Thursday, November 20, 2008

NATO Spy For Russia Unmasked

Link to my article on today:

Dusseldorf, Germany (
– A senior Estonian government official is under arrest and being investigated for allegedly passing NATO and European Union secrets to Russia.

A spokesman for Estonia’s Defense Ministry confirmed to on Wednesday that the man had been “caught for having revealed classified information” and said Estonia had given a “firm commitment to cooperate” with a NATO investigation.

Herman Simm, 61, who was responsible for handling classified and top secret material in the Baltic state’s capital, Tallinn, reportedly had access to “nearly all” documents circulated within NATO and the E.U., the German magazine Spiegel reported.

Simm headed government discussions in bilateral talks on protecting secret data flow.

He was also central to negotiations aimed at protecting the E.U. and NATO’s handling of sensitive information and was in charge of granting security clearances.

Intelligence that may have been compromised includes information relating to the controversial U.S. missile shield plans, a cyber protection program, the response to Russia’s actions in Georgia, and all NATO operations, from Kosovo to Afghanistan.

Simm was allegedly approached to become a Russian “mole” or “sleeper” at the end of the 1980s, Estonian politician Jaanus Rahumaegi, who leads the oversight committee for the government security agency, told Spiegel. At that time Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.

Later, when the issue of Estonia’s NATO membership came onto the agenda, Simm in the mid-1990s “was officially recruited by the Russian government,” Rahumaegi said.

Estonia joined both NATO and the E.U. in 2004.

As European and NATO investigations proceed, the case is proving a major international embarrassment. The security breach is feared to be the worst since CIA counter-intelligence expert Aldrich Ames was exposed as a Russian spy in the early 1990s.

As of Tuesday, neither NATO nor the E.U. has commented on the case. Neither has a defense lawyer acting on behalf of Simm.

Estonian Ministry of Defense spokesman Martin Jasko said Wednesday that “no country is honoured by the fact that its citizen has been caught for having revealed classified information.”

Speaking on behalf of the government, he said its “firm commitment to co-operate in investigating Simm’s treason proves to NATO that it can be considered a responsible and trustworthy member state. Accordingly, we believe that Estonia’s reputation as a NATO partner is even stronger.”

Simm is said to have used a primitive converted radio transmitter to set up secret meetings with his contact man, known as “The Spaniard” because he posed as a Spanish businessman.

In a throwback to Cold War working practices, Simm operated together with his wife, Heete. A former lawyer in the national police headquarters, she has also been detained, charged with being an accessory to treason.

The Simms were originally detained on Sept. 21, but the case has been kept low-key. They will likely be arraigned early next year.

Herman Simm was a senior figure in the Estonian government. In 1994 he worked as Estonia’s chief of police, and later, he became a department head in the Defense Ministry.

He was in charge of secret coordination between NATO and the E.U.

When Estonia joined the E.U. and NATO, Simm’s value to Russia dramatically increased, as he was on the circulation list for highly sensitive NATO and European material.

An official quoted by Spiegel described Simm as a “big fish” who “gave the Russians practically everything NATO and the E.U. passed between them.”

Simm apparently made a fortune selling military secrets to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service SVR, the successor to the KGB.

He first drew suspicion to himself when he bought a portfolio of expensive property, including an opulent villa outside Tallinn and a farmhouse on the Baltic Sea.

His contact man then became careless in trying to recruit a second Estonian spy, who promptly reported it to Estonian intelligence. Following the trail of “The Spaniard” led investigators to Simm and his access to sensitive material within NATO.

Russian media reports on the case say it highlights the lack of security of Estonia’s handling of intelligence and sensitive information.

Estonia, described by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as “NATO’s most IT-savvy nation,” is a country of just 1.3 million people. Much government and commercial business is conducted online. People vote and pay taxes on the Internet, and government meetings involve virtually no paperwork.

When Estonia infuriated Russia by removing a Soviet war memorial in 2007, the country faced a vicious wave of Web-based attacks. Estonia has been lobbying hard to put cyber-defense on NATO’s agenda and set up a Cyber Defense Center in Tallinn, which is meant to help the alliance as a whole – a project that may now be compromised.

The ongoing NATO/E.U. investigation is being conducted by NATO’s Office for Security, headed by Michael Evanoff, an American.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

German Government Likely To Bail Out GM-Subsidiary Opel

Link to my article on CNS News today:

Dusseldorf, Germany ( – As the global financial crisis lashes the auto industry, Germany’s federal and state governments look set to bail out Opel, a subsidiary of General Motors Corp., with a reported two billion euro ($2.6 billion) rescue package.

