Russian youth engagement, more people coming to Estonia from countries with a "high risk of international terrorism" and the increasing interest of Chinese special services have been flagged as risks by the Internal Security Service (KAPO) in its annual review which was published on Tuesday.
The report is released annually and reports KAPO's developments, achievements and concerns for 2019. This year it also provides the reader with a history of the organization.
KAPO's objective is to manage security threats in Estonia and thereby ensure the security of the population. The aim is to protect fundamental values such as democracy, human rights and freedoms, and the rule of law
ERR News has summarized the report below.
Download the full report here.
The report says Russia is trying to "to engage and train the next generation of leaders" and is doing this by trying to involve both Russian and foreign youth. Examples of this can be seen in "Russian youth include Olympiads, competitions and other events, which typically include elements of ideological education".
The report says: "The true, deeper interest is in getting more information about people's backgrounds, contacts and current activities in order to exploit them for political, business and security interests."
Other areas to be wary of are local government cooperation specifically in the area of education which can undermine Estonia's educational policy goals.
KAPO also warn people who continue working with Russia to make sure they are not breaking international sanctions.
Denial of occupation and annexation of the Baltic States
In 2019, Russia paid close attention to the "75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism", which was marked by a number of international conferences and exhibitions.
"The aim was to present Russia and the USSR again in a positive and humane light. It is important that the Baltic States and other regions occupied under the MRP (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) are not among the so-called liberated Eastern European countries, as they are considered part of the USSR."
Kapo believes that this approach is another confirmation of Russia's policy, which denies the occupation of the Baltic states and justifies subsequent repression.
Several traitors and collaborators were caught by KAPO in 2019. These include a former officer in the Estonian Defence Forces Deniss Metsavas and his father Pyotr Volin. They assisted Military Intelligence of the Russian General Staff (GRU) in non-violent activities against the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Estonia. They were tasked with collected and transmitted classified information on national defence, the Estonian Defence Forces, the Estonian Defence League and Estonia's military allies, intended for internal use.
"This was certainly a significant judgment, as no EDF officer had been convicted of treason since the restoration of Estonia's independence," the report says.
Sergei Kondrat, a Russian citizen and electrician, was arrested in May 2019 and later sentenced to five years in prison for collaborating with the GRU from 2006 onwards. During the course of this collaboration, he collected information that would enable the security of Estonia to be damaged.
The report says: "This is a telling example of the fact that people do not need to have access to state secrets in order to attract the interest of Russian special services today. Often, the opportunity to interact with the person and the individual's motivation to collaborate are sufficient. Access to information of interest is just a bonus."
Vladimir Kulikov, a former KAPO officer who was arrested in March 2019 was later sentenced to five years in prison for knowingly establishing a relationship with a foreign security service and for engaging in intelligence activities against the Republic of Estonia.
"The Kulikov case confirms that not having been in government service for years does not reduce the interest of Russian special services in a person," the report says.
There has also been an increase in interest from the Chinese special services. China's intelligence-gathering has intensified since Estonia joined NATO and the EU and remains high today.
But it is not just Estonia's membership of international organizations, it is also the country's "geographical location as a transit country between East and West, as well as infrastructure projects currently in the planning or development phase".
The report also says Chinese intelligence services are not the only ones other than Russia targeting Estonia. "In a globalising world, we will inevitably have to deal with a variety of intelligence threats that may seem distant at first glance".
Last year, malware hidden in fake emails was used to access the data of many Estonian individuals and institutions. Diplomats, politicians, scientists in certain fields, people involved in military and national security were also targetted.
KAPO also identified attempts by national-level attackers to access institutions' email services and thereby also their computer networks.
The report mentions an example of an unsuccessful phishing email used to try to gain access to email accounts connected to the University of Tartu. "This was probably a campaign organised at the behest of the Iranian government by an actor also known as the Silent Librarian or the Mabna Institute," the report says.
Another example given is of an as-yet-unidentified "critical security vulnerability" in the mail.ee application, which is extensively used by people in Estonia. This was exploited, allowing the attacker to launch a malicious software code on the target's account.
KAPO warn: "We wish to emphasise that simply opening the email message was enough: the code was triggered without having to open an attachment or clicking on a link in the message."
It also said the general public and users of mail.ee need not worry.
