Estonian court to release defense official who spied for Russia for 13 years

Herman SimmA court in Estonia has ordered the release of a former senior defense official who spied on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for Russia, causing what experts described at the time as “the most serious case of espionage against NATO since the end of the Cold War”. Herman Simm was a high-level official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who once led the country’s National Security Authority. This meant that he was in charge of Estonia’s national cyber defense systems and supervised the issuing of security clearances.

He was arrested in 2008 along with his wife and charged with spying for Russia for over a decade. At the time of his arrest Simm was responsible for handling all of Estonia’s classified and top secret material regarding NATO. This prompted European and American security officials to describe Simm as the most damaging spy against NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In February of 2009 Simm was sentenced to 12½ years in prison.

On Thursday, a county court in Estonia’s southeastern city of Tartu ruled that Simm is eligible for parole, because he has served the majority of his prison sentence without committing any disciplinary infractions. Officials from the Tartu County Prison and the prosecutor’s office agreed that early release would provide Simm with an incentive to abide with Estonian law. The court also stated in its decision that Simm had no more access to classified information and that he was of no further interest to foreign countries and intelligence organizations.

Simm is expected to be released within days, and will remain under probation until March of 2021. The court’s decision can be appealed by December 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 December 2019 | Permalink

Executive of Danish bank implicated in massive money laundering found dead

Danske BankThe former chief executive of Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia, which is implicated in a massive money laundering scheme, has been found dead in an apparent suicide in Tallinn. Aivar Rehe, 56, headed the Estonian subsidiary of the Copenhagen-based Danske Bank, one of Northern Europe’s largest retail banks, which was founded in 1871. He belonged to a group of dynamic young entrepreneurs who spearheaded the privatization of the Estonian economy in the post-Soviet era.

But the reputation of the Estonian banking sector was tarnished last year, when a criminal investigation was launched into an alleged money laundering scandal. The investigation focused on customers from Russia and other Eastern European countries who allegedly used Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia to launder billions of dollars in illicit funds. The probe prompted Danske Bank to pull out of the Baltic countries. Meanwhile, the probe extended to Sweden, Germany and the United States. Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, is currently being investigated for allegedly helping facilitate Danske Bank’s customers launder money by converting it into United States dollars. The criminal probe has damaged the previously spotless reputation of the Scandinavian banking sector and has made Central European banks hesitant to do business in the Baltics. Some financial observers have even warned that the Danske Bank scandal could drag the Baltic economies into a prolonged recession.

Rehe was not involved in the money laundering scandal. However, much of the money laundering took place between 2007 and 2015, when he was in charge of the Estonian subsidiary of Danske Bank. Under his leadership the bank’s operations were allegedly marred by “deficiencies in controls and governance”, which allowed for criminal activity to occur unnoticed, according to an internal Danske Bank investigation into the money laundering affair. Rehe had been missing from his home since Monday, having apparently left without taking his wallet and cellphone. His body was discovered on Wednesday in the garden of his home in the Estonian capital. Police have ruled his death an apparent suicide and believe that no foul play was involved.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2019 | Permalink

Russians use front-company to access US federal employees’ contact info, says report

EFIS EstoniaRussian spy agencies use front companies to purchase directorates that contain the contact details of United States government employees, according to a new intelligence report. The contact details are contained in multi-page directories of Congressional staff members and employees of US federal agencies. They are published every January by a specialist vendor called Leadership Connect with the cooperation of a Washington, DC-based provider of publishing services. The directories contain the names, job titles, professional addresses and telephone numbers of US government employees.

But according to the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS), copies of the directorate are purchased every year by the Russian intelligence services, such as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). The two Russian spy agencies allegedly use a front company in order to purchase copies of the directory. In reality, however, the purchases are made on behalf of Russian intelligence units, such as Military Unit 71330 of the FSB. This allegation is contained in the 2019 security environment assessment, which was published this week by the EFIS. Titled International Security and Estonia, the report is an overview of the main threats to Estonia’s internal security and a description of how these threats relate to international developments.