Opel’s German management, which requested the aid, is struggling with a cash-flow crisis.

German managers point to failings at GM’s insolvency-threatened U.S. head office in Detroit. They claim they are back-owed billions of dollars in investment. Germany’s GM-Opel management is also considering breaking away from General Motors Corp. should it apply for insolvency. Opel employs more than 25,000 people in the German states of Hessen, Thuringen, North-Rhine Westphalia and Rhineland-Pfalz.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an emergency meeting in her office on Monday afternoon to discuss options with GM’s European president, Carl-Peter Forster, GM-Opel chairman Hans Demant, and union boss Klaus Franz. Also attending were Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck and Minister for Economic Affairs Michael Glos.

Proposals on the table include a federal bond or guarantee of around $1 billion. This would be supplemented by another $1 billion guarantee from the four affected German states. The funds are reportedly needed to allow the cash-strapped company to continue manufacturing and to pay its creditors.

Read on here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Germany To Obama: No More Troops For Afghanistan

Link to my article which appears on CNS News today:

Dusseldorf, Germany ( – Germany has been effusively supportive of Barack Obama – opinion polls showed he had the backing of 85 percent of the population – but early signs of strain are showing with Chancellor Angela Merkel. She has warned the president-elect that she will turn down any request for more German troops in Afghanistan.

Merkel’s coalition partners in the socialist Social Democratic Party (SPD) are also sounding warning bells. In the build-up to national elections next September, however, the government is downplaying any potential for differences with Obama.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Europe Pressures Obama Ahead of G20 Summit

Link to my article which appears on CNS News today:

Dusseldorf, Germany ( – As European leaders prepare to attend the G20 meeting in Washington later this week, they are stepping up pressure on President-elect Obama to support their plans on both international finance and climate change. The meeting is the first of a series of summits proposed by President Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the president of the European Union’s executive Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to address the global financial crisis.

The E.U. is planning sweeping reforms for the international financial system, involving a total overhaul of the 60-year old International Monetary Fund (IMF). The proposals include stricter regulation of hedge funds and cross-border financial institutions, a clampdown on tax havens, and a global “early warning” system. European governments have already pledged roughly two trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) in cash injections, bank deposit guarantees, interbank loan coverage and partial or full nationalizations in an attempt to minimize consumers’ concerns about the crisis.

Alongside these wide ranging proposals, officials say the E.U. remains committed to aggressive investment in measures to combat climate change, and – encouraged by Obama’s election – will be aiming to secure increased U.S. support. Saturday’s meeting aims to emulate the Bretton Woods conference in the latter stages of World War II, which established the IMF and the World Bank Group with the objective of preventing a repeat of the 1930s worldwide economic meltdown.

Expected participants include leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries – the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia – together with those of emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa, as well as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

European Leaders Cheer Obama Victory

Link to my article which appeared on CNS News on November 5th:

Dusseldorf, Germany ( – The election of a new American president always prompts diplomatic congratulations from European leaders, but Barack Obama’s victory prompted effusive reactions on Wednesday.

His victory was an outcome few here doubted and most wished for.

Many of the messages were little more than bland bromides – the Europeans expressing hope that Obama will restore the sense of common purpose many believe was damaged during the Bush presidency.

The president of the European Union’s executive Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke of “a time for renewed commitment between Europe and the United States of America,” adding that this would be “for the benefit of our societies, for the benefit of the world.”

Pointing to the global financial crisis, Barroso called for “a new deal for a new world.”

A similar message came from French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “With the world in turmoil and doubt, the American people, faithful to the values that have always defined America’s identity, have expressed with force their faith in progress and the future.”

Sarkozy, who also holds the rotating European Union presidency, said the election had “raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond.” And to Obama, he said, “By choosing you, the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she looked forward to Europe and the U.S. working together “closely and in a spirit of mutual trust ... to confront new dangers and risks and ... seize the opportunities presented by our global world.”

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that in addition to confronting “the financial crisis and worsening economic situation” the next U.S. administration would also need to address “the struggle against terrorism, climate change, human rights and free world trade.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Obama had run “an inspirational campaign, energizing politics with his progressive values and his vision for the future.” He said the relationship between the U.S. and Britain was “vital to our prosperity and security.”

