A former MI5 agent who caught one of Putin’s spies with stolen secret documents stashed in his pants said today the Russian president thinks ‘ten steps ahead’ of the West.
Tom Marcus spent a decade tailing Russian, Chinese, IRA and Islamist threats on the UK’s streets and says the Kremlin’s agents are Britain’s most formidable opponents.
One senior Russian agent turned a ‘pretty blonde’ Briton in her twenties and convinced her to seduce an engineer working on a top secret tech project before stealing his research, Mr Marcus has revealed.
The spy, codenamed Dirty Boot by MI5, learned of her crippling student debt and promised to pay it all off and bankroll a new life for her in Moscow.
But he would later be caught with the sensitive documents in his trousers after Marcus and his team watched the handover from the woman in a petrol station near Wisley, Surrey.
The Russian was deported the following morning and the girl, codenamed Hungry Worm, was arrested but avoided prosecution after sharing everything she knew about Dirty Boot.
The Prime Minister believes Putin’s worldwide spy network is being ‘dismantled’ after more than 100 of his agents were sent back to Moscow by allies in response to the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning.
Today a former MI5 spy (pictured speaking on Good Morning Britain) said Putin, a former KGB officer, will have been ready for the expulsions and will want to punish those responsible as Russia readies itself for a new Cold War
Putin, a former KGB officer, (pictured speaking to a survivor Kemerovo fire today) will have been ready for the expulsions and will want to punish those responsible to show his strength
The US has expelled 60 officials and shut the Russian consulate in Seattle following the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia this month.
Who is former MI5 agent Tom Marcus? How special ops soldier was recruited in wake of London’s 7/7 attacks
Tom Marcus was a MI5 officer for ten years after being handpicked for surveillance operations.
He joined the Army at sixteen and went on to became the youngest member of the Armed Forces to pass the 6-month selection process for Special Operations in Northern Ireland.
His skills lead to him being moved to MI5 as a Surveillance Officer working to stop threats in the UK.
Tom Marcus is not his real name because and keeps his identity secret for safety reason.
Describing his reasons for writing books about his service he said: ‘I want to tell the other side of the story. What operators are doing out there to stand between you and the most dangerous terrorists in the world.
‘I won’t give away any secrets, it’s not what I’m about, everything I write or say has to be passed through Thames House first and I’ll never betray the help and guidance the Service has shown me.
‘I might not be a genius or have a mega high IQ, nor do I have qualifications coming out of my ears, BUT I am a hunter of people, and I’m damn good at it.’
His book Soldier Spy is set to be made into a TV series.
But Mr Marcus, who was considered one of MI5’s top ‘hunters’, says the Russian president would already have been planning how to deal with this diplomatic crisis.
He said: ‘I would think Putin will have anticipated this move, he’s from an intelligence background so he is thinking ten steps ahead, always thinking “what if?”.
‘I would think it would be daft not to think that Putin would already been putting things in place’.
The Kremlin has promised to ‘respond harshly’ after Britain’s allies threw out diplomats from 23 countries as it readies itself for a new Cold War.
But Mr Marcus added: ”Action like this is unprecedented on this scale, globally, and it will severely degrade what they are doing’.
Vladimir Putin is thinking ‘ten steps ahead’ of the West and won’t let his spy network be dismantled after more than 100 of his agents were sent back to Moscow, a former MI5 agent said today.
Tom Marcus has written about his time in MI5, where he spent most of his time tailing agents from Russia and China as well as extremists inspired by al Qaeda and ISIS.
Mr Marcus said that Russian agents in Britain spend their time stealing secrets – but their presence in the UK also allows the UK’s secret services to gather intelligence on Russia activities here and around the world.
In his book Soldier Spy he revealed surveillance on a Russian — codenamed Dirty Boot — every time his S-Class Mercedes with diplomatic plates left the Embassy.
Dirty Boot had set up a honeytrap to snare an engineer and steal plans from him that the Kremlin could use to advance their military capability without doing it themselves.