The directories, says EFIS, are not classified. On the contrary, they contain information that is publicly available in the US. However, the job descriptions and contact information of US federal employees are difficult to access in a collected format. The directories are therefore useful to Russian intelligence, which routinely tries to access large quantities of open-source information from foreign countries. Russian spy agencies are known to incorporate this open-source information into recruitment or surveillance plans that target specific individuals or foreign government agencies. They also use them to fill gaps in intelligence collection about specific agencies or parts of agencies, according to Robert Dannenberg, a former CIA officer who spoke to Yahoo News about the EFIS report.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 March 2019 | Permalink

Russian court sentences Estonian aircraft executive to 12 years for espionage

Raivo SusiA Russian court has sentenced an Estonian aircraft business executive to 12 years at a maximum security prison, allegedly for having spied on Russia a decade ago. Little is known about the case of Raivo Susi, who co-owns two companies that are involved in the sale and maintenance of non-commercial aircraft. The Estonian businessman’s activities include the partial ownership of Aerohooldus OU, which provides training jet aircraft for use by the Air Force of Estonia –a member state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Russian media have stated that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) began investigating Susi in January of 2016. By that time, the Estonian businessman was not actively engaging in espionage against Russia, but he was still in touch with his spy handlers, according to the Russians. A group of FSB officers arrested Susi at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February of 2016, as the Estonian businessman was preparing to board a flight from Moscow to the Tajik capital Dushanbe. Since that time, Susi has been held in prison awaiting trial. According to his Russian lawyer, Aleksei Toplygin, Susi faced charges of engaging in espionage against the Russian state from 2004 until 2007. No further information was released about Susi’s activities. His trial, which concluded on Monday in Moscow, was held behind closed doors. It is believed that Susi consistently denied having spied on Russia throughout his trial.

Susi’s espionage case is the latest in a string of spy affairs that have rocked Russian-Estonian relations during the past decade. In 2008, Estonian authorities arrested Herman Simm, a high-level official at the Estonian defense ministry, on charges of spying on behalf of Russian intelligence for nearly 30 years. In 2014, Eston Kohver, a counterintelligence officer in the Estonian Internal Security Service, was allegedly abducted by Russian troops near the Estonian-Russian border. Later that year, the Estonians arrested two Russian citizens, said to be former employees of the Soviet-era KGB, who allegedly crossed into Estonian territory without a permit. In 2015, the Russians exchanged Kohver for Aleksei Dressen, a former Estonian intelligence officer who was jailed in 2012 along with his wife, Viktoria Dressen, for allegedly spying for Russia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 December 2017 | Permalink

Russia and Estonia conduct Cold-War-style spy swap

Estonia Russia spy-swapThe Russian and Estonian intelligence services have exchanged two men accused by each country of spying for the other, in a rare public example of what is commonly referred to as a ‘spy-swap’. The exchange took place on Saturday on a bridge over the Piusa River, which forms part of the Russian-Estonian border, separating Estonia’s Polva County from Russia’s Pskov Oblast.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said that it had handed to the Estonian government a man going by the name of Eston Kohver. Last year, Estonian officials accused Moscow of abducting Kohver, an employee of the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, from the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia. But the Russian government said that Kohver had been captured by the FSB on Russian soil and was found to be carrying a firearm, cash and spy equipment “relating to the gathering of intelligence”.

Kohver was exchanged for Aleksei Dressen, a former Estonian KaPo officer who was arrested in February 2012 along with his wife, Viktoria Dressen, for allegedly spying for Russia. The Dressens were caught carrying classified Estonian government documents as Viktoria was attempting to board a flight to Moscow. Aleksei Dressen was sentenced to 16 years in prison, while Viktoria Dressen to six, for divulging state secrets. Russian media have since reported that Dressen had been secretly working for Russian counterintelligence since the early 1990s.

