TALLINN - The Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) caught a person at the beginning of this year who had been recruited by the Main Intelligence Agency (GRU) of the armed forces of Russia, ISS chief Arnold Sinisalu told journalists at the presentation of the 2016 yearbook of ISS on Wednesday.
Sinisalu said that the person recruited by GRU was caught on Jan. 9 and has been charged under the article of the Penal Code dealing with engagement by an alien in non-violent activities directed against the independence and sovereignty or territorial integrity of the Republic of Estonia, an offense punishable by up to ten years in jail.
The charged individual is a citizen of Russia.
ISS refused to specify whether or not the individual holds an Estonian residence permit.
Analyses by the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS), just like by several neighboring countries, confirm that the activity of the special services of Russia in the region has intensified significantly of late, ISS says in its yearbook published on Wednesday.
The Lithuanian security services SSD and AOTD point out in their common threat assessment that the activity of Russian special services has recently intensified in light of tensions within the EU and NATO. The security services of the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden and other European countries have also noted an increased intensity of Russian intelligence operations.
"The special services act under the cover of diplomacy, businessmen, journalists, researchers, various delegations, and NGOs as well as under false identities. In recent years, the Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish services among others have revealed a number of agents recruited by the Russian special services, some of whom were active in the defense sphere," the yearbook says.
A fair number of signs have been noted that refer to recruitment activities, and the public has been therefore informed of the threats from hostile special services, such as in Germany and Lithuania, according to ISS.
Information available to ISS indicates that Russian intelligence and security services also spy on the Estonian defense sphere and its agencies just as they do in our neighboring countries. This intelligence picture is administered for the Russian political and military elite by the Main Intelligence Agency (GRU), but intelligence operations are actively carried out by the Federal Security Service (FSB). All Russian special services actually gather information on NATO.
They are interested in the foreign and security policies, defense planning and defense cooperation of other countries in general and the development of the armed forces, defense industry, armament and the implementation of new capabilities in specific countries in particular. They have a focal interest in the Estonian defense forces, the Kaitseliit (Defense League), the allied forces present in Estonia and the exercises conducted here, as well as the key figures and personnel of the defense forces.
"The Russian special services are interested in both the collection of information and in influencing decisions important for Estonia. The Russian intelligence and security services conduct anti-Estonian influence operations, including psychological operations – in other words, influencing the defense forces and the general population of a potential enemy," the yearbook says.
Besides this type of conspired secret activity, ISS and its partner agencies have detected photographing and filming of defense structures and military exercises and the flying of drones above defense force structures or during exercises by persons whose intentions were not benevolent. Considering the security situation, such incidents can be expected to recur, ISS says, inviting residents to inform it of any such observations.
"There is increasing interest in the field of defense. The increased presence of NATO allies in the Baltic countries and in Poland is vexing for Russia. It is this vexation in particular that Russia demonstrates in words and actions, trying to make it as unpleasant as possible for NATO member countries to support their allies," Sinisalu said.
For Estonian security authorities, this means more work, but it is highly beneficial with regard to improved safety and stability, he said.
Sinisalu said that in 2016, it became evident at all levels, both in Estonia and elsewhere in the world, that the explosive growth of social media has had an impact that was not completely foreseen.
"Moreover – the onslaught of false claims and misleading information have made many of us think that we have reached a post-truth age," he said.
"Perhaps we here in Estonia have sensed that false and misleading claims, and untruthful facts influence our way of life, and that truth has been ignored or twisted for a long time," Sinisalu said.
He said that manipulations with history are not over, and we are not living at the "end of history." The western democratic and peaceful way of life is not a self-explanatory or desired social development for everyone.
"We are still witnessing attempts to erode our society. Sometimes, our enemy will achieve a tactical victory. Most recently, it was 10 years ago, the long-term persistent influence activity by the Kremlin culminated in a public attack on the national flag in May 2006, and in April 2007 with riots against the police and looting in Tallinn and East-Viru County. I dare say we have learned our lesson from this as a society here in Estonia," Sinisalu said.
Russian intelligence agencies continue espionage against Estonia. In counterintelligence, there is an ongoing tendency to recruit "ordinary" people and criminals for secret collaborations, the head of ISS said.
"Again this year, we have to include regrettable examples of how some people have started carrying out anti-Estonian tasks given by Russian intelligence agencies. We have identified these cases and, in collaboration with the Prosecutor's Office, we have prosecuted these criminals," he said.