The victim, who isn’t named, fell for the the tall, blonde-haired woman in her early 20s codenamed Hungry Worm, who Dirty Boot had paid to spy for him and grab documents from the engineer.
Mr Marcus describes a 140mph chase from London to Wisley Gardens, where the two Russian agents were set to meet.
The trailed the Russian and his operative as they travelled in separate taxis and suddenly both cabs pulled into a Surrey petrol station.
Marcus wrote in the Mail on Saturday: ‘I knew it. This was going to be the handover of the folder.
‘One of the most experienced members of our team, a 30-year veteran, had spotted the Russian’s shirt was hanging out at the back. It hadn’t been when he went into the shop. He must have tucked the file underneath and forgotten to tidy his clothing. It was time to stop him’.
Dirty Boot’s taxi was allowed to drive off while an elaborate ambush was being planned up ahead, he says, before uniformed police including a sniffer dog used to find drugs were sent in.
Marcus wrote: ‘It was a tactic designed to give the Government a plausible story to spin should a war of words break out after we kicked the Russian ‘diplomat’ out of the country.
It didn’t come to that. Instead there was a final blast over the radio from base as the operation reached its climax: ‘Dirty Boot is handcuffed, and one of the officers is now pulling sheets of paper from the back of his trousers. Hungry Worm and her driver have been arrested too.’
He added: ‘The next morning, we were informed that Dirty Boot, the Russian spy masquerading as a diplomat, had already been escorted to the airport and told to leave the country.
‘Hungry Worm, the blonde graduate he had turned with his promises of money and a new life in Moscow, was still in custody and more than likely wouldn’t go to jail, as she was providing information on the Russian and how he contacted her.
‘As for the poor engineer who’d been suckered into unwittingly disclosing secrets, he was left puzzling over the sudden disappearance of his new-found love.
‘He was never actually told one of his files had been whisked from under his nose and nearly made it to Moscow’.
Sergei Skripal (left) and his daughter Yulia (right) have been in a critical condition since they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4
A swathe of European states have expelled Russian diplomats alongside Canada and the US
Putin is on the back foot today after the West expelled more than 100 Russian spies in a show of support for Britain.
In an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke to Moscow, 23 countries said they would be joining the UK in expelling Russian agents in retaliation for the Salisbury attack.
Australia were the latest country to say they would be sending Russian officials home.
Putin is expected to retaliate against every country that has taken part in the expulsions.
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said today: ‘Putin is a complete opportunist. He’ll be as surprised at how well Theresa May has done’
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said today: ‘Putin is a complete opportunist. He’ll be as surprised at how well Theresa May has done’.
He said: ‘Where I disagree with is that he might have anticipated this; I didn’t. I don’t think there was any prospect of persuading the whole world to respond in the way they have. It’s unprecedented. Not even during the Cold War.
‘There will be retaliation, I’m sure of it, but there will be no attempt to escalate it.
‘He will be very happy this has happened after his bogus election and not before. If it was simply Britain’s word against Russia it wouldn’t be an issue.
‘But when they see the world responding in this way, not just NATO countries, then he’s in the eyes of his own people, been found guilty.
‘Most Russians know what their intelligence gets up to. He will now have to factor in, that behaving like this, there are more things we can do in terms of sanctions to hurt Russian economically’.
The extraordinary Western response is a coup for Theresa May, who has spent days warning allies that they could face similar Russian aggression if they stand by.
The Prime Minister told MPs: ‘This is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history. If the Kremlin’s goal is to intimidate and divide the Western alliance then their efforts have spectacularly backfired.
‘Today’s actions by our allies clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to the Kremlin that Russia cannot continue to flout international law and threaten our security.’
The United States led the way with the expulsions, announcing that 60 Russian ‘diplomats’ would be booted out.
The White House last night said the decision showed Britain and the US were ‘joined at the hip’ in their response to Russian aggression.
