You may never have heard his name before, yet Pablo Miller is one of the most influential and successful MI6 spies in modern history. In this article, we trace some of Miller’s known associates to find out a little bit more about the real-life James Bond.
On 25 March 2000, a reporter named Ian Traynor had an article published in the Guardian newspaper, entitled British diplomat accused in spy row. The piece, which was printed on page 15 of the London-based newspaper, began by stating:
A Russian arrested in Moscow 10 days ago on charges of spying for Britain was a senior intelligence officer recruited by British intelligence last year in the Baltic republic of Estonia, Russian counter-intelligence said yesterday.
Traynor reported that Russian sources had named a man called Pablo Miller as the supposed intelligence officer. Little information concerning Miller was in the public sphere, although he was listed as the ‘First Secretary Political’ on the British Embassy in Tallinn’s official website in 2000, and we also know that his exposure had become a serious cause for concern for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). After all, Miller wasn’t simply a diplomat; Russian intelligence was right about that. In fact, Pablo Miller was an extremely prolific spy and recruiter for British intelligence.
Less than a decade later, when a former Russian security services officer named Major Vyacheslav Zharko was arrested, the Russians soon identified Pablo Miller as the handler who had originally recruited him. Zharko surrendered himself to the Russian authorities in late June 2007 and reportedly named four British intelligence officers whom he claimed to have worked with, as well as disclosing the locations of their clandestine meetings. When interrogated, Zharko said he had been unaware of his recruiter’s real name and instead had known him simply as “Paul”. The FSB investigated the case and came to the conclusion that “Paul” was in fact Pablo Miller, who was officially working as a diplomat based out of the British Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia, from 1999.
Back at the turn of the new millennium, one of Miller’s Russian contacts was being arrested for spying on behalf of Britain and Estonia. It was reported by the mainstream media that Lt-Col Valeri Ojamäe (a male Russian official of Estonian ethnicity) had been recruited by “a senior figure at the British Embassy” and that this had been aided by Estonia’s special police force (Kaitsepolitsei).
In March 2000, where this story begins, Pablo Miller had just been outed as a British spy who was targeting disenchanted Russian intelligence officers. In the years leading up to Ojamäe’s eventual conviction in April 2001, Russian and Western intelligence services had been busy rumbling each other’s operatives. Another alleged Russian who was accused of spying for Britain was Platon Obukhov, who had seen his conviction for spying overturned in court and was waiting for a new trial during this period. At the same time, Russia and Britain were both busily expelling diplomats, with the US meanwhile arresting FBI veteran Robert Hanssen, while Moscow convicted US businessman Andrew Pope—who was later pardoned by President Vladimir Putin.
Russian intelligence had based another of Pablo Miller’s recruits in Spain, where he had been approached by the British spy. Sergei Skripal knew Miller as “Antonio Álvarez de Hidalgo” and, once he was recruited, MI6 gave Skripal the codename “Forthwith”. Skripal was reportedly first recruited in 1995 by Miller, and he soon gained access to a secret Spanish bank account which had been deposited with £100,000 to help sweeten the deal. When Skripal was arrested in 2004, he made a quick confession and cooperated fully with the FSB’s investigation.
Although he was obviously one of MI6’s most prolific recruiters, the name Pablo Miller is relatively unknown to the vast majority of people. Some articles have investigated the history of Miller, only to discover a long trail of missing links, rumours and whispers. In this article, we’re not going to look at the known Russian double agents whom Miller had turned into assets of British intelligence, and we won’t only be examining Miller himself. Instead, we will investigate some of the people whom Pablo Miller worked alongside during his military and MI6 career, and we’ll look at what they’re doing now—starting at the British Embassy in Tallinn.
Pablo Miller had been transferred to the United Kingdom’s Embassy to Estonia in 1999. It was to be the following year that his name was first reported in the press and, before this point in time, Miller’s cover was intact. Estonia had been a central base from which to launch Western espionage operations and at the turn of the millennium, those based at the embassy weren’t yet regarded as potential agents by anyone but the FSB.
Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Estonia during this time was Sarah Squire, whose husband, William Squire, had previously been the British Ambassador to Senegal between 1979 and 1982 and who then went on to be made the British Ambassador to Israel between 1984 and 1988. Sarah Squire had become Ambassador to Estonia during a very important period in the country’s history, just as Estonia was beginning the process of joining NATO. In fact, a letter from 1949, written by an Estonian diplomat named Johannes Kaiv, shows that when NATO was being founded, some in Estonia desired to become a member of the organisation even though the country’s territory was under Soviet control.
