30 July 2007

I’m No Spy by Laura Smith

On 5 June 2007 I gave an interview to Laura Smith, a journalist at the Echo. It is impossible to cover all the details of my story in a short article, but I gave her as much information I could to understand the background to my case.

I made the point to Laura that I felt the Official Secrets Act is often used to prevent embarrassing revelations about sinister government activity, and that I felt it was legitimate for such information to be leaked. There have been a number of such cases over the years, including the Clive Ponting case, but more recent OSA victims include the imprisonment of David Keogh & Leo O’Connor, and other cases such as Katharine Gun and Sarah Tisdall.

Laura did make a mistake about one point however; I was on the same wing as Donald Nielsen ("The Black Panther"), not Dennis Nilsen.

The article was published in the Echo on 7 June and is printed below.

A convicted spy jailed for selling military secrets to the Russians is still fighting to clear his name.

Michael John Smith was found guilty in 1993 of three offences under the Official Secrets Act and jailed with high-risk offenders. He served ten years.

He has now applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the hope of overturning the conviction.

Mr Smith, 58, was accused of making £20,000 by selling secret documents, including details of a missile project, to KGB double agent Viktor Oshchenko.

The former Communist Party member worked at a research centre with Ministry of Defence contracts.

Why I am fighting to clear my name

A spy who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for selling military secrets to the Russians is still trying to clear his name.

Michael John Smith, 58, has protested his innocence since he was arrested in 1992 for espionage and sent to Full Sutton Prison in Yorkshire.

Mr Smith was eventually found guilty of three offences under the Official Secrets Act after a trial at the Old Bailey in November 1993.

His case is now being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which has already rejected a previous appeal. During his trial, he was accused of passing on top secret documents relating to the ALARM system, an anti-radar device that can jam missiles.

Mr Smith worked as a quality assurance engineer for Thorn EMI Defence Electronics, which had contracts with the Ministry of Defence. He then went on to do similar work at the Hirst Research Centre in Wembley - a research laboratory for GEC Marconi, which is also contracted to the MoD.

The prosecution claimed he used his position to obtain top secret documents. He was then contacted by KGB double agent Viktor Oshchenko to sell the papers and made £20,000 cash.

However, Mr Smith insists the papers related to satellite dishes and were not secret. He claims he passed them on to an Englishman called Harry Williams, who he thought was just a commercial rival, but now believes to be an MI5 agent.

He said: “He arranged to meet me in local places like Harrow town centre and gave me cash.

“It was always in £50 notes, brand new pound notes, which seemed very odd. It seemed it was a risk doing that. I suppose if he was MI5 and getting that money, they’d get that out of the bank.

“But I’ve heard the KGB would use old notes in small denominations because it’s easier to get lost in the system.”

Mr Smith said he was under threat of being made redundant and had decided to sell on old documents which were mainly about technology used in satellite dishes. He first received a phone call at work, and once received a letter in relation to meetings. But soon after he and his contact decided at each rendezvous where they would next meet.

He explained: “I thought it was easy money. I know it’s wrong. There are a lot of people who, if they are put in that situation and realise they are under threat of redundancy, would just take the risk.”

Mr Smith was arrested after police staged a phone call to his home, asking him if he knew a man called Viktor and telling him to meet at a phone box in 15 minutes.

He was photographed at the booth and later arrested by police, when he screamed out: “You are not the police. I know who you are. I am being kidnapped. Help me!”

Mr Smith insists this was police entrapment and that he had only responded to the call because he had been curious about people lurking around his flat in recent weeks, and was still groggy after a night out drinking at a restaurant.

His car and house were searched, and a map of Portugal was found with crosses marked on it, which the prosecution claimed related to a training mission he had been on in the town of Oporto in 1977. Mr Smith insists this was simply a travel map he had used for a recent holiday to the country, and that the crosses were to mark things such as restaurants, camp sites and bus stops. In the boot of his car, police found a plastic bag full of documents. Among them were handwritten notes headed “Micromachining Project”, “Micron-Valve Project” and other subjects. A document was also found which an expert at his trial linked to the ALARM project.

