Convicted turncoat Herman Simm.
RIGA - Latvian intelligence said on March 23 that it was probing purported Russian agents involved in a NATO spy scandal which led to the jailing of a top official in neighboring Estonia, reports AFP. The Constitutional Protection Bureau (CPB) said in its annual report that it was trying to untangle a web of connections between Estonian Defense Ministry official Herman Simm and his Russian handlers, who visited Latvia between 2000 and 2008. “Even though Simm was tried for treason already in 2009, the counterintelligence unit continued the investigation in 2010 to check facts connected to Latvia which have been revealed in the case,” the CPB said.
Simm was convicted on treason charges in February 2009 after pleading guilty to spying for his country’s Soviet-era master, Moscow, from 1995 to 2008. He is currently serving a prison sentence of 12 years and six months.
Estonia’s embarrassment over the Simm case was compounded by the fact that he sold its new allies’ secrets to Russia. Simm’s handlers were identified in Estonia’s probe as Valery Zemtsov and Sergei Yakovlev. The latter was found to have used a fake Portuguese identity, Antonio Graf, who visited Latvia sometimes posing as an investor and other times as an investigative journalist, the CPB report underlined.
Yakovlev collected economic information about the Latvian and regional economy, including energy projects, Latvian security officials said. “Assuming the possibility that all the spying activities of those individuals have not been exhausted, the CPB is asking those Latvian residents who have been in contact with them to come forward,” the agency said in a statement.
The CPB report also claims that foreign intelligence services use Latvia’s diaspora to achieve their foreign policy goals, reports news agency LETA. In 2010, it came to CPB’s attention that several non-EU and non-NATO countries, with help from their foreign intelligence services, tried to influence the sociopolitical situation in Latvia and discredit it in the eyes of the international community.
According to CPB, the foreign intelligence services’ presence in Latvia manifested itself shortly before the 10th Saeima elections, when suddenly Dzhokhar Dudayev Street in Riga became an issue and signatures were collected and an organization was established to rename it. This campaign also received informative support from the Russian news agency Regnum.
August 25 protests were timed with former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s visit to Riga in order to gain wide publicity. The protests were initiated by Russian foreign intelligence service officer Dmitriy Jermolayev, who uses his editor’s position in the Internet portal Riga.rosvesty.ru to hide his true identity, and also cooperates with Regnum.
The activities of foreign intelligence services pose a threat to Latvia’s national security and are considered a violation of sovereignty and unnecessary involvement in Latvia’s domestic affairs. These activities show that the actual foreign policy goals of some countries differ from official ones and contradict Latvia’s interests.
CPB reports that supporting diaspora is not against Latvia’s interests, however, a threat to national security is posed if foreign intelligence services manipulate with it to influence the sociopolitical situation in the country or to achieve their goals.
President Valdis Zatlers commented on the CPB’s report and pointed out that it is important that CPB has not established any significant influence of foreign intelligence services on Latvia’s policy.
It was last year that foreign intelligence services showed strong interest in Latvia’s parliamentary elections. The activities of foreign intelligence services operating in Latvia last year gives evidence that some intelligence services attempted to influence the political situation in the country.
The CPB points out that the interest of some foreign intelligence services in the 10th Saeima elections could be labeled as “high.” The CPB has established several attempts to gain detailed information on pre-election processes by foreign intelligence services, as well as during the formation of the government coalition after the elections.
These foreign intelligence services also showed much interest in Latvia’s political processes last year - internal political party affairs, relations between party members and other parties, cooperation between parties, as well as party financing.
The CBP has also established that foreign intelligence services attempted to obtain detailed information on factors that could influence the election results of specific parties, how informative campaigns could influence the popularity of certain parties, and the attitude of the electorate. Using this information, the CPB has also established that foreign intelligence services attempted to influence the political situation in Latvia last year.
However, the CBP points out that these activities by the foreign intelligence services were in large part failures, as they did little to influence the election’s results.