However, Kaiv wasn’t writing to a neutral and disinterested actor. The letter in question was addressed to Dean Acheson, the then Secretary of State, who was busily creating the CIA (originally OSS) at the time and who, during this infancy, instilled the agency with the primary focus of combatting Soviet influence globally. Kaiv’s letter reads:
Estonia is still under the illegal occupation and domination of the Soviet Union, and is, therefore, prevented from manifesting openly its keen interest in this pact.
Dean Rusk, who was then the US Undersecretary of State and who played an extremely important part in setting up the Marshall Plan, had also been made head of the Office of Special Political Affairs, known as the “UN Desk”. A letter from Rusk, dated 2 May 1949, also noted Estonia’s ambition to become a signatory state of the North Atlantic Treaty. In fact, it wasn’t until 29 March 2004 that Estonia became an official member of NATO, a process that had been meticulously planned during the period when Squire was the British Ambassador.
However, at the time Pablo Miller was first being outed by the Russians, was Squire running an honest diplomatic mission in Estonia, or was her embassy actually a base in Tallinn for high-ranking MI6 officers? With what we know now about Pablo Miller, alongside the historic global realignment of Estonia during Squire’s reign, it could be posited that Miller might not have been the only MI6 shark in this diplomatic Baltic fish tank.
Before taking up her position as the head of the British Embassy in Estonia, Sarah Squire had been deputy head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO, now FCDO) Central European Department, as well as working for the Know How Fund—a late-Cold-War British government agency created to provide technical assistance to countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Know How Fund was setup during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and, as the British diplomat Geoff Berridge writes in Transformational Diplomacy after the Cold War: Britain’s Know How Fund in Post-Communist Europe, 1989-2003, the organisation was “driven by an anxiety not to be outdone by the Germans and the Americans in the struggle for influence in them and for commercial advantage in their new markets.”
Squire’s Deputy Head of Mission in Tallinn while Pablo Miller was being named by the Russians as an MI6 recruiter was the Welshwoman Ceinwen Jones. Working as the Chargé d’Affaires for the British Government in Estonia, Jones was involved in, among other things during this period, creating an agreement between the Estonian and British Governments’ aeronautical authorities. By 2014, Jones was no longer at the embassy and was listed as a guest attending the 43rd Congress in Sofia of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), where she was representing an organisation called Seafarers’ Rights International.
While MI6’s Pablo Miller was First Secretary at the UK’s Tallinn Embassy, the person who was listed as the ‘Third Secretary Political’ and the ‘Press and Public Affairs Officer’ was a man named John Flint. In July 1996, Flint had begun working for the Foreign Office, where he was originally a Desk Officer focused on South East Asia in London, until 1998, when he transferred to the British Embassy in Estonia as a Political Secretary.
Curiously, we start to see a repeated pattern during this period in Tallinn. As soon as Pablo Miller is outed as being an MI6 officer, certain FCO staff in Tallinn start to be relocated. John Flint was one of the staff who were quickly relocated to new positions within the British diplomatic service, taking up a position the very month following Miller’s exposure in May 2000—a post as the Deputy Resident British Commissioner in far-off Antigua. This sudden move away from the centre of controversy could suggest that Flint was also working intelligence in Estonia at the time, but does such a suspicion have any foundation? In fact, John Flint has had a long and successful career in intelligence, which officially began directly after he left the standard cover of the diplomatic arena.
After leaving the Foreign Office, John Flint quickly took up a new position in London as a Senior Manager at the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS, subsequently renamed the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and now the National Crime Agency), staying there from June 2002 until March 2006. In April 2006, Flint became a Senior Manager at SOCA for the entire time that the national law enforcement agency was in existence under that name.
SOCA became the single point of contact for international enquiries directed at British law enforcement; was directly linked with Interpol and Europol, was responsible for coordinating all inbound and outbound Cross-Border Surveillance requests; and had a dedicated Fugitives Unit for enacting European Arrest Warrants. During his time as a Senior Manager at SOCA, Flint was based at the British embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, from 2007 until 2011. After SOCA, Flint went to work for British American Tobacco (BAT), an organisation which describes itself as “a truly global company” founded in 1902. There, Flint was responsible for:
Oversight of Security and Anti-Illicit Trade in 14 countries across Central and Eastern Europe including Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and the Balkans.