Sixteen EU countries said they would also be expelling Russian agents, with at least two more expected to follow in the coming days. The show of strength came as:
The Prime Minister revealed that more than 130 people in Salisbury may have been exposed to the Novichok nerve agent;
The Kremlin warned the world was entering a new Cold War as it hit out at those trying to ‘contain Russia’;
Mrs May told MPs that former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain critically ill. She added: ‘Doctors indicated that their condition is unlikely to change in the near future, and they may never recover fully.’
Moscow’s revenge: President Putin is set to ‘respond to every country’ in kind after EU states, the Ukraine, the US and Canada announced the expulsion of more than 100 diplomats
Yesterday’s wave of expulsions followed a diplomatic push by Mrs May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and senior figures in the security services, who have shared intelligence with allies on the Russian threat.
The UK has already expelled 23 suspected Russian spies in a bid to ‘dismantle’ the Kremlin’s espionage network in this country. Russia replied by doing the same, closing a consulate and banning the work of the British Council.
Mrs May warned EU leaders last week that their own countries were ‘at risk’ unless they joined the UK in taking a strong stand.
She was rewarded yesterday when France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Lithuania, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia, Croatia, Finland, Latvia, Romania, Sweden, Hungary and Australia all announced they would be expelling Russian diplomats in response to the Salisbury attack.
Ireland and Belgium are expected to follow suit in the coming days. Non-EU countries responding to the UK’s call included the US, Canada, Ukraine, Albania and Norway.
European Council president Donald Tusk said ‘additional measures’ could not be excluded ‘in the coming days and weeks’.
Six countries are also planning state boycotts of the World Cup in Russia, it was claimed last night. Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Japan have all said their officials will not attend – with more expected to follow, The Sun reported.
Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said: ‘Russia has gone too far. An assassination attempt in a European city with a Russian nerve agent is completely unacceptable.’
In addition to the expulsions, the White House said the US was also closing the Russian consulate in Seattle ‘due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing’.
Ukraine, whose Crimean territory is still occupied by Russia, expelled 13 suspected spies. The country’s foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said: ‘Today’s expression of solidarity should be just the beginning. Further strong and comprehensive actions are needed – Russia understands only the language of power.’
Mr Johnson, who has spent days in talks with his counterparts in Western allies, said: ‘Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever and will help defend our shared security. Russia cannot break international rules with impunity.’
The Russian foreign ministry indicated it would carry out tit-for-tat expulsions, saying the response to the West would be ‘symmetrical’.
The Kremlin accused Britain of stirring up anti-Russian feeling based on ‘unfounded’ charges. A spokesman said: ‘This unfriendly move by this group of countries will not go unnoticed, and we will respond to it.’
In the Commons, Mrs May accused Moscow of treating the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe ‘with sarcasm, contempt and defiance’.
She said the Putin regime had refused to say how its Novichok nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury.
The PM said Russia had instead produced 21 different and contradictory explanations, including claims the attack was conducted by Slovakia, Sweden, the Czech republic and even the UK.
‘For a nation state like Russia to resort again to peddling such preposterous and contradictory theories is unworthy of their people and their great history,’ she said.
Professor Anthony Glees, the director of security and intelligence studies at Buckingham University, said Russian espionage in the West would be ‘severely hampered’ by the wave of expulsions.
He said it was clear the UK Government had ‘additional secret evidence’ about the Salisbury incident which it had shared with allies and which had helped persuade them to act.
‘Just as the old Cold War generated a common purpose to resist Soviet aggression, this emerging new cold war will make the make the West realise the common threat they face,’ he said.
A honeytrap blonde, a clandestine meeting in a garden centre and the astonishing day that MI5 trapped one of Putin’s spies with top secret papers stuffed down his trousers
By former MI5 agent Tom Marcus
Tom Marcus revealed that a Russian agent was deported after he was caught with sensitive documents down his pants
Russian spies are the very best, which is why I used to love working against them when I was a deep-cover MI5 officer and surveillance expert. They truly understood how to operate on foreign soil as, under the guise of being diplomats, they operated out of the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens.
