From Russia With Love Panorama

From Russia With Love

How did an MP's former assistant come to be wrongly accused by MI5 of being a threat to British national security? Katia Zatuliveter speaks exclusively to Peter Taylor.

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Last year, MI5 believed it had uncovered a Russian spy at the very


heart of British democracy, inside the House of Commons. If MI5 did


not take this sort of thing seriously, we would want our money


back. And we would be entitled to get our money back. The 26-year-old


Russian, Katia Zatuliveter, was accused of being the eyes and ears


of Russia's foreign Intelligence Service. Were you a honeytrap spy?


No. I am sorry to disappoint you. In her only interview, she talks


about being an innocent victim, targeted by MI5. Russian spies are


very skilful. I have never met any, I don't know. And the MP who was


her lover has hit back furiously at the Security Service. She felt like


she was a hunted animal. And I can understand that. The court has


upheld her case and she will not be deported. But the question that


will now be asked is why was this case brought in the first place,


and how, on the face of it, did MI5 On Tuesday, Katia's long battle to


avoid deportation and clear her name ended in victory. She had


taken her appeal to the Special Immigration Appeal Commission, SIAC.


It deals with cases of national security and some evidence is held


in secret. This is the first espionage case that the court has


ruled on. What did the verdict mean to you? Everything. I would have


been branded a spy forever. heart of the story is a tantalising


question. Was Katia an innocent abroad, or a long-term sleeper for


Russian intelligence? Were her relationships genuine, or was she a


honeytrap spy? Is there honey trap just Hollywood fiction? Gosh, of


course not. It is only fiction for governments and countries that


played by some kind of sense of rules, whatever that may be. The


honey trap is used extensively. fact is that a honeytrap spy


represents a real and present threat. Gullibility must come into


it by definition. What sensible 60- year-old man thinks that a 22-year-


old woman has found the love of her life in him? I am not saying it


never happens, but it is very The story begins in St Petersburg,


where Katia studied international relations. MI5's assessment is that


she was recruited by one of Russia's intelligence agencies when


she was a student. St Petersburg is a well-known recruiting ground.


There were people that everybody knew were from the KGB and the FSB


around. They would have watched her, approached her and invite her in


for a career chat. Vladimir Putin was recruited there. He let it be


known that he wanted to work for the then KGB. They duly recruited


him. When you were a student at St Petersburg University, were you


ever approached by anybody from Russian intelligence? No. Never?


Never. We were absolutely unaware that there was Russian intelligence


around us. Every year, students from the University volunteer to


help at an international conference. Katia acted as one of the


chaperones. This was how she first met the Liberal Democrat MP Mike


Hancock. I was working with the British delegation, which consisted


of British MPs and Lords. What did Mike Hancock say to you? When you


chatted to him? Lots of things. he make advances to you? Can we


make a break? I met her at a conference in St Petersburg in 2006.


She was bright, intelligent, spoke good English, friendly. That was it.


It was the beginning of a four year relationship between the married MP


and the Big Dom Russian. But Hancock was not the first Westerner


chaperoned by Katia who would fall for her charms. Two years earlier,


she met a Dutch diplomat at a St Petersburg conference. We had a


couple of drinks, we had dinner at the reception. We exchanged our


details. The next day, we went for dinner and the theatre. Did you


sleep with him? Yes. Did you know what his job was? He was a Dutch


diplomat, that is everything I knew. Did you ask him about his job?


