Thursday, November 20, 2008
Dusseldorf, Germany (CNSNews.com) – 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 CNSNews.com 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
Link to my article on CNS News today:
Dusseldorf, Germany (CNSNews.com) – 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.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Dusseldorf, Germany (CNSNews.com) – 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
Dusseldorf, Germany (CNSNews.com) – 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
Dusseldorf, Germany (CNSNews.com) – 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.