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

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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

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.