Spying, the second oldest profession in the world, still


relies on human sources to deliver what nothing else can. People look


at technology in the spy business. Because it is sexy, they think it


is the centre of the universe. I don't care if it is the 15th


century or the 21st century, if you want to understand intent, you need


a human being. In 2006, Katia moved to the UK. Mike Hancock gave her a


job as his parliamentary researcher. She was vetted and given a


parliamentary pass. Now with a House of Commons pass, Katia was at


the heart of Westminster and, potentially, close to some of its


secrets. At Westminster, Mike Hancock was a busy MP, with a seat


on two important parliamentary bodies, the All-Party Russia Group


and the Defence Select Committee. What kind of documents would Mike


Hancock have had access to? Would they be confidential? For the most


part, it is not seeing some plan of a bomb-making installation or


something, like on a James Bond episode. It is nothing like that at


all. What you are trying to do is gain information, knowing who is


sleeping with who, having access to a building where there are lots of


other people's researchers you can get to know, where most tours are


not locked, that would be immensely useful to another country's


intelligence gathering operation. Did you see any confidential


documents in the course of your work? Never. Did Mike Hancock ever


show you will give you any confidential documents? No. I never


hid the fact that Katia was a Russian, working for me. Why should


I? She was very good at her job. Irrespective of personal


relationships, she was the best person for that job. As well as


being Mike Hancock's assistant, Katia was his live-in lover and


shared his London flat. She had been keeping a very personal diary,


referring to him as her darling teddy bear. She wrote, there is no


one more tender and sincere than you. Did you love him? I think we


have a judgment on that. It clearly states that we had a genuine


relationship. I don't think that I need to try to respond to that. It


has been scrutinised well enough. Mike Hancock's constituency is in


Portsmouth, home to most of Britain's warships and headquarters


of Britain's fleet. So, the MP for Portsmouth South is in a position


to know a lot. MI5, the security service, has an obvious interest in


Russians working at a house of Commons. Checks are routine, as the


potential for a Russian sleeper spy is always there. MI5 called Katia


to set up a meeting. A man called me, I picked up my office phone and


he said that he was from the Ministry of Defence and he would


like to meet me. Did you meet him? Yes. Did he say he was from the


Ministry of Defence? No, not any more. He now said he was from MI5.


Her visit to wanted to know if she had had any contact with people at


the Russian embassy. Together with him, we went through all my


business cards. He found the car of Boris. The business card that


interested MI5 the most belonged to a man working at the Russian


embassy in Kensington. MI5 were concerned about this individual, as


they suspected he was one of the many spies working undercover at


the embassy. He was referred to in court as Boris. My understanding is


that she was picked up by MI5, not because there was any smoking gun


evidence against her, not because she was found carrying documents,


secret documents out of Parliament or had a memory stick about her


person, but because she was making contact with a Russian intelligence


officer in the Russian embassy in Kensington, in whom the MI5 were


already taking an interest. Katia had originally met Boris from the


embassy at a conference in London. He subsequently struck up a


conversation with her at a nearby underground station. Do you think


I am questioning it now. I think maybe. Katia says that she told


Mike Hancock about her encounter with Boris. She says he told her


not to have anything to do with him. There are lots of Russians in


London, some of them desirable and some of them very undesirable. She


had to make their own judgments on lots of people. This was a specific


operative working inside the Russian community in the embassy. I


felt that would be completely inappropriate for her to meet them.


Although the cold war ended over 20 years ago, relations between Russia


and the UK are still characterised by mutual suspicion. MI5 says that


the number of Russian intelligence officers in London is up to Cold


War levels. The most dramatic recent evidence of recent Russian


activity in London was the murder by poisoning of Alexander


Litvinenko. Every day you could see that he became worse. Every day it


was a fight for life. He had been an outspoken critic of the then


In Moscow, the former Russian intelligence officer suspected of


the killing, Andrei Lugovoi, is now a put in supporting politician,


elected to Russia's parliament. -- Following the killing, he believes


that Katia is simply a pawn in the wider game between British and


The idea that, at the end of the day, the Russia we are living with


his in many ways not that different from the old Soviet Union, and all


the problems we had with that old Soviet Union, is very, very


chilling. Frankly, if MI5 did not take this sort of thing seriously,


we would want our money back. And we would be entitled to get our


In 2010, Mike Hancock ended his relationship with Katia. And Katia


moved out of his flat. She then met her next lover. A high ranking


German NATO official whom she met at another London conference. He


was in his fifties. Did you know what he did? Yes.


you talk about his work with NATO? No. Did you sleep with him? Yes.


Were you a honeytrap spy? No. I'm sorry to disappoint you. It would


have been a much better story if I In the summer of 2010, alarm bells


from across the Atlantic rang in MI5 Headquarters. The FBI had


uncovered a sleeper cell of ten Russians who'd been living all


American lives unsuspected in the United States. The most prominent


Russian recruit to the cell was Anna Chapman who'd once been


married to a British citizen. On her return to Moscow, Chapman was


greeted as a Russian hero, cashing in on her new found fame with a


series of photo shoots. She even went on to host her own TV show.


