TALLINN - Hermann Simm, who was convicted of treason in 2009, gave at least 3,294 confidential documents of Estonian government institutions to the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, reports the Estonian press citing an article that was published on Sept. 17 in the EUobserver.
Simm, an Estonian Defense Ministry official in charge of exchanging classified information with the EU and NATO, was jailed in 2009 for 12 years and 6 months for being a Russian spy.
He used to come to Brussels for NATO seminars. A senior EU official said that one of his contacts in the EU capital was Vasiliy Chizhov, a Russian diplomat and the son of Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov. Vasiliy Chizhov was also thrown out of Belgium in 2009, EUobserver wrote in the article “Intelligence chief: EU capital is ‘spy capital.’”
The Estonian security police, the KaPo, told EUobserver that Simm gave Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, “at least” 3,294 internal Estonian documents. They include 386 EU- and NATO-related papers on communication systems, counter-intelligence and defense policy, some of which were classified ‘CONFIDENTIEL UE’ or ‘SECRET UE.’
KaPo’s counter-intelligence chief, Aleksander Toots, said: “They didn’t get the direct access keys to [EU and NATO] communications systems. They got some idea of how the systems work ... Of course, the SVR wanted that. But Simm couldn’t help them.”
He said the fiasco is a lesson on Russian espionage in Europe.
Toots explained that Simm’s handler was an SVR officer who pretended to be a Portuguese businessman in what is called “illegal cover.”
He said the SVR is more active in Western countries. But Russia’s internal service, the FSB, tends to operate in former Soviet-controlled EU countries and to target EU diplomats who visit Moscow in what is called “intelligence from home.”
He added that Russia stopped trying to recruit people on the basis of Communist ideology in the 1980s. It now uses money, compromise or ego.
Toots said that, in terms of espionage, the Cold War never ended. “We are quite sure that there is not a single EU country in which Russian intelligence services do not have capacities proportional to the size of the country... In Estonia, in the past 20 years, intelligence activity has constantly increased,” he said.
“The biggest mistake you can make in my line of work is to underestimate the services working against you,” he warned.
For his part, Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, called the Simm affair “ridiculous.” He said NATO used his son for an anti-Russia “PR case.”
He added, perhaps not surprisingly: “It’s part of misconceptions about Russia, and China too... Some of the newer member states of the European Union have yet to rid themselves of phobias of the past.”