Soon after the spy- swap, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu told a press conference that the exchange had been agreed with the FSB following “long-term negotiations”, during which it became clear that “both sides were willing to find a suitable solution”. Kohver, sitting alongside Sinisalu, told reporters that it felt “good to be back in my homeland”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2015 | Permalink

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Uno PuuseppBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years. Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow. Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement. He told the network that he was one of several former KGB operatives who had gone on to work for independent Estonia’s intelligence agencies, but that he had quickly decided that his true allegiance was to Russia. He eventually supplied Moscow with information on the activities of Western intelligence agencies in Estonia, including those of the American CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Germany’s BND. One commentator said in the documentary that “for 15 years, practically everything that landed on the desk of the Estonian security service’s director also landed on the desk of the FSB” thanks to Puusepp. The retired double spy said that one of his successes was letting the FSB know about a planned CIA operation that involved setting up a signals intelligence station in a disused bunker in the northern Estonian town of Aegviidu. The station was aimed at collecting communications from Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, but the Russian side terminated those networks once it got word of the CIA’s plans. Puusepp’s FSB recruiter and handler, Nikolai Yermakov, also spoke in the documentary, saying that the Estonian double spy was not motivated by financial profit, but rather by grievances against what he called “the Estonian establishment”. It is unclear why the Russian authorities permitted Puusepp to speak publicly at this particular time.

Estonia arrests Russian ex-KGB intelligence officers

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in Estonia have announced the arrest of two Russian citizens, said to be former employees of the Soviet-era KGB, who allegedly crossed into Estonian territory without a permit. The men have been identified as Alexandr Ladur, 54, and Mikhail Suhoshin, 64, and are reportedly retired intelligence officers. Estonian border police said the two men were apprehended while sailing on the river Narva, which flows from Lake Peipsi into the Baltic Sea and forms part of the border between Estonia and Russia. The two Russian citizens are being held on charges of illegally entering Estonian territory and resisting arrest. This is the second major diplomatic incident between Russia and the Baltic former Soviet republic in recent months. IntelNews regulars will recall that, in early September, the government of Estonia said Eston Kohver, a counterintelligence officer in the country’s Internal Security Service, was abducted by “a team of unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claimed that the abduction had occurred at a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia. But Russian sources said at the time that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media later reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. British newspaper The Guardian quoted Kalev Stoicescu, Russia expert at the International Center for Defense Studies in Estonian capital Tallinn, who did not rule out that the two alleged former KGB officers may in fact “have been merely fishing”. Read more of this post

Estonian intelligence officer ‘abducted’ by Russian spies

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn to complain about the alleged abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer by Russian forces, which it says occurred on Estonian soil. A statement from the Ministry said the Estonian intelligence officer, named Eston Kohver, has worked since 1991 for the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo. Speaking to reporters on Friday, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu said Kohver had been kidnapped by a team of “unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claims that the abduction occurred in the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia, which connects the small Baltic country with its Russian neighbor. Sinisalu said KaPo investigators had detected “signs of a scuffle” at the scene of the abduction, as well as vehicle tracks “leading from Russian to Estonian soil”. Subsequent reports in Estonian media alleged that the Russian abductors had managed to jam radio communications in the area prior to snatching Kohver. They also employed smoke grenades during the operation, which would explain a number of “explosions” heard in the vicinity, according to Estonian police spokesman Harrys Puusepp. But Russian sources dismissed the Estonian government’s claims, saying that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. A statement from the FSB said the Estonian operative had been captured while taking part in “an undercover operation” on behalf of KaPo. Read more of this post

Is Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program the world’s best?