All I'm going to say is say is I'm interested in helping other people,


that's all. That was a very disturbing case because it was


clear the Russians were putting a great deal of money into developing


long term sleeper penetration agents at a young age. They could


be expected, one way or another, to grow into the fabric of American


political culture. But Katia was never an illegal. She


was living quite openly under her own name and was known to the


intelligence services. She says that she cooperated with them fully.


In August 2010, Katia was returning home from a holiday in Croatia with


a group of female friends. It was her birthday and they had been away


to celebrate. It was midnight. They were waiting for me there to arrive.


They knew that I would arrive. Katia was taken away and


interviewed by two MI5 officers. They showed me a picture of my then


boyfriend, which made me laugh because I couldn't understand why


would they be interested in my relationships. Katia's boyfriend at


the time was the senior German official who worked for NATO.


What was the tone of the interviews? It started neutral but


very quickly it went into aggressive. I mean, sitting in the


middle of the night. You don't know where exactly where you were


brought by the car. There were people screaming at you. You have


no idea what's going on. How were you feeling? I can't even describe.


Katia says that the screaming was done by a man. Whereas, in


subsequent interviews conducted in a series of up market London hotels,


a woman adopted a very different approach. She tried to be friendly,


talking about herself a lot. Her son, for example. The books she


read. Did you realise what she was trying to do, the way she was


operating? Yes, but I didn't mind that. I'd rather have that than


somebody screaming at me that I'm a liar.


MI5's interviews with with Katia continued over a period of months


towards the end of 2010. scariest part of this interrogation


was that I've seen that these people were unprofessional and


paranoid. Everything they've seen in Russian people was a spy. If you


are Russian in this country you are a spy. They could not understand


how a Russian in London can speak English language. That was one of


the questions they were querying. They believe that if you are


Russian the only way you can learn English language is in some kind of


spy school. Katia's former lover was also


invited to meetings with MI5. I invited them to come to the House


of Commons. I said, well, I'll come to Thames House, meet you at your


headquarters. They didn't want to do that. They said, "Oh, we'd


rather meet you in a hotel." So had this rather bizarre arrangement


where I go to a hotel, I find them in a room. And then I go into the


room and they lock the door. I didn't like some of the questions


they asked, because they were of a personal nature. But I had nothing


to hide, so I answered them all truthfully. What I found strange


was each time I tried to probe what is this about, what is the


allegation, they wouldn't say. They didn't say and I think it was


because they didn't know what to say. And I think that was rather


Katia discovered she would be asked to meet at one hotel and then be


asked to go to another slightly less grand. The Savoy became the


Strand Palace. Although Katia wasn't to know it, this was to be


her final interview with the Security Service. It appears that


by this stage, MI5's investigation I had a knock on my door, seven in


the morning. I opened my door. There were five people standing


outside my door with a light in my face. They came in. They asked for


my passport. They didn't even look at it. They put it in their pocket


and said that I have to dress and pack up and we're leaving. And I


will be leaving this country shortly.


At the beginning of December last year, Katia was served with


deportation papers on the grounds that her presence in the United


Kingdom was considered a threat to national security. A Russian woman


working for a Liberal Democrat MP is arrested for espionage. MI5 it


raise concerns about the 25 or graduate who now faces deportation.


Katia was determined to fight her case and decided to appeal. She had


to do so through the Special Immigration Court. On the face of


things, MI5's case looked circumstancially strong. MI5


thought you were a spy. They didn't make it up. I can't imagine anybody


would believe, based on their case, that I was a spy. I think they


probably believed it, given the knowledge of how the Russian


intelligence services work. You seemed to be the perfect case, the


perfect profile, given your relationship with a series of


powerful political and security and diplomatic figures, including an MP.


I don't know what they know about Russian intelligence. I don't know


much about Russian intelligence. I have learned quite a lot in this


process but my knowledge is very limited. Nick Fielding was an


expert witness and part of in Katia's defence team. Isn't it


perhaps more than coincidence that she chose as her lovers a Dutch


diplomat, a NATO official and a British MP? That is not the extent


of her relationships, according to the evidence presented to court.