They would hardly ever try to recruit members of the British Parliament because they knew the risks of being caught were incredibly high. Most of the time they were here to advance their country’s technical or military progress by targeting our defence companies and tech firms.
I grudgingly admired them, because despite them trying to undermine this country, they would do it in a way that was subtle. Stealing secrets with a feather, that’s how the Russians generally did it. No sledgehammers involved — unless it was a reprisal on one of their own defecting agents (as we now know only too well with the nerve-gas attack on double-agent Sergei Skripal).
Back in 2012, I’d been on this particular job for weeks, one of a team keeping surveillance on a Russian — codenamed Dirty Boot — every time his S-Class Mercedes with diplomatic plates left the Embassy. Then our main attention switched to his new contact: a tall, blonde-haired woman in her early 20s he’d recruited and was priming to spy for him.
She was a receptionist at an office of executive suites at Farnborough in Hampshire, just a stone’s throw from the premises of a top-secret tech company that specialised in satellite imagery.
She was vulnerable and was tempted. She’d left university with massive debts and had tried to supplement her income by taking on dodgy escort work. He drew her into his clutches by offering her a way out. He also promised her a new identity, a paid-for home and a job with the ministry in Moscow if she helped him.
On his instructions, she started up a passionate love affair with a particular engineer on the satellite project at the nearby tech company. He was flattered by her attentions, fell into her arms and their pillow talk produced information about his sensitive work on lasers and the means to hack into his emails, text messages and voicemail.
They truly understood how to operate on foreign soil as, under the guise of being diplomats, they operated out of the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens
Stealing secrets with a feather, that’s how the Russians generally did it. No sledgehammers involved — unless it was a reprisal on one of their own defecting agents (as we now know only too well with the nerve-gas attack on double-agent Sergei Skripal)
We’d planted eavesdropping equipment in her flat and at the engineer’s house and knew that he was unwittingly revealing enough about the top-secret technology he was working on for the Russians to replicate it back in Moscow and advance their country’s technology research and development by at least 30 years.
I was in my car keeping watch at Farnborough airport for Hungry Worm, our codename for the blonde. I had to be careful because, though it was unlikely that her Russian handler had given her any anti-surveillance training, I couldn’t follow her directly out of the car park if she left the building.
She was bound to be wary, given the furtive nature of what she was up to, and she might suspect something wasn’t quite right even if she wasn’t experienced enough to identify exactly what was wrong.
Word came through on the radio. There’d been a tip that the Russian was planning a meeting with Hungry Worm, probably so she could hand over secret documents she’d managed to get her hands on from her boyfriend.
But no one on our side knew where it was to be. He’d apparently left the details of where and when at a florist’s shop. ‘We don’t have any further intelligence, just a heads-up that it’s going to take place.’
She had obviously been told not to use her mobile phone to text him, hence we had no electronic intercepts to go on. Nor could we send an agent into the flower shop to see what the message was, just in case the florist was a Russian recruit, too.
But we desperately needed to monitor that meeting — and, if possible, photograph it — if we were to gather the proof to present to the Russian Embassy and kick this guy out of the country for trying to steal our technology. The problem was we had absolutely no idea where it was to be held.
I watched as a white courier van pulled up outside the executive suite where the blonde worked and a woman got out with flowers and took them inside to deliver. Van and driver then left. I saw the blonde leave the building and head off to a bus stop on the main road. There she got on a nearly empty number 82 bus.
We couldn’t send someone to follow her on board. That would be too much of a giveaway. Cars would tail the bus, but still risked being spotted, if not by her then by Russian counter-surveillance who might have been tracking her movements.
And what if she gave us the slip? We had to find out where she was going. I decided to act on my own initiative rather than await orders.
