US Embassy operating an undercover surveillance detection unit in Tallinn (18)
Estonian daily Postimees reported that the United States Embassy in Tallinn has for years been running a secret surveillance unit which monitors people in the city center, gathers intelligence and stores the collected information in a global anti-terrorism data system.
Postimees reported that a five-member surveillance team is monitoring on a daily basis the triangle between Solaris Center, Estonian Gas HQ and Hotel Olümpia – all in the Tallinn city center and near the American Embassy in the Estonian capital.
Based on their observations, the team writes on average 5-6 "security reports" per month.
When approached by the daily, the US Embassy's Public Affairs Officer Bradley Hurst confirmed the existence of the program. "The surveillance is in place to identify dubious activity in the vicinity of the embassy. It forms a normal part of our security measures, because the safety of our employees and guests – both Estonian and American – is the priority of the US government around the world," Hurst said.
Hurst emphasized that the surveillance is not to be confused with espionage or secret intelligence operation. "We have a full respect for the national privacy laws and these security measures have been approved by the Estonian government."
Erkki Koort, the Deputy Secretary General for Internal Security Policy at the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, confirmed that the surveillance operation is there to ensure the US Embassy's safety, although he remained slightly ambigious as to how much information is collected and with whom and how often it is shared with.
"Uncontrolled and far-reaching gathering of personal data is not permitted and our agreement stipulates that the exchange of information is bilateral. And it is important to stress that it is not a secret espionage unit, but forms a part of the embassy's security team," Koort said.