Widespread espionage feared in the Baltics

  • 2008-09-24
  • By Matt Withers and Abdul Turay

HOUSE OF SPIES?: The Ministry of Defense building where Simm used to work. May there have been other traitors inside?

TALLINN - Herman Simm, the former Defense Ministry security chief arrested for selling military secrets, may not have been acting alone, a source has told The Baltic Times.
The source, who worked in the British civil service in the '90s, said that he knew an Estonian who had claimed asylum in the U.K. to escape pressure from the Russian secret service to steal Estonian secrets.
"This guy worked for the Estonian police in a fairly senior position and was pretty sure that his own authorities would not be able to protect him, so rather than work for the Russians, he fled the country," the source said.
"There was no doubt that he was telling the truth 's the details of the case were too precise," the source added.

The source told TBT that the Russian secret service had tentacles everywhere.
The former civil servant was unable to confirm whether there were any other moles in the Baltic security forces now, but he had heard of similar cases during his work in the British civil service in the '90s. Simm began working in defense intelligence in 1995.
In 2001, Simm became head of the state secret protection department. He was also one of the architects of both the EU and NATO's secret information security systems and held top roles in devising international agreements on securing classified affairs.
After Estonia's acceptance into NATO, Simm probably became a "golden customer" for Russian intelligence, one expert said.

Nobody knows 's or is willing to share 's the extent to which national and international security has been compromised. Estonian officials are scrambling to portray the discovery of the massive security breach in a positive light.
"It is a good thing the crime has been detected and the suspects detained 's this indicates the strength of the Estonian state," Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said.
Estonia's foremost politicians have unanimously expressed regret over the situation. In separate statements, both the president and the prime minister used the phrase "extremely regrettable" to describe the allegations.
Another major concern is that Estonia has jeopardized its reputation with NATO, as the selling of secrets could have far-reaching consequences in the context of current Russia-NATO relations.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has conceded that NATO's opinion of Estonia's dependability has potentially suffered as a result of the allegations, but insists that solving the problem will benefit Estonia's reputation.
"The state had a problem, we kept looking for a solution, and now we're highly likely to have solved it," Ansip said.

Regrets aside, the government must now investigate the matter fully and minimize the damage caused by the security breach. It does not appear as though Defense Minister Aaviksoo, who heads the compromised department, will come under fire.
Former defense minister and current MP Jurgen Ligi has stressed that Aaviksoo should not take political responsibility. "It's a very embarrassing case, but the same embarrassment is probably familiar to all countries, so forgiving and learning the lesson together once more is the order of the day," said Ligi.
"It would be very wrong for the defense minister to take political responsibility now. As far as I know, that is not the usual international practice either. This would be tantamount to execution without concrete guilt," he said.

Ansip said that while arresting Simm was a major step, the larger challenge lies in discovering where and how much harm has been dealt to the state. The government also intends to devise a strategy to minimize or even prevent the possibility of another security breach.
Simm was appointed head of the newly formed state secret protection department in 2000. From 2001 to 2006 he served as the authorized national security agent; in this role he was responsible for building up protection of secret information in Estonia.

Simm headed government delegations involved with agreements on the protection of the secret information of several dozen countries. He also took part in devising EU and NATO information protection systems, having been bestowed the trust and confidence of Estonia's international partners.
The Public Prosecutor's Office has formally charged Simm with "unlawfully collecting classified information and forwarding it to a foreign country." The criminal investigation is currently being handled by the Public Prosecutor's Office in conjunction with the Security Police Board, with the cooperation of the Information Board and the Defense Ministry.

The Public Prosecutors Office has refused to comment on the allegations  to avoid prejudicing the inquiry. Information about when the crime took place, and for how long, is also being withheld.
This is the first treason case since the restoration of Estonian independence. The penal code states that conviction for treason entails three to 15 years' imprisonment.

(more on the Simm case in TBT next week)