Though it risked compromising the whole operation if I was spotted, I walked into the reception area of the executive suite. A fresh bunch of flowers was on the front desk.
Trying to appear as if I was just waiting for someone, I strained to see the greeting card on the flowers. The message was upside-down but I managed to make out the words: ‘My beautiful lady, meet you same time at the Crescent.’
I turned away, spun an impromptu yarn to a security guard who’d asked me my business and left the building. Back in my car, I phoned in to base to give them the message.
They would hardly ever try to recruit members of the British Parliament because they knew the risks of being caught were incredibly high
It was enough for the boys there to rapidly check this new information against the pair’s known meeting places. The word came back: ‘Meeting place between Dirty Boot and Hungry Worm is believed to be at the RHS [Royal Horticultural Society] garden in Wisley, specifically the glasshouse.’
The radio net was now buzzing as everyone swung into action and reported in. ‘Hungry Worm is off the bus,’ said a message from the surveillance team covering the blonde. Apparently she was waiting by the side of the road.
Then: ‘Stand by! Stand by! Dirty Boot is in a black taxi and pulling alongside her.’
This could be a calamity. The danger was that the Russian was on to us and had been following us as we tracked her movements. Was he now warning her off?
But we need not have worried. The blonde got into the taxi with the Russian and together they sped off.
The whole team was directed to get to Wisley in Surrey as fast as possible, but without being seen. With Russian targets, you need to remain in the shadows or they will rumble you. We couldn’t follow the taxi directly or overtake it without the risk of blowing our cover.
Getting ahead of them meant a hair-raising drive at top speed through side-streets and back routes. Overtaking anything in our path at 140mph, we set off a speed camera, but things like that don’t bother us. Fines, parking tickets and London congestion charges get paid by the service.
And we made it. We got to Wisley ahead of the taxi and were in position with cameras to snap it when it arrived. Another of the team was already on foot inside the gardens, taking pictures of the plant life with a long lens.
It was good cover. One woman in her late 40s apparently photographing flowers could get a crystal-clear image of both targets.
I sat in my car outside and waited. Suddenly the radio sprang to life again. ‘Black cab heading towards Wisley entrance.’ Followed by: ‘Dirty Boot and Hungry Worm now out and walking arm in arm towards the main building.’
Nobody else went inside the gardens, which was wise. If we’d flooded the place with agents, they would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
We hid ourselves around the area, using cars and buildings for cover.
The controller kept us up to date with a running commentary on what was going on in the glasshouse. ‘Hungry Worm has shown Dirty Boot a brown paper folder. Dirty Boot looked at the contents but did not take anything out. The folder is still with Hungry Worm. She put it into her handbag.’ I had to admire this. By leaving the folder with the blonde, the Russian handler technically hadn’t stolen state secrets. He was making sure he and Russia kept their distance.
Either this was because he’d spotted us or, more likely that he was instinctively providing himself with an extra layer of operational security. His plan was to receive the actual documents at a later date and was merely checking them. Bloody hell, these Russians are good.
And then in a flash the secret rendezvous in the gardens was over. The Russian headed towards the exit, where the taxi they’d come in was waiting in the car park. He got in and it drove off, with him staring rather suspiciously out of the back window.
The order came to let it go. We were not to follow. The blonde hadn’t moved and so nor did we. ‘We stay with Hungry Worm and the folder. We can’t risk a loss here.’
There was a lot at stake. Whatever intelligence about lasers the folder contained was clearly top priority. Losing it could be catastrophic. The United Kingdom relies heavily on being on the front foot in technologies like this.
It’s partly a question of money. Our research and development on weapons is among the most advanced in the world. If another country steals it, it could cost us billions of pounds in earning power.
More importantly, though, we stand to lose our ability to defend ourselves. If certain codes and equipment were handed over to foreign intelligence, it could render our submarines and quick-reaction fast jets useless.
