In what is believed to be the first case of its kind since the end of the Cold War, a Russian woman working in the House of Commons has been arrested over allegations of spying and was on Sunday facing deportation after MI5 reportedly decided that her presence was not “conducive to national security’’.
Katia Zatuliveter (25), who worked for Mike Hancock, a senior Liberal Democrat MP and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, was said to have aroused suspicion after a number of questions relating to defence matters were sent by Mr Hancock’s office to various departments.
According to The Sunday Times, these related to 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.
A visibly surprised Mr Hancock told the BBC that neither he nor Ms Zatuliveter had been shown any evidence that she posed a threat to Britain’s security. The MP whose constituency has a large naval base acknowledged that he had sought information about nuclear submarines. He also said that he had probably asked more defence questions than any other MP but insisted that his work was not ``top secret’’.
"What on earth was she spying on? There is nothing she was doing for me that was in any way sensitive…I have never read anything in a defence select committee paper or report which was worth anyone believing they had something they could not get from another source," he said.
Ms Zatulivete was security-cleared and given a Commons pass before she started working for Mr Hancock in 2008. In August-weeks after the arrest of a group of alleged Russian “sleeper’’ spies in America-she was stopped at Gatwick airport while returning to Britain after a holiday and questioned about her activities.
"If she was a threat, when they stopped her in August, they could have removed her then," Mr Hanccok said.
Ms Zatuliveter planned to appeal against her expulsion.
Her arrest was likely to put further strain on British-Russian relations already under pressure over the controversy surrounding Moscow’s alleged role in the mysterious death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London four years ago.