Outgoing ministry undersecretary hits out at government office treatment

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Meelis Oidsalu Source: Kerli Halliste

A long-serving defense ministry civil servant who stepped down last week has hit out at what he calls tensions between the various organs of state, and in particular in their interface with the central Government Office (Riigikantselei), State Secretary Taimar Peterkop and other officials.

The official, Meelis Oidsalu also denies wrongdoing in authoring a memo which government office coordinator, Indrek Sirp, said contained classified information, without being marked as such.

Sirp also initiated an Internal Security Service (ISS) investigation into Oidsalu, BNS reports.

As reported by ERR News, last week Meelis Oidsalu resigned as defense ministry undersecretary, after working in the role for several years, and at the ministry as a whole for over 20 years. He is working out his term to the end of this month.

Oidsalu himself told the media that his relations with the government office the defense ministry, had not always been perfect.

Talking to ERR last week, Oidsalu said: "We do not have a partnership based on common values with state secretary [Taimar Peterkop], and one cannot work effectively this way in my position."

"There is inter-departmental competition, and I do not really think it is right that top officials quarrel with each other in the media, disputes must be resolved during working hours and with each other, especially in the area of security," he went on.

Beyond simple inter-office politics, the Internal Security Service (ISS) also initiated proceedings on the basis of a notice from the government office's coordination director, though, BNS reports, this does not necessarily mean that Oidsalu violated the law during his time as defense ministry deputy secretary general.

"The government office has informed us of circumstances which need to be verified during the proceedings. No suspicion has been brought against anyone. The proceedings are being led by the Office of the Prosecutor General," ISS spokesperson Jurgen Klemm said.

Oidsalu told daily Postimees that he had first been aware of the ISS dimensions some hours after resigning.

He said: "I know that nine hours after I informed the government office that I was resigning, coordination director Indrek Sirp sent me a notice that they had submitted an incident report to the ISS as to the correctness of one document, and that, in their view, I had used a state secret within a memo for internal use without properly marking it as such."

Oidsalu, who will continue as deputy secretary general until the end of this month, is critical of his treatment.

He said: "The notice itself was incompetent and sloppily drawn up; I also informed the person who prepared the notice of this. Given that I have exchanged the information referred to in the notice with the government office in the same way previously as well and that this has not raised any questions, the question arises as to the reasons for the launch of this dispute immediately after my resignation."

An anonymous defense ministry source called the submission to the ISS a "curiosity".

The source said: "Officials familiar with the matter say that there is nothing in the document in question that could in any way harm Estonia's defense capabilities."

"In the field of security, the impact of this case is hopefully minimal and should rather be seen as a curiosity. The information contained in the document marked for internal use and as a state secret does not allegedly coincide exactly," the source added.

Oidsalu said the document he authored was correctly marked, contained no classified information and was the result of a practice of over-classifying documents.

"I am one of the authors of the State Secrets Act, back in the day, and I am well acquainted with the nuances of this field," he said, adding that his employer, i.e. the ministry, was of the same mind, and that such disputes do not reflect well on the workings of the state.

Utlimately, Oidsalu said, while he hopes the authorities will deal with the matter as quickly as possible, he is in the dark as to what proceedings have been launched against whom.

One person who has publicly backed Oidsalu is defense chief Lt. Gen. Martin Herem, who noted that in Oidsalu's over 20 years' service he had always worked with dedication.

"Resignation is entirely his decision, one which can be fueled by disagreements," Lt. Gen. Herem said, also noting that he did not see the offending document Oidsalu allegedly wrongly categorized as being anything out-of-the-ordinary. "For me, this is fairly common information, which is mostly marked as for internal use," Herem continued.

Defense ministry Permanent Secretary Kusti Salm also appeared to back Oidsalu.

He said: "Meelis is always a conscientious and correct employee and there are no complaints about his professional behavior."

Government Office coordination director Indrek Sirp was not available for comment to Postimees on Monday, BNS reports, while a Government Office, said that the Government Office spokesperson could not comment on Meelis Oidsalu's allegations on tensions between the office and the ministry, or Oidsalu and other personnel.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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