Other documents were found in his drawer which police claimed were KGB “tradecraft” papers. Mr Smith had joined the Communist Party when he was 24 and had gone on to become the secretary of the Kingston branch of the Young Communist League. The prosecution in his trial claim he decided to defect after meeting Oshchenko, and left the party abruptly so he could go underground and appear respectable - gaining access to important information.

His clearance was high enough for him to be compelled to sign the Official Secrets Act twice.

He is angry because he felt his case was under-funded, and he had only one expert witness to counter the prosecution’s team of experts. He was also prevented from contacting the media while in prison for reasons of national security, until he sought a judicial review.

Mr Smith served ten years and was released on probation in 2002. He lives in a small, yet carefully furnished flat, where he’s in constant fear he is being bugged or watched.

Recently he received information he had been under surveillance in the past. The informant relayed details to him, such as a team of builders who spent a whole day by his car, and an incident in which Mr Smith had walked past two cars that almost crashed.

He said he had now lost faith in the system and the worthiness of the Official Secrets Act.

He said: “I don’t think selling secrets is always wrong; I’m not talking about military secrets.

“The Official Secrets Act is not about protecting secrets necessarily - it’s about preventing embarrassment.”

Timeline of a spy

1972 Joined the Communist Party

1976 Started work as quality assurance engineer at Thorn EMI Defence Electronics in Middlesex. Had security clearance up to level of “secret”.

1977 Trip to Oporto in Portugal. Prosecution said this was for KGB training. Smith claims it was just a holiday.

1992 Arrested for espionage after police called his home pretending to be agents.

1993 Smith convicted of three offences under the Official Secrets Act. He is sentenced to 25 years.

1995 Smith’s appeal is quashed, but sentence is reduced by five years because there is no proof of which documents he passed on.

2007 CCRC opens another review at the request of Smith.

Locked up with IRA and murderers

Michael Smith spent his first two years in jail living with category A prisoners in Full Sutton Prison - including murderers and members of the IRA.

The 58-year-old was incarcerated on a high-security wing of the Yorkshire prison before being downgraded to category B.

He said: “There were a few occasions you’d find somebody gets stabbed over a fight, usually over something trivial.

“People had been attacked for £10 of drugs; it’s incredible. People had their cells burnt because they didn’t pay their drug dealer.”

At one point, he was placed on the same wing as Jeremy Bamber, who was imprisoned for shooting dead his adoptive parents, sister, and his twin six-year-old nephews in Tolleshunt D’Arcy, near Maldon, in 1985. Mr Smith was also on the same wing as infamous serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who murdered and mutilated lovers he brought back to his apartment.

Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983 for the murder of six people and attempted murder of two others. Despite this gruesome company, Smith found many inmates who were “not much different from anybody else” - including members of the IRA.

He said: “Some of them are now in government in Ireland.

“They were an inspiration. They would stand up for their rights.”

Mr Smith said what affected him more than anything else during his time at Full Sutton was when there was a riot in January 1997.

He said: “Two wings were destroyed and it was all over nothing. I think there was a lot of tension at that time over new regimes coming in. Some of the prisoners didn’t like what was going on - it all exploded.

“I just locked myself in my cell.”

The next day the prisoners were all moved and Smith found himself at Wakefield prison, locked up with sex offenders and paedophiles, where he says he kept himself to himself.

During his time in prison he also divorced from his wife Pamela Winter, whom he had married in 1979.

Michael Smith has offered his support to a man who is facing trial under the Official Secrets Act.

Mr Smith has been writing letters of advice to Daniel James, a corporal who has been accused of passing secret information to Iran about military operations in Afghanistan. James appeared before City of Westminster Magistrates’ in December 2006, but it could take a year for his trial to be heard. Mr Smith has been contacting James’s defence team about how to tackle a case under the Official Secrets Act, which he believes is usually weighted against the defence.

He wrote: “It will not affect me if you are found guilty and receive a ten or 15-year prison sentence, but I do not want that to happen if you are an innocent man. Probably, you think your defence is being correctly dealt with by your solicitors, and so I wish you good luck that you can defeat the prosecution’s arguments at your trial.

“If you think I can help you, I will do anything I can to assist you.

“Meanwhile, try to keep positive and remember the next few months are the most important time to prepare yourself for trial.”