A RUSSIAN working in the House of Commons is to be deported from Britain after security services arrested her on suspicion of espionage.
Katia Zatuliveter, who works for Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South and member of the Commons defence select committee, is to be expelled after MI5 decided the 25-year-old was secretly working for the Russian intelligence service as a “sleeper”.
MI5 believes she was deliberately targeting Mr Hancock, 64, who has strong Russian interests and a reputation as a womaniser. Her arrest is believed to be the first time since the end of the cold war that someone working in parliament has been accused of spying for the Russians.
Zatuliveter, who held a Commons pass and underwent a security vetting before taking up her post, was arrested by police and Border Agency officials last week and is being held at a secure facility awaiting deportation to Russia.
It is understood that her removal was approved by Theresa May, the home secretary, after she was briefed by MI5 on Zatuliveter’s activities. It is believed she was working for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.
A source said: “Her presence here is not considered to be conducive to national security. There was unhappiness about what she could have access to. The intention is to show her the door.”
Mr Hancock said yesterday that he did not wish to discuss the matter. “I don’t know anything about it and I’d rather not comment on somebody else’s problems,” he said.
The move to deport the Russian comes after she had been stopped while re-entering Britain at Gatwick airport in August. Before releasing her, security officials questioned her extensively about her activities for Hancock.
Sources said the MP first employed Zatuliveter after meeting her in Strasbourg, where he often travels on business related to his position on the Council of Europe.
“She would walk around in very short skirts and high heels with Hancock and they would be seen having lunch together,” said one Westminster source. “Certainly some thought she was charming and intelligent.”
In recent weeks a number of questions relating to defence have been issued to government departments from Mr Hancock’s office, including requests for an inventory of Britain’s nuclear weapons arsenal, details of nuclear material outside international safeguards and the locations of all submarine bases worldwide. Ministers declined to answer some of the questions.
Mr Hancock, who also sits on the Western European Union assembly on security and defence, has a long-standing interest in Russia and is understood to visit regularly. He is also vice-chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on the country.
Some of his colleagues on the Council of Europe have called Mr Hancock the “most pro-Russian MP from among all the countries of western Europe”, and other members of the all-party group have noted his pro-Putin stance. The MP denies that he has any undue bias towards Russia. There is no suggestion that he has been deliberately acting contrary to Britain’s interests.
The MP is at present on police bail after being arrested over an alleged indecent assault on a female constituent earlier this year.
In September The Sunday Times revealed how Mr Hancock had showered the woman, who has mental health problems, with gifts and texts calling her “sexy”. He denies any wrongdoing.
The case of Zatuliveter confirms fears by MI5 that Russian spies are now conducting an active campaign to target individuals in Whitehall and Westminster.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, it tried to recruit Labour MPs and leading trade unionists. That campaign culminated in the first and most dramatic expulsion of 105 Russian intelligence officers by the Edward Heath government in 1971.
However, Russia gradually rebuilt its espionage base, and Whitehall officials say that espionage operations against Britain are just as extensive now as they were in the latter half of the 1980s.
Oleg Gordievsky, a former KGB officer who defected to Britain in 1985, said MI5 was devoting insufficient resources to dealing with the threat.
“There are now dozens of Russian agents in Britain either living here or working here,” he said.
“They have people in parliament and in important companies. They are targeting MPs, particularly those in sensitive positions. It is scandalous that the security service would allow a Russian to work for somebody on the defence committee.”
Whitehall officials say there are believed to be between 30 and 35 “undeclared” professional intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover at the Russian embassy in London.
These officers are employees of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, and the SVR, the foreign intelligence service that is the equivalent of MI6.
Although they are closely monitored by MI5, these spies are sometimes able to recruit agents undetected by the British. These in turn recruit sub-agents, making it even more difficult to monitor their activities.
Evidence of continuing ussian intelligence activities against the West emerged last summer when the FBI arrested Anna Chapman, a 28-year-old Russian socialite who spent time in Britain, along with nine other Russian agents in a spy ring. Most were working under false identities and are known as “illegals”. It is thought there may be at least 20 of these so-called illegals working in Britain.
But MI5 remains more concerned about the large number of Russian visitors such as Zatuliveter, who come to this country on working or tourist visas.
A significant number of these visitors are SVR spies tasked by Moscow to steal Britain’s military, political and economic secrets. Often only in the UK for a few months, or at most a couple of years, they are particularly difficult to detect because they are not based at the embassy and live and work in the community.
The deportation is expected to put further strain on diplomatic relations with Russia, which deteriorated after the murder by poisoning of the dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London four years ago.
British officials concluded that the killing was almost certainly approved by Vladimir Putin, then Russian president and a former head of the FSB, the domestic spy agency that is a successor of the KGB.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced criminal charges against Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard turned MP who denies the the charges.
Britain deported four Russian diplomats working at the embassy in retaliation for Moscow’s refusal to hand Lugovoi over for trial here.
Leaked diplomatic cables form the whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks revealed last week that Britain had boycotted direct links with the FSB as a result of the Litvinenko case.
Despite their rivalries, the two agencies had previously co-operated in the global fight against Al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups.