'Catastrophic' situation after Estonian unmasked as spy


ECHOES OF the Cold War have returned to Nato headquarters in Brussels after an Estonian general was unmasked as a “sleeper” spy who passed top secret alliance information to Moscow.

Herman Simm (61), a retired official in Estonia’s defence ministry, has been arrested along with his wife on suspicion that they were recruited by KGB officers before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After Estonia’s independence in 1991, state prosecutors believe Mr Simm made contact with the KGB’s successor foreign intelligence agency, the SVR.

The former police chief was the perfectly placed mole: between 1995 and 2006 he helped set up the high-security system for handling all sensitive Nato documents ahead of Estonia’s accession to the alliance in 2004.

That has alarmed Estonia’s Nato allies, who are talking about the greatest intelligence breach since the CIA counter-intelligence chief Aldrich Ames was exposed as a Soviet mole in 1994.

Mr Jaanus Rahumägi, chairman of the Estonian parliament’s security watchdog, admits that the spy has caused “historic damage” to the alliance.

“We are analysing several aspects of Herman Simm’s activities, the current security screening system and how better to protect state secrets,” he said.

He has already received teams of investigators from Nato headquarters.

After inspecting the breach, one German official described the situation as “catastrophic”.

Estonian officials are tight-lipped about what information was leaked, but Estonian media have speculated that details of the proposed US missile defence shield could now be in Russian hands.

Mr Simm’s contact is believed to be an FSB agent with a fake Spanish identity.

When this agent tried to recruit someone in another Nato country, the approach was reported to the alliance, leading counter-intelligence officers to Mr Simm.

He will go on trial in the spring and could face up to 15 years for treason.

Investigators searching for a motive have discovered that Mr Simm, now retired, owned half a dozen properties in Tallinn as well as a villa and a farm near the capital.

In his home, investigators found an old radio which they suspect he used to set up meetings with his Russian contact.

It was a nostalgic touch in the wired Estonian republic, described by Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the alliance’s “most IT-savvy nation”.

But the security breach is likely to have put an end to Estonia’s hope to host Nato’s new cyber-defence centre.