Arnold Sinisalu, Chief of the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS), confirmed to ERR's program “Kahekõne” that Uno Puusepp, a former ISS employee who now lives in Moscow and allegedly worked for Russian FSB for 15 years, was at least partially telling the truth.
The Russian media channel NTV claimed last week that Uno Puusepp, an Estonian, was in fact a Russian spy.
Puusepp left the ISS (Kaitsepolitsei or KaPo in Estonian) three years ago and lives in Moscow now. He was one of the few former KGB spies who were allowed to join the ISS when Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union and formed its own counterintelligence agency.
According to Russian media, Puusepp passed secrets from Estonia's NATO allies and particularly the United States, Britain and Germany to Russia's federal FSB, while working at the ISS. He worked at ISS from 1991-2011 and claimed on air to have started passing secrets to FSB in 1996. Puusepp said that he didn't do it for money, but on ideological reasons. He said that he was inspired to spy for Russia because of the “Russophobia” and “fascism” he saw in newly-independent Estonia.
The program in which the revelation was made, went as far as to claim that “every paper that landed on the table of the director of Estonian ISS, ended up also in Moscow”. Nikolai Ermakov, a businessman and a former KGB employee who was Uno Puusepp's contact person, claimed on the TV-program that thanks to Puusepp, ISS's effectiveness with spying on Russian affairs was “devalued by 80%”.
Puusepp's broadcasted admission took the Estonian society by surprise, but the politicans and public have retained a united front. ISS immediately charged Puusepp for treason and started an investigation.
Estonian politicians said that the objective behind the revelation was to discredit Estonia and its security services in the eyes of its partners. ISS has already rejected the claim that all the internal documents would have also ended up in Moscow, pointing out that Puusepp was merely a technical worker, engaged in wiretapping, without an access to important secret documents, concerning Estonia's NATO and EU partners.
However, Sinisalu confirmed in an interview with ERR that some of the events decribed on the Russian TV-program indeed took place.
Puusepp described an instance where a classified information from the Russian Embassy in Tallinn was supposed to be collected by the ISS, by inserting a device into a Russian diplomatic telecommunication cable. According to Puusepp, CIA, NSA and Estonian ISS collaborated in secret to penetrate the Russian diplomatic cables. Under a covert operation, expensive intelligence equipment was transported in via Pärnu (small southern Estonian town) airport to intercept an "enciphered communication line from the Russian embassy" that was running through the optic cables of a house in the Aegviidu village. Puusepp claimed that he leaked this info to Moscow and the allied operation failed.
“I can confirm that this operation indeed took place,” Sinisalu told ERR, but refused to disclose more details due to the confidentiality clause. He conceded that it was most likely indeed Puusepp who thwarted the operation.
But Sinisalu said that the claim that Puusepp's actions diminished ISS's work concerning Russia by 80%, is ridiculous.
Several security experts have suggested that with the TV-program, Russia is actually preparing to offer an exchange of spies to Estonia, by releasing an abducted Estonian Internal Security Service agent Eston Kohver, but demanding a freedom for an imprisoned former ISS specialist Vladimir Veitman in return.
Like Uno Puusepp, Veitman was among the few former KGB workers who was allowed to continue in the independent Estonian secret service in 1991. Veitman retired from ISS in 2011, but was arrested in 2012 over suspicions that he had provided classified Estonian intelligence to Russia's secret services over the years. In late 2013, he pled guilty and was said to be cooperative with investigators. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. At the time of the investigation leading to Veitman's conviction, Puusepp was still in Estonia, but according to people who knew him, kept a low profile. Either out of fear or for some other reason, he finally emigrated to Russia in early 2014.
Puusepp said to Russian media that it was in fact him, not Veitman, who passed the Estonian ISS secrets to Russia, claiming that Veitman is innocent. “As long as I know, Veitman didn't pass on any secrets,” he said. This has led to a speculation in Estonia that Russia is preparing a ground for a spy exchange. Vladimir Pool, a former deputy head of Soviet-era KGB in Estonia, also claimed in an interview with Eesti Päevaleht that this is likely scenario from the Russians.
“I don't obviously know if Veitman himself would want an exchange, but the scenario sounds logical. Saving one's own intelligence agent is a sacred thing and will give others faith that they will not be left without help and support, if in trouble,” Pool said.
Eston Kohver's Russian advocade Jevgeni Aksjonov also indicated a similar blueprint, in an interview given to Postimees on December 3.
“I don't believe that after the court process in Moscow, Eston Kohver would stay in prison for long. I predict that after the court verdict, someone will fly to Moscow, and someone will fly to Tallinn. There are not many cases where intelligence agents would be imprisoned in a foreign prison for long,” Aksjonov said.
Editor: S. Tambur