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Until not so long ago, the former Soviet Republic of Estonia was known as a playground for Russian intelligence. The tiny Baltic state, with a population of just under 1.4 million, a fourth of whom are ethnic Russians, struggled to build its security and intelligence infrastructure following its emergence from communism. Some of the country’s low points during that process include the infamous 2007 cyberattacks, which are believed to have been orchestrated by Moscow, and which kicked the entire country off the World Wide Web for over a week. A year later, authorities in Tallinn announced the arrest of Herman Simm, a senior official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who was apprehended along with his wife for spying on behalf of Russian intelligence for nearly 30 years. Since that time, however, Tallinn has been able to transform its Russian counterintelligence program into something resembling the envy of the world, according to Foreign Affairs columnist Michael Weiss. In an intriguing analysis published on Tuesday, Weiss argues that Estonia’s claim to fame in the counterintelligence world centers on its initiative in hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, which was founded in response to the 2007 cyberattacks. But, says Weiss, much more quietly, the tiny Baltic state has become a global leader in “old-fashioned counterintelligence” directed against Russian spy operations on its territory. He quotes one observer as saying that Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program “is now better by a long way than that of any other country in Europe”. John Schindler, a professor at the United States Naval War College and former analyst at the National Security Agency, tells Weiss that, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Estonia’s counterintelligence service, Kaitsepolitseiamet, known as KaPo, “intuitively understands Russian intelligence culture”. The agency, says Schindler, used the Simm case as an impetus to upgrade its offensive and defensive counterintelligence posture. This effort led to the well-publicized arrests of Aleksei and Viktoria Dressen, as well as Vladimir Veitman, all Estonian citizens who had been spying for Russia for many years. Read more of this post

Analysis: Russia’s policy in Ukraine part of wider anti-NATO plan

Marina KaljurandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russia’s tactical maneuvering in Ukraine is part of a wider strategy of pushing back Western influence from former Soviet territories, according to East European and Western officials. That is the conclusion in a lead article in the latest issue of Time magazine, which quotes several eponymous sources, including John McLaughlin, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Marina Kaljurand, Estonia’s ambassador to Washington. She tells the newsmagazine that Russia’s meddling in Ukraine forms part of a carefully organized and well-funded strategy that involves “overt and covert” operations throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Kaljurand says the operations include “a range of Cold War espionage tools”, such as planted agents, citizen groups funded by the Kremlin, as well as recruitment of intelligence assets. The aim, she argues, is to “restore in one form or another the power of the Russian Federation in the lands where Russian people live”. Western officials quoted in the Time article seem to agree that the strategy has a long-term, wider goal, which is “to undermine and roll back Western power” in former Soviet lands. Currently, Russian push-back operations are not only underway in Ukraine, but also in Latvia, where nearly half of the population consists of ethnic Russians, as well as in Estonia, where one in four citizens is Russian in origin. As in all former Soviet republics, many ethnic Russians in Estonia are members of the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, a group that is coordinated, guided, and often funded, by the Russian embassy in the country. In a recent report, the Estonian Internal Security Service said the Russian embassy in Tallinn is “guiding the Russian-speaking population […] by using influence operations inherited from the KGB”. IntelNews regulars will recall the case of Herman Simm, the high-level official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who once headed the country’s National Security Authority. He was arrested in 2008 and later convicted for —among other things— giving classified North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) material to Russia. Two years later, Estonia had been subjected to a sustained cyberattack after its government removed a statue commemorating the Soviet military contribution to World War II from downtown Tallinn. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #760

Aleksei DressenBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►Turkey breaks up major military espionage ring. Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported on July 9 that 51 active-duty soldiers from over twelve cities have been implicated in a major espionage ring involving Turkey’s military. Following a series of raids on July 7, at least 40 people were detained and four others were taken into custody. The raids were in response to an investigation launched in 2009, regarding warcraft radar locations in Turkey, illegal surveillance, as well as wiretapping of military officers.
►►Taiwan navy misplaces classified naval charts. During the decommissioning last June of Taiwan’s Hai Ou missile boats, classified naval charts were discovered to have gone missing during a final inventory check. The Taipei Times reports that the individual officer tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the charts in question claimed to have burned one by accident, but was unable to account for the second chart. The classified charts contained information on Taiwanese naval activity including deployments in the Taiwan Strait.
►►Estonia security official and wife jailed for treason. Aleksei Dressen, a former security official at Estonia’s Interior Ministry, and his wife, Viktoria, were both convicted of treason, receiving 16 years and 6 years respectively. During a closed trial the proceedings did not provide direct evidence as to whom Dressen and his wife were working for. However, reports indicate that Dressen’s handlers were most likely representatives of Russia’s FSB.  The prosecution alleged that Dressen brought classified state secrets from the Estonian Interior Ministry to the airport in an envelope and then passed them along to his wife, who acted as a courier to Russian handlers. Heili Sepp, the Estonian prosecutor, indicated that the sentencing of the Dressens was part of a plea bargain effort, noting: “To our knowledge, this is the harshest punishment meted out in plea bargain proceedings in Estonia”.