After leaving BAT in 2021, Flint setup his own consultancy firm and in January 2023 became Director of Global Brand Protection, Customs and Product Security Investigations & Enforcement for Johnson & Johnson, as well as taking on a position for another healthcare company, Kenvue. Flint’s almost instantaneous recruitment into police intelligence suggests that he probably already had intelligence experience before the case of Pablo Miller went public.
Another of Miller and Flint’s colleagues, Alex Stalker-Booth, also pursued a career outside the diplomatic services after his FCO service in Estonia. However, in investigating Stalker-Booth, one soon discovers another notable pattern. Although, Alex Stalker-Booth appears happy for the public to know where he studied and worked throughout his whole life, at the time of writing this article, his public LinkedIn profile completely skips over his time working with one of MI6’s most infamous officers in Estonia. In fact, the public timeline states that he studied Heritage Management at the University of Cumbria until 1996 and then it shows him working for the Tate Gallery from 2002 until 2005, with no mention of his official role meanwhile as an Attaché at the British Embassy in Estonia. Stalker-Booth is currently working for the Australian Federal Police as the Curator of the Museum of Australian Policing.
Other colleagues who worked with Pablo Miller in Estonia and who don’t publicly advertise their work in Tallinn on social media include:
- the locally-engaged former Commercial Assistant, Maarika Põldes;
- the Vice-Consul in Tallinn at the time, Alison Cairns;
- the embassy’s locally-engaged Know How Fund representative, Ene Jürna;
- and also Karin Poola, who, like Stalker-Booth, advertises her education as finishing in 1996 and then leaves a large gap in her employment history, which for public consumption recommences in January 2002.
Neve Hõbemägi was the locally-engaged Commercial Officer of the British Embassy in Tallinn and, like some of her colleagues, she left her position shortly after the Pablo Miller story broke. In September 2000, she joined GlaxoSmithKline as the pharmaceutical giant’s Government Affairs Director, later moving to Swedbank (a massive banking presence in Estonia), where she has worked for the last fourteen years. She started there as Deputy Head of Communication for Baltic Banking and is currently the Senior Sustainability Manager.
It’s Miller Time
Once Pablo Miller had been outed as a spy, the British Embassy in Estonia reacted by quickly relocating some of its staff. It is clear from examining the various records that Miller was not the only employee registered at the embassy with links to intelligence. More broadly, this is probably a running theme in UK embassies throughout Eastern Europe, maybe even the world. Prior to the turn of the millennium, it was very unlikely that a candidate would get a job in a British embassy without significant links to intelligence, family connections, or an élite education, but that dynamic began to change during the Blair era. Diplomatic missions worldwide had long been a hiding place for those with intelligence links, which is why, historically speaking, they were carefully observed by their enemies. These observations prompt a significant question:
Why did MI6 place one of its most productive spies in a location where Russia’s gaze was most focused?
It wasn’t only the staff employed at the British Embassy in Estonia around the turn of the millennium who had significant ties to Pablo Miller; he was well known as a man of many different names. The Russians whom he recruited may have known him by his pseudonyms but, in each case, it didn’t take long for the Russian spy-hunters to identify Pablo Miller as the presumed culprit. Yet Pablo Miller didn’t begin his career in Estonia in 2000, Miller had previously served in the British Army as a member of the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Green Jackets before he moved to the FCO in 1990. It was also during his military career that Miller notably served alongside the BBC News journalist Mark Urban.
After the supposed Russian poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Mark Urban became central to forging the narrative of the event that was given to the public. Salisbury hadn’t only been the home town of Skripal; it had also reportedly been the residence of the retired Pablo Miller himself. After the events in Salisbury, Mark Urban authored The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. It was soon revealed that Mark Urban had been cultivating Sergei Skripal for up to a year before the poisonings allegedly happened.
As the years pass by, the truth concerning the life and times of Pablo Miller is becoming more and more obscure. The people who once worked alongside him have cut out large parts of their history rather than have to answer questions about what they know.