Preventing radicalisation and terrorism in Estonia
The level of terrorist threat in Estonia remains low, which means that the likelihood of an attack is low but not non-existent. KAPO has identified several dozen individuals living in Estonia or with close ties to the country who, if further radicalised, could become a threat to public order and national security.
"At present, the main causes of radicalisation in European countries are considered to be terrorist propaganda spreading over the Internet and purposeful influence activities by followers of radical Islam," the report says.
Across Europe radicalization while in prison has been a problem but KAPO says: "While we have found some signs of radicalisation in Estonian prisons, this scenario remains a minor concern for the time being."
There are approximately 20 people associated with Estonia who are or have been in the Syria-Iraq conflict zone who may want to return to Estonia as the fighting reaches areas previously under terrorist control.
In 2019, no Estonian civilian was a victim of an act of terrorism in another country. However, in July 2019, jihadists attacked a military base in Gao, Mali, where troops of the Estonian Defence Forces mission were stationed. Five Estonian soldiers were injured in the attack.
Cases of people having unauthorized explosives have also been flagged by KAPO. One example given is of Oleg Ermolenko who kept explosives in his apartment in Mustamäe, Tallinn and was arrested in June 2019. In total, more than 200 kg of explosives, 10 kg of explosive charges, hundreds of units of ammunition and a number of essential components of firearms were confiscated from Ermolenko
The report also said: "We also need to address the risks of the e-residency programme."
"There is considerable interest among Estonia's e-residents in the virtual currency industry, which offers anonymity. E-residency is seen as an opportunity to obtain a Schengen visa and various schemes are used for this purpose. Background checks on applicants in high-risk countries continue to be a problem. KAPO has identified individuals with extremist and terrorist ties among applicants for e-residency. There is no effective judicial, law- enforcement or security cooperation between most of the risk-group countries and Estonia. Failure to take these factors into consideration would damage the image of the e-residency programme, the Estonian economy and the country in general – not to mention the security risks and the threat of criminal activity."
More individuals from high-risk countries for international terrorism arriving in Estonia
The report says there has been a significant increase in the number of Estonian residents coming from countries at a high risk of international terrorism. KAPO lists these countries as India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Cameroon.
It mentions there has been an increase in size of the Muslim community in Estonia: "An increasing number of individuals from risk-group countries are applying for Estonian residency, visas and e-residency. Over the past three years, the number of Estonian residents coming from these countries has more than doubled (growing by 112%). In 2019, Estonia received 20,629 visa applications from citizens of the risk-group countries. The growth rate over the past three years is 187%.
"Larger communities may inevitably lead to social isolation and reduced openness. A community's inward focus reduces the likelihood of integration and may increase radicalisation. The non-acceptance of Estonian customs may be followed by a violent enforcement of its own world view. In order to address the segregation and concentration of immigrants, it is considered a potential security threat when drafting migration, integration, employment and education policies."
The report says for years, Estonia has been striving to increase its energy independence, along with its friendly neighbours. But Estonia's situation is changing.
Previously a producer and exporter of electricity, it has become a net consumer for the first time in 2019, meaning the country has started buying electricity from outside Estonia, not consuming locally produced power. In terms of continuity and security of supply, this entails risks of dependence on external connections and on electricity produced elsewhere, which could jeopardise energy security.
KAPO is also keeping an eye on the transport sector, specifically any risk of corruption posed by Rail Baltic, international sanctions and foreign investment.
Comment from E-residency:
ERR News approached the e-Residency team about KAPO's comments, Ott Vatter, Managing Director of e-Residency said: "Estonia's national security is not isolated from what's happening in the world, so it's natural that the national security services (KAPO) analyse current global threats and potential risks in the light of these trends. Though the e-Residency programme has not created any new risks, there are some risks that may be amplified depending on the circumstances. We constantly review our risk table with partnering governments agencies and adopt different measures that could help to mitigate these risks."
On application from high-risk countries, Vatter said: "Reviewing e-Residency applications from the national security point of view is very important, and we appreciate the hard work PPA does to oversee this process from start to finish. KAPO is instrumental in further reviewing the applications and due to their active role, we are not currently aware of any e-resident digital ID certificates that have had to be suspended due to the risk to national security. The e-Residency programme is a collaborative initiative between several public organisations that all play the crucial role of overseeing processes, data, and risk mitigation."
Editor: Helen Wright