitored by MI5 before his arrest. He had been  working as a local staff member at the British Embassy in Berlin and allegedly passed on documents he received at work to the Russians, the prosecutors said. 

The suspect ‘on at least one occasion passed on documents he acquired as part of his professional activities to a representative of Russian intelligence,’ the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement. 

The Briton then received an unknown amount of cash in return, the statement said, adding that investigators have searched his home and office.

David S. was reportedly being monitored by MI5 as his alleged activities ‘had been known about for some time’ and it was not a ‘snap arrest’, according to Sky News.  

The suspect worked as a ‘local hire’ at the embassy, which is a scheme available for UK citizens who want to work in Germany. It means that he was not a diplomat and therefore he does not have diplomatic immunity.   

A Western security source said the motivation of the British man was likely money. As a locally engaged staffer, he did not have access to highly classified material, the source said, adding Britain’s MI5 counter-intelligence service was involved in catching him.

German online magazine Focus Online reported that he provided the Russians with documents containing information on counterterrorism. 

David S. is to appear later Wednesday before an investigating judge at the federal court, who will read out the arrest warrant and decide whether to keep him remanded in custody. 

Germany’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said the German government took the spying allegations ‘very seriously’ and would follow the case closely, adding that spying on allied states on German soil is unacceptable.    

Russia’s embassy in Berlin said today: ‘The Russian Embassy in Germany to date does not have any official information received from the German side on this issue.

‘The embassy does not comment on press reports.’ 

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) did not immediately reply to requests for comment. 

The Briton’s arrest is the result of a joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command and their German counterparts. The investigation was ‘intelligence-led’, which means that investigators would have taken their time to gather evidence.   

Foreign embassies in most countries rely in part on these ‘local hires’ to fill a variety of roles. 

The positions are often advertised on generic job search websites in the host country – and the identity of the employer is kept vague until applicants pass an initial screening process. 

Local hire positions in embassies are usually in fields such as media affairs, maintenance or visa processing which do not usually give access to classified information – or if they were, it would be limited.

But David S., depending on his role, could have been able to provide valuable information to Russia such as profiles of diplomats and MI6 officers stationed in Berlin as well as the security protocols and Wi-Fi network details at the embassy, reports Sky News. 

The British embassy in Berlin is just around the corner from the iconic Brandenburg Gate and a short, 250-metre (273 yard) walk from the Russian embassy, which is on the famous Unter den Linden boulevard.   

Before his arrest, he worked as a local hire at the British Embassy in Berlin and allegedly passed on documents he received at work to the Russians, the prosecutors said. Pictured: File image of the British Embassy in Berlin

The Met Police said in a statement: ‘A 57-year old British national was arrested by German authorities on Tuesday, 10 August, as part of a joint investigation between the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and German counterparts.

‘The man was arrested in the Berlin area on suspicion of committing offences relating to being engaged in ‘Intelligence Agent activity’ (under German law).

‘Primacy for the investigation remains with German authorities. Officers from the Counter Terrorism Command continue to liaise with German counterparts as the investigation continues.

The Met’s Counter Terrorism Command is responsible for investigating allegations and matters relating to alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

A UK Government spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘An individual who was contracted to work for the government was arrested yesterday by the German authorities. 

‘It would not be appropriate to comment further as there is an ongoing police investigation.’

In May, Britain set out plans to crack down on hostile activity by foreign states, introducing a proposed law to give security services and law enforcement new powers to tackle growing threats. 

Security specialist Edward Lucas likened the arrest to an early spy novel by the British writer John le Carre.

Security specialist Edward Lucas (pictured) likened the arrest to an early spy novel by the British writer John le Carre

‘The fact that the arrest has been made in Berlin suggests it’s a non-diplomatic member of the embassy, that’s why the German judicial system has been brought to bear on it,’ he told Times Radio.

If the suspect was a diplomat, the British authorities would have been more involved, he added.

Lucas, a former foreign correspondent with The Economist covering eastern and central European affairs, said the arrest was ‘a reminder of how much effort the Russians put in to trying to find out what Western alliances are up to’. 

Germany has arrested a number of people in recent years accused of spying for Russia, but the capture of a suspect from a close ally is highly unusual. 

In June, a Russian man who worked at a German university was arrested on suspicion of espionage for allegedly passing information to Russian intelligence, German prosecutors said.

The suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., was arrested and his home and workplace were searched. 

Federal prosecutors said he worked as a research assistant for a science and technology professorship at a German university. They didn’t identify the university or specify where in the country he was arrested.

The man is accused of meeting at least three times with a member of a Russian intelligence service, which prosecutors didn’t identify, between October of last year and June. In two of those meetings, he is alleged to have handed over information on the university in exchange for an unspecified amount of cash.  

And German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

In June, Italy said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needs to protect itself from Russian ‘interference’.

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police selling confidential military documents from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

The leaders of nine eastern European nations in May condemned what they termed Russian ‘aggressive acts’, citing operations in Ukraine and ‘sabotage’ allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague, but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as ‘absurd’ and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

British spy chiefs say both China and Russia have sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in politics, while Russian agents are also accused of carrying out an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil in 2018.

The Scripals were poisoned after two Russian agents smeared the deadly nerve agent on the door handle of Mr Skripal’s home. Pictured: Russian agents Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov in Salisbury 

Yulia Skripal (left) and her double agent father Sergei Skripal, 68, (right) were poisoned with novichok on March 4 2019 

Beijing and Moscow say the West is gripped with a paranoia about plots. Both Russia and China deny they meddle abroad, seek to steal technology, carry out cyberattacks or sow discord.

The Berlin case has echoes of the shadowy world of espionage practised during the Cold War, when double agent Kim Philby and others in a ring of British spies known as the ‘Cambridge Five’ passed information to the Soviet Union.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts, including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.  

Relations between London and Moscow have been at a low point since the attempted poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in British Salisbury in 2018.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either case.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks and cyberespionage on its soil.

Despite the frictions, Berlin has pressed ahead with plans to finish the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.  

This is a breaking news story, more to follow…  

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