TALLINN - Interior Minister Juri Pihl has revealed that Herman Simm, the disgraced former head of the Defense Ministry's secret information department, was granted security clearances as recently as last year.
On Sunday Sept. 28 Pihl, whose ministry has been instrumental in investigating Simm's treason charge, announced the news on a nationwide broadcast by Kuku radio station.
"Simm passed very serious checks for security clearance as lately as the first half of 2007," the minister said.
He hastened to add that to the best of his knowledge there were no hints of Simm's disloyalty to the state prior to the breakthrough which triggered his arrest, and the revelation by no means indicates carelessness on the state's behalf.
"Had there been anything referring to possible problems, such as in matters concerning personal finance or mental health, an in-depth scrutiny would have followed," Pihl said.
In reiterating the thoroughness of the safety checks, Pihl explained that due to Simm's vital role in Estonia-NATO relations he was also subjected to exhaustive checks by NATO partners.
The minister commented that the situation could have ended far worse than it has, as Herman Simm and his wife could have slipped through the net and disappeared for good. According to Pihl, they could have sold all their property and be giving interviews somewhere, laughing at the damage they've inflicted on the state.
"This is rather common in the world of intelligence and counterintelligence," Pihl said.
"The operation was a success because getting caught came as a surprise for the Simms. The world of intelligence meanwhile lives on, and we must not sit idle," he said.
A senior government source told The Baltic Times that the government had known for some time that there was a spy but they had not been able to identify who the spy was. The source who works in central government told TBT he was not surprised by the arrest of Simm.
However, the government now faces the challenge of striking a balance between vigilance and paranoia; the minister said it would be counter-productive to introduce a security system so tight that anyone with an unusual character trait is automatically deemed a suspect.
An introduction of new security measures has been prompted by concerns of a wider presence of espionage in the government; a suspicion strengthened by last week's revelation of the nature of Russian-Estonian espionage from an unnamed former British civil servant.
The ex-civil serviceman, an operative in the 90's, dealt with another top ranking Estonian official who fled to the U.K. seeking asylum, fearing for his safety after coming under massive pressure to sell information to the Russian secret service. The source claimed the Russian secret service had tentacles everywhere.
Herman Simm was arrested on the grounds of suspicion of treason through the passing on of state secrets to a foreign country on Sept. 21.
His wife, Heete Simm, who previously worked as lawyer at the national police board, was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory to treason.