During the Georgian conflict last August, Moscow had down pat all the US Navy’s Black Sea movements, how US military intelligence evaluated for NATO headquarters in Brussels Russian troop movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia – and even the Bush administration’s plans for the installation of missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.
This huge, priceless body of intelligence was stolen and passed in real time to Russian external intelligence, the SVR, in Yasenevo by one man, Herman Simm, 61, a high-ranking Estonian defense ministry official, who was arrested in September.
As such, Simm handled all his government’s classified information at NATO. For him, every top-secret coded document from fellow alliance countries was an open book, which he promptly relayed to his masters in Moscow. In this digital age, Simm had no need of drops or couriers. His betrayal consisted of passing on to his masters in Moscow the secret codes to NATO servers. Using the codes, the SVR simply downloaded the secrets passing through the computers of NATO members, the US, Britain, German, France, Holland and Italy.
Known as 'The Spaniard' because he is said to have posed as a Spanish businessman, Simms is suspected of betraying the US and Britain for more than a decade
Since his exposure, Simms has been dubbed “the Baltic Aldrich Ames” because his mode of operation recalled that of his American opposite number.
From 1983, Aldrich Ames used his position as head of CIA counter-intelligence against the KGB to transmit to Moscow the codes of CIA computers, the personal computers of its staff and double agents, at least three other American undercover agencies and several military and nuclear research facilities.
Until he was caught and arrested in Langley on Feb. 21, 1984, the Soviet Union enjoyed comprehensive access to all of America’s undercover operations. The American traitor is still serving a life sentence without parole.
An undiscovered nest of moles
Like Ames and his wife Rosario, Simm and his wife Heete aroused suspicion by their lavish lifestyle and their extensive unexplained assets.
The Estonian spy owned half a dozen pieces of land and properties, including a farm on the Baltic coast and a luxuriously refurbished residence in the town of Saue near Tallinn. Surveillance of this house provided leads to Simm’s SVR contact, who also moved around Europe on a fake Spanish passport.
Investigators now believe that although Simm established contact with the KGB in the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up, he was only recruited by its successor, the SVR – at first as a low-grade informant. It was only after Estonia joined the European Union in 2004, when Simm became a big shot at the defense ministry in Tallinn, that Russian intelligence appreciated his value.
Over the years, this-high placed Estonian official acted out a classical Cold War spy story, beaming top-grade intelligence to Moscow by means of a vintage radio, secretly upgraded for the purpose.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources name Simm as responsible for orchestrating the Russian cyber war against Estonia in May 2007. These massive attacks on the new republic’s computer systems were the first cyber assaults ever waged in Europe. Computers were caused to crash by the massive overload of visits.
NATO investigators in Brussels fear the Estonian spy case may be one of the most damaging espionage scandals in the post-Soviet era – such was the volume of secrets he passed to Moscow. They have become extremely concerned about the excessive vulnerability of the Atlantic alliance to leaks, following its expansion to Eastern Europe, and assume that Simm did not work alone.
Our intelligence experts note another similarity between the two Russian spies, Simm and Ames: The Estonian will not give away all his secrets under investigation. Ames never fingered the moles he left behind still working for Moscow in and outside the CIA, including Herman Simm, whom he almost certainly knew about.
They believe that such secrets are the only insurance keeping them alive and their only bargaining chip if they ever hope to gain their freedom.