Most people don’t realise it, but the biggest threat to our country isn’t terrorists living among us and causing the occasional atrocity, it’s the smooth-talking suit like the one who drove away in a taxi.
By now, the blonde was also on the move, walking to the car park where she, too, was met by a black cab. Everyone was on high alert as it drove her — and that precious file — away.
It passed me and I let it move round a bend in the road before following discreetly. One of our motor bikes joined the surveillance from a side street, tucking in out of sight behind the taxi.
Another team reported an alarming development. In his taxi, the Russian handler had doubled back and was now behind the blonde, presumably checking she wasn’t being followed.
We needed to be on top of our game here. It was vital he didn’t see us, but if we gave him too much room he’d get away.
And he didn’t spot us, though it was a close call at times as this strange, strung-out circus of taxis, souped-up cars and motorbikes with leather-clad riders made its way along the dual carriageway and in parallel B-roads through the quiet English countryside.
By now, the Russian had closed up on the blonde’s taxi and together they pulled into a petrol station. The updates crackled over the radio: ‘Both taxis at the fuel pumps. Dirty Boot and Hungry Worm are walking into the shop at the garage.’
I knew it. This was going to be the handover of the folder.
Just moments later they emerged from the shop and went towards their respective taxis. But which one now had the folder? We had to know because it was a safe bet that the two cabs would now split up and go in different directions.
Who to follow if we wanted to safeguard the file? Would we have to guess?
Classic spy-craft came to our rescue. One of the most experienced members of our team, a 30-year veteran, had spotted the Russian’s shirt was hanging out at the back. It hadn’t been when he went into the shop. He must have tucked the file underneath and forgotten to tidy his clothing. It was time to stop him. He could soon be photographing the paperwork in the back of the taxi or sending it directly to a secure server before destroying the evidence.
But we had to make the right call. At the time, there was much tension between London and Moscow. If we got this wrong and arrested a bona fide diplomat for no good reason, it would be extremely embarrassing for Downing Street.
We needed to check him out and the contents of the taxi, but do it in a way that gave us a sliver of deniability should it all go pear-shaped.
So Dirty Boot’s taxi was allowed to drive off while an elaborate ambush was being planned up ahead.
Not long afterwards, a regular police car with its blue lights flashing pulled the taxi over on the A325, ostensibly to conduct a licence check on the driver as part of a crackdown on rogue taxis.
The uniformed officers — one of whom was Special Branch and in the know — had a dog with them, which could sniff out drugs. When it reacted positively, they had an excuse to impound the taxi and detain its occupants.
It was a tactic designed to give the Government a plausible story to spin should a war of words break out after we kicked the Russian ‘diplomat’ out of the country.
It didn’t come to that. Instead there was a final blast over the radio from base as the operation reached its climax:
‘Dirty Boot is handcuffed, and one of the officers is now pulling sheets of paper from the back of his trousers. Hungry Worm and her driver have been arrested too.’
We’d got them. Done a great job and got the proof! And we could all go home now. Along with the rest of the team, I was on a high, knowing that Russia’s best weren’t good enough for us.
And the upshot? The next morning, we were informed that Dirty Boot, the Russian spy masquerading as a diplomat, had already been escorted to the airport and told to leave the country.
Hungry Worm, the blonde graduate he had turned with his promises of money and a new life in Moscow, was still in custody and more than likely wouldn’t go to jail, as she was providing information on the Russian and how he contacted her.
As for the poor engineer who’d been suckered into unwittingly disclosing secrets, he was left puzzling over the sudden disappearance of his new-found love.
He was never actually told one of his files had been whisked from under his nose and nearly made it to Moscow. Instead, he got a warning from his boss to be more careful about his personal security in future and not let his head be turned by a pretty girl. No more honeytraps, please!
Tom Marcus is a former MI5 officer writing under a pseudonym. Adapted from Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus, published by Penguin Books Ltd at £7.99. © Tom Marcus 2016. To order a copy for £6.39 (Offer valid until April 1, 2018) visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.