Ministry makes changes in foreign intelligence operation

Foreign Intelligence Service press conference.
Foreign Intelligence Service press conference. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A representative of the Ministry of Defense admitted that the work organization of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) has been altered, following remarks by the ministry's former undersecretary according to which the service has recently fallen short.

"Expectations for foreign intelligence are undoubtedly high in the current security situation. We have arrived at more specific agreements regarding those expectations in recent months," Susan Lilleväli, press representative for the ministry, told ERR. She did not offer any additional details.

Former Ministry of Defense undersecretary for defense readiness, security expert Meelis Oidsalu told ERR in an interview that preparations for the security crisis could have begun much sooner, while the country's foreign intelligence service did not deem it necessary.

The government decided last week to allocate €380 million in additional defense funding to boost readiness to deal with military and hybrid threats. The lion's share of funds will be spent on munitions procurements, while a part is pledged for early warning that mainly stands for intelligence capacity.

"All of it could have happened four months ago when the situation was exactly the same as it is today. Unfortunately, our strategic early warning apparatus was way off last year. Head of foreign intelligence Mikk Marran said at the time that the things we are seeing today were out of question, which is why the government did not take the step sooner," Oidsalu said. "The right time to adjust the general threat level would have been somewhere in August or September, while the analytical capacity of our foreign intelligence is not the best at present. I know that Mikk Marran will fix it," he later added.

Oidsalu did not wish to elaborate on his comment or add anything.

Rainer Saks, former foreign ministry deputy secretary general and head of foreign intelligence, countered criticism according to which the foreign intelligence service was not sufficiently informed of looming crises, such as the migrant crisis from Belarus, on Monday, saying that such crises are organized very quickly and it is impossible to prepare for them. "You need to stand ready to deal with crises at short notice, while it is impossible to prepare specifically for 50 different threats and potential situations – it simply does not work like that," Saks offered.

PM: foreign intelligence service info helps clarify Estonia's positions

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said via a press representative that she is happy with the work of EFIS and that information it has provided has helped explain Estonia's positions to other states.

"I am satisfied with the work of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service. The agency is doing good work," Kallas said in a written comment. "Intelligence is of crucial importance in national defense decisions. The Foreign Intelligence Service is keeping the government and the national defense committee supplied with said information. For example, information from the service has allowed me to effectively explain our positions in the current security situations to heads of other European countries," the PM added.

"I also pursue close and effective cooperation with all other Estonian security agencies," Kallas emphasized.

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service lies in the administrative area of the Ministry of Defense and is tasked with collecting, analyzing and communicating information on external security threats.

"The main function of EFIS – the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service – is to collect, analyze and report information on Estonia's external security threats. The information gathered by EFIS has a significant influence on Estonia's national defense and security policy making process. EFIS is the front line of national defense, as intelligence ensures an early warning for events that pose a threat to us," the service's website reads.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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