And there were other people who were not involved in these areas of


work and who had very mundane occupations and don't fit that


pattern at all. But she still had sexual relationships with... A


Dutch diplomat, a NATO official and a British MP. That's absolutely


true. On the other hand, she was somebody who was a student of


foreign relations. That was her degree and her postgraduate degree,


and she was mixing in precisely those circles. Katia and her legal


team took a momentous decision in a desperate bid to convince the three


judges. One of whom was a former Director General of MI5. This


involved revealing the contents of her highly personal diaries.


When you decided to appeal against your deportation, did you realise


that it would entail revealing much of the intimate details of your


private life in public? Yes. you were prepared to do that?


to weigh... The two options I had. One is that I will be forever


branded a spy but will be able to keep my private life private. Or I


had to give all of this out into press and into the public, but be


able to prove that I'm not a spy. And for me, more important was to


prove that I'm not a spy. The only way we could try to win this case


was by really giving the court an avalanche of evidence about Katia's


life. About her relationships, about what she's done over the past


ten years. To show and to try to prove a negative, which is that she


is not and never was a Russian spy. I was crying in my lawyer's office.


I was absolutely prepared to be humiliated by the press, by


everybody around me, yes. appeals hearing lasted for nine


days. Having decided to reveal her personal thoughts in her diaries,


Katia was taken aback when their authenticity was questioned.


But if you had been a spy, it's reasonable to think that you would


have written the diary as part of your cover. It would be incredible.


It would be very skilful. But spies, Russian spies are very skilful.


I've never met any. I don't know. Katia's diaries became crucial


evidence. When the judge declared them to be genuine, MI5's case


started to unravel. In closing arguments, Katia's lawyers said the


MI5 investigation was more akin to Inspector Clouseau than George


Smiley. The senior case officer in this case had only been with the


counter intelligence department since the spring of 2010. She


didn't speak Russian. She wasn't sure how many people in her team


even spoke Russian. She had received effectively on-the-job


training in counter intelligence. All these things point to somebody


who doesn't have a huge background and a great deal of knowledge about


the way in which the Russian intelligence services operate. I


think that is a little bit disturbing to me. How do you regard


the way in which MI5 have handled your case, and brought your case?


Extremely unprofessional. I was absolutely shocked. I can


understand that they would have suspicion about me as a Russian


working in Parliament. About my relationships as well. But


suspicions is not everything. You have to find evidence. Security


Services case was found to be wanting at every stage. The last


year has been a Kafkaesque nightmare.


Although the court vindicated Katia, the judgement was criticised her


character. It described her as immature, calculating, emotional


and self centred. But her supporters have hit back.


absolutely delighted but disgusted about the time it's taken. And the


way in which the security services have acted. As well as the way in


which senior politicians within the Home Office have acted on this


issue. They had a pig-headed adherence to their belief, and


reasonable suspicion isn't enough. And once that reasonable suspicion


is met with evidence, which suggests very strongly that she is


not and never was a Russian spy, they should have reconsidered their


case. The more that MI5 is demoralised, the more it's laughed


at. The more it's seen as unnecessary in today's world, the


greater the chance for those who would do us harm or simply want to


know sensitive things about us, to Although there will be


disappointment at the Home Office that it has lost a high profile


case, the mood at MI5 Headquarters is likely to be more sanguine. They


feared that Katia was a long term Russian spy. And though they


couldn't prove it, she has now been burned and rendered inoperative. To


MI5, despite the inevitable embarrassment, it's job done.


was an extremely unfair process. I think if I can describe it in war


terms, it would be me on a horse with a sword against tanks and


aircrafts. So not for a second actually I thought that there was a


possibility that I could win. Spying is a world of assessments


and suspicions. The court accepted it may have been hoodwinked by a


rigorously trained spy, but thought it unlikely. Katia knows the answer.


Part Whitehall farce, part Cold War throwback, this is the inside story of the Russian "honey trap" spy who never was. How did an MP's former assistant come to be wrongly accused by MI5 of being a threat to British national security? In an exclusive interview, Katia Zatuliveter tells Panorama's Peter Taylor how she became the centre of a diplomatic row over her relationship with a Liberal Democrat MP.

The 26 year-old Russian graduate reacts to being cleared of the charge - made by government lawyers - that she exploited her position as Mike Hancock's assistant and mistress to pass information to Moscow.

The film also interviews Mr Hancock, who sat on the Commons Defence Select Committee and chaired its all-party Russia Group, and speaks to former Russian and British intelligence officers who warn of new security tensions with Moscow.

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