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he looked forward to a renewed partnership in “the cause of freedom, of peace, of a secure and unified, just world order.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi voiced the hope that Obama as president would “be able to meet the expectations and hopes directed at him.”

The Vatican also hoped that Obama would respect “essential human and spiritual values,” Lombardi said.

Although the Holy See did not weigh in during the election campaign, a number of Catholic bishops in the U.S. did raise concerns about Obama’s liberal views on abortion, saying the issue should outweigh others for Catholic voters.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Murdoch Mocked By Wolff's Toadying

Extraordinary example of how servile flattery often does more to make its subject look bad in this fawning Vanity Fair article about Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Manhattan Declaration: "Global Warming Not A Global Crisis"

The Manhattan Declaration, issued by scientists sceptical about manmade global warming, warns that:

"attempts by governments to legislate costly regulations on industry and individual citizens to encourage CO2 emission reduction will slow development while having no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change. Such policies will markedly diminish future prosperity and so reduce the ability of societies to adapt to inevitable climate change, thereby increasing, not decreasing, human suffering."

Link to Manhattan Declaration.

Update (14 May 2008): Excellent summary of the current state of play by Mike McNally.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oral and Literate

Caleb Crain writes in the New Yorker on the decline of reading.

Reviewing a new book by Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid), he speculates that soon, after a few brief millennia of being literate, we shall become a society of "secondary orality" - in which the bulk of our information will come in oral/visual form via TV and the internet, as opposed to newspapers and books.

This reversion to the oral and visual will mean a simpler public discourse. Cliché and stereotype will be more valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis will be discouraged. Literate habits of subtlety and refinement will be sidelined, as such skills will prove largely unnecessary. Reading will become "an arcane hobby".

Less brainpower will be used because "the efficient reading brain" which we will lose, "quite literally has more time to think" (Wolf). People will be more apt to accept propaganda or "the accepted view". This is because literacy enables abstract thought and analysis, while the oral brain embeds thought in simplified stories. The effort to memorise such stories compromises the mind's objectivity and disables its ability to deal with new details.

The other possibility (to which Crain alludes) is that we are on a pendulum which has seen the triumph of the visual and oral media in the shape of TV and cinema over the past century, but will self-correct in due course. The benefits of literacy, according to this view, are too powerful to be surrendered to the passing enjoyment of a purely visual and oral world.

Twilight of the Books: A Critic at Large: The New Yorker
New blog by writers F.O. Fyford, Freddie Omm and Fred De Baer

Ills of Capitalism

There's been a flurry of anti-capitalist rhetoric in Germany of late.

The socialist SPD party in the governing coalition has been burnishing its lacklustre profile - seeking to distance itself from its centrist CDU partner on the one hand, and the ex-communist PDS party on the other.

This may seem a strange abandonment of the political centre. But in Germany the centre is very much to the left of where it might be found in the US or the UK. And the populist success of the ex-communists doesn't leave SPD leader Kurt Beck a lot of room to manoeuvre. And so he's been dusting off trusty old arguments about the iniquity of private capital, the wickedness of greedy corporate leaders, the locust-like threats of global investment, and all the rest of it. A strong central state managing everything is Beck's answer to these ills.

Stefan Theis, Newsweek's economics editor, gives an analysis of how such attitudes are actively fostered by Germany's (and France's) educational system. Capitalism and entrepreneurs are routinely blamed for the world's woes, says Theis, in the economics courses offered by their secondary schools and universities. State control is posited as necessary to curb the damage wrought by business. In this way, says Theis, France and Germany's elites are given an unbalanced view of business and the state.

Support comes from a reliable source. In the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting reviews Oliver James' The Selfish Capitalist, a study of the ramifications of what has been called Affluenza. James notes that the increased economic wealth brought about by capitalism hasn't brought increased happiness. In fact, it has apparently increased the incidence of mental illness, or at least the incidence of treatment for such ills. The inevitable conclusion, drawn by both James and Bunting, is that capitalism is therefore to blame.

Curious how politicians and intelligentsia of the left, having seen that socialism isn't much good at making citizens rich, now line up to flay capitalism for the problems material prosperity brings. The more so given that socialism's promise was always based on the pre-eminence of material goods.

Link to Bunting's review of Oliver James' The Selfish Capitalist:
The big question | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Link to Stefan Theis' article:
Foreign Policy: Europe’s Philosophy of Failure