News you may have missed #684

Boris KarpichkovBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Pakistan sacks health workers who helped CIA locate bin Laden. Seventeen local health workers have been fired in Abbottabad for their part in a CIA scheme to try to confirm the presence of Osama bin Laden in the northern Pakistani town. The low-ranking health department employees were punished for helping Dr Shakil Afridi, who was assigned by the CIA to set up a fake vaccination scheme in Abbottabad, ahead of the US military operation that found and killed the al-Qaida leader there.
►►Estonia arrests couple for spying for Russia. Estonian prosecutors said Aleksei Dressen, who works for Estonia’s security police, and his wife, Viktoria Dressen, were arrested at Tallinn airport as she was boarding a flight to Moscow on February 22. Aleksei Dressen allegedly went to the airport to give his wife a folder that contained classified information. Meanwhile, in neighboring Lithuania, the government has released the names of 238 citizens who were reservists for the KGB during the Cold War.
►►KGB defector talks to British newspaper. Since fleeing to Britain in the late 1990s Boris Karpichkov has preferred to keep a low profile —unlike another, better-known Moscow agent who fled to London, one Alexander Litvinenko. He says he ran audacious disinformation operations against the CIA and broke into and planted bugs in the British embassy in Riga. But in 1995 he grew unhappy with the increasingly corrupt FSB (the KGB’s successor), which, he says, failed to pay him. He spent several months in a Moscow prison before slipping into Britain on one of the false passports he was given as a KGB officer. He hasn’t been back to Russia since.

News you may have missed #532

Viru Hotel

Viru Hotel

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A new exhibition in Tallinn, called The Viru Hotel and the KGB, showcases the Soviet KGB operations in the Estonian capital’s most prestigious Soviet-era hotel. According to the curators, the 23rd floor of the hotel served as the KGB’s operational center in the city. The exhibition focuses specifically on KGB bugging technology during the last stages of the Cold War. Speaking of the Cold War, The Oak Ridger hosts an interesting interview with Francis Gary Powers Jr., son of the CIA pilot who was shot down over the USSR and later captured by the Soviets in 1960. Powers insists his father “never divulged America’s secrets” during his two-year imprisonment in Moscow. Interestingly, declassified documents from that time show that the CIA doubted Powers’ plane had been shot down by the Soviets, and believed the pilot had willingly defected to the USSR. In Canada, meanwhile, a new report to parliament by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS), claims that cyber-spying is fastest growing form of espionage in the country. The report also states that, as a matter of policy, CSIS views some private-sector cyberattacks as a national security issue.

Mossad operative to avoid jail in extradition deal

Uri Brodsky

"Uri Brodsky"

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An operative of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, who was arrested in Poland on charges of forging a German passport, will avoid prison time for the offense, under a suspected Polish-German-Israeli secret deal. The man, whose travel documents identify him as Uri Brodsky, was arrested upon arriving in Poland on June 4. He is wanted by German prosecutors for procuring a forged German passport for use by a member of a Mossad hit squad, who used it to enter Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in mid-January of this year. The user of the forged passport is thought to have participated in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons procurer, who was found dead in his luxury Dubai hotel room on January 20.  German prosecutors believe that Brodsky, who worked in Germany under the name of Alexander Werin, assisted numerous Mossad operatives acquire forged identity papers of several European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Austria and Switzerland. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #345

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