Pablo Miller’s manager at MI6 was revealed to be another lifelong intelligence officer called Christopher Steele, the infamous author of the Trump/Russia research report later referred to as the “Steele dossier”. Steele had been recruited by MI6 in 1986, directly after graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in Social and Political Sciences. He was initially stationed at the FCO in London and, by April 1990, Steele was made a MI6 field officer right at the heart of the diplomatic spy games: the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Moscow. The dust was still settling around the felled Berlin Wall when Steele arrived in Russia and, at first, the hosts restricted travel of foreign diplomats within the Soviet Union (and, from 1991, within the Russian Federation). As the embassy’s “internal traveller”, however, Steele still managed to move about to major provincial cities such as Samara and Kazan.
As a spy, Christopher David Steele was extremely successful, and he learned his craft throughout completely unprecedented times. The infamous MI6 officer was even outside Moscow’s White House in August 1991 to watch the Soviet coup attempt which almost toppled Gorbachev, where he stood fifty yards from Boris Yeltsin as the Russian premier made a speech atop a tank, calling for a general strike. Steele left Moscow in April 1993, when he was reassigned to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of MI6 in London. In 1998, he was posted to the British Embassy in Paris, where he was officially given the rank of First Secretary Financial. Then, in 1999, a list of over 100 MI6 officers was leaked online by former MI6 man Richard Tomlinson, whose actions sent the diplomatic services into disarray. It wasn’t much later that Pablo Miller was also being exposed as a secret agent under the employ of British intelligence. After being utterly exposed in the Tomlinson leaks, Steele returned to London.
In 2006, Steele returned to the United Kingdom, where his expertise and knowledge made him an exceptional candidate to take charge of the Russia desk at MI6 headquarters. According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, Steele had become pessimistic about the direction of the Russian Federation while he was in this role. This pessimism only increased after the former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned to death in London in November 2006.
Eventually, Steele officially left MI6 to setup Orbis Business Intelligence in 2009, which was widely reported to be a “small investigative-research firm” based in London. In the spring of 2016, Orbis Business Intelligence, which was riddled with former MI6 men, was subcontracted through a company called Fusion GPS—which itself had been contracted by Hilary Clinton’s official presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to conduct opposition research on the Trump campaign.
In a 2018 Daily Telegraph article entitled Poisoned Russian spy Sergei Skripal was close to consultant who was linked to the Trump dossier, the newspaper—quite exceptionally for the British press when covering intelligence matters—reported on Pablo Miller’s LinkedIn profile. Miller’s profile, which has since been deleted, apparently revealed that he was also working for Orbis Business Intelligence during this period. In fact, Miller was starting to surface more over the last decade, including being honoured by the Queen in 2015 as an Officer in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for “service to British foreign policy”. In addition, many independent journalists also reported on the DA-Notice (Defence Advisory Notice) which had been placed on the UK press in an attempt to prevent mention of Pablo Miller’s name, with veteran reporter, Channel 4 News’ Alex Thomson, posting on 12 March 2018:
About the only decisive public move by the authorities has been to censor MSM [mainstream media] via a D Notice last week from fully identifying Mr Skripal’s MI6 handler living nearby [...]
Although MI6 officers like Steele and Miller have spent their entire lives carefully hiding in plain sight, this dynamic appears be changing. Firstly, once retired, and with the distance of time between their previous actions and the present day, these shadowy actors are becoming more and more confident that revealing themselves will incur no significant consequence. Widespread access to the internet has not only made it significantly easier to trace people in the here and now; it also allows for us to look for patterns in the past. Once a professional intelligence officer’s cover has been blown, his ability to be a surreptitious spy is drastically diminished, but the disclosure also leads to his connections also being exposed. For years, intelligence agencies used embassies as a base for operations; those heady days of in-your-face espionage under diplomatic inviolability may be drawing to a close.
We are approaching an era of fifth-generation warfare. We are heading into a new technological reality which will see intelligence assets become less and less human. In an increasingly cyber-orientated world, where no-one will be sure what information is real and what information is fake, intelligence-gathering will most likely be done via snitch software, designed to inform those in power of your dissent. In some cases, this thought control will be imposed pre-emptively.
Soon, intelligence agencies won’t need spies like Pablo Miller and Christopher Steele in order to make people act against their own best interests, because interactions with computers, and carefully-programmed Artificial Intelligence, will become indistinguishable from human interaction. AI will eventually have access to almost every detail about us. Almost every skeleton in every closet will have been noted, categorised and will be ready for exploitation by various officials, real or digital, whenever the need arises—embassies not required.