Oidsalu defends message, regrets tone

Meelis Oidsalu.
Meelis Oidsalu. Source: Maribel Ermel

Former high-ranking Ministry of Defense official Meelis Oidsalu admitted he might have gone too far in the way he expressed himself in a recent article criticizing the outgoing chief of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) Mikk Marran and the Estonian officialdom but stuck to his guns in terms of differing views of threat assessments and there existing a system on frankpledge among top officials.

"I would start by suggesting that I am not proud of this attention. I am not proud of this crisis. I believe we should have managed to keep this conflict confined to the administrative area and resolve it in-house," Oidsalu admitted on the Raadio 2 "Hommik!" morning show on Friday.

"It is my aim to bring this thing to a lower boil as I am also suffering some damage to my reputation in the process. That said, reputation is not as important to me as it perhaps usually is in public service."

Oidsalu emphasized he is still of the mind that EFIS did not suitably react to security concerns that surfaced mid-last year in the wake of Russia's Zapad training exercise, troop buildup near the Ukrainian border and a wave of migrants unleashed by Belarus on the Lithuanian border.

Eesti Päevaleht, that published a thorough overview of the crisis on Thursday, suggested that then Ministry of Defense Undersecretary Meelis Oidsalu, Secretary General Kusti Salm and Deputy Commander of the EDF Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm found these developments posed a direct threat to Estonia, while foreign intelligence disagreed. While the migrant wave and Zapad turned out favorably for Estonia, the ministry officials were right about the situation in Ukraine, the daily wrote.

"To try and sum up what happened figuratively; standing in a warehouse with the ground already shaking and things falling off shelves, while being told by a seismologist standing next to you that he can't get a reading from a functional seismograph, that is when cognitive dissonance sets in. Anxiety follows and if it coincides with crises – the start of a public kinetic hybrid operation against the Baltics as something that had never happened before – things are amplified and eventually come to a boil," Oidsalu said on the radio program.

"But it's ugly what is happening now. I have perhaps created too much negative energy through my tone, which is not to suggest I do not stand by what I said," he added.

On Oidsalu leaving the ministry

Oidsalu also explained why he left the Ministry of Defense last September.

"The reason I left was feeling like an outsider. This was due to my own impulsiveness on the one hand – as reported by the paper," he said. "On the other, I still felt sincerely and existentially concerned about Estonian security and saw that other forms of feedback were not working. /---/ I felt that I was overfunctioning while not having enough credit in the system, whether that was fair or not."

Eesti Päevaleht reported that Oidsalu's departure followed State Secretary Taimar Peterkop turning to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas when Oidsalu, in Peterkop's view, started trying to control the government's defense readiness training by putting pressure on foreign intelligence.

"Thirdly, I realized that lines of power appear in your face when serving as a top public sector executive – you start concentrating on executing your power instead of executing your abilities. I also realized I had already passed that threshold, and I do not want to look like my reputation as a person," Oidsalu continued.

"Because looking at people for whom reputation is so important that what was virtually a feuilleton toppled half the establishment... It begs the question of the establishment's vulnerability," he said.

Top officials' conduct and the deep state

Oidsalu repeatedly emphasized public sector officials' oversensitivity when it comes to their reputation that could cause them to err when making decisions.

On the EFIS conflict: "They advertised themselves into a corner, so to speak, and tried to propose an interpretation that would somehow match that initial position in an attempt to solve the reputation problem that haunts the public sector."

He also associated notions of the deep state with officials' attempts to protect their reputation. "The deep state concept once again boils down to public sector reputation insecurities. This pressure creates a brotherhood within the officialdom that in turn becomes addicted to its reputation, leaving our top public servants darting back and forth like rabbits caught in two pairs of approaching headlights. But that is no longer an independent and objective public sector. And it's a problem, the deep state forming. These processes are not a conspiracy but a cultural phenomenon."

"We should redefine the deep state in a way that would allow us to talk about the need for public sector reform, how public officials exercise power, what's permitted and what isn't. For example, whether we deem it acceptable when an agency head basically refuses to comment, while their press representative then launches a campaign on Facebook, asking people to write something nice about the director general," Oidsalu said, pointing to EFIS spokesperson Artur Jugaste's proposal to support Mikk Marran on social media.

Competitions to find executives problematic

Oidsalu also stuck to his guns regarding claims he made in his opinion piece published on Monday about fictitious public office competitions where the winners are determined and known to the inner circle.

"I would not dare claim something like that had I not 20 years of experience and what my colleagues have told me. The information gets around," Oidsalu said. Competitions are often held for the sake of appearances, with the person decided in an informal process," he said.

This kind of hypocrisy clashes with the principles of the rule of law that those same officials are required to uphold in their work, Oidsalu offered.

He also claimed that Marran made EFIS chief because he had served as secretary general of the Defense Ministry before. "He squeezed out a person who will remain unnamed here but would have made a brilliant candidate," Oidsalu remarked. Marran did it because he could, because he was connected. Because he had informal authority outside official processes," the former undersecretary added.

On August 15, it turned out that the supervisory board of state forest manager RMK has launched talks with Marran for the position of chairman of the management board. Marran had three years left on his term as EFIS chief.

Democracy just fine

Oidsalu emphasized that he sees no problems with democracy and freedom of speech in Estonia.

"Things are just fine when it comes to freedom of speech. The fact we can discuss these things is clear proof of this. I have never felt pressure to take something back or do something from the public service or elsewhere. I'm proud of Estonia for being able to talk about these things.


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Editor: Marcurs Turovski

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