Areas of intelligence

Espionage does not mean only collecting information that contains state secret but also collecting other information of particular importance at a specific time and place, also influencing activities under the direction of a foreign intelligence service. For example, the latter may usually concern transnational negotiations where preliminary information is needed regarding the tactics of the other party's negotiators and the solidity of their positions. Foreign influence activities are also aimed at generating a public discussion or initiating a slander campaign. Information on the state's relations, contacts and the extent of its cooperation in international organisations and with other countries falls into the same category.

As there is no process, decision or document that would come into existence of its own accord, man with his knowledge, skills, strengths and weaknesses is of prime importance also in the area of intelligence. Today's advance technology offers multiple ways for intelligence gathering but the oldest method of all - spying through human beings - is still working and continues to be of high importance. As a rule, civil servants, politicians, businessmen, journalists, scientists, military personnel, opinion leaders are lured into the hostile network of espionage. For the most part it is the weaknesses of persons that are taken advantage of to engage them in illegal activities. Weakness presents itself often in the person's wish to betray his/her state, colleagues and friends, forwarding voluntarily information to a hostile special service. It is also a growing trend to obtain information via information technology developments: viruses, specific programmes etc.

According to the estimates of the Estonian Internal Security Service, on a broad scale the spheres of interest of foreign intelligence services in Estonia have been similar over the past ten years:

  • NATO and EU policies
  • influence and decisions of Estonia in international organisations
  • domestic, foreign and defence policy of Estonia
  • special services and defence forces of Estonia
  • cyber security

The most perceivable activity directed to Estonia is that of Russian special services, the activeness of which has varied since 1991, depending on the political trends taken by both Estonia and Russia. For instance, it is possible to distinguish between periods prior to and after Estonia's accession into NATO and the EU. The role of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) has significantly increased in expanding intelligence activities for Estonia: attempted recruitment, influence activities, observation of domestic and foreign policy, observation of regional cross-border cooperation, influencing of economic cooperation.

For Russian special services the main spheres of interest and circles to seek information and have access to are:

  • Military personnel, officials and diplomats of Estonia
  • Politicians and opinion leaders
  • Russian community and its influencing for political purposes in order to achieve its opposition to Estonian authorities
  • EU and NATO politicians
  • Relations between Estonia and Russia
  • Information technology, cyber security

Already for years one of the principal tasks of the Russian intelligence services in Estonia has been close observation of domestic and foreign policy and political influencing of events significant for Russia. The intelligence activity directed to Estonia from the territory of Russia is characterized by ever growing attempts to recruit and influence Estonian citizens and residents. Another aspect is taking advantage of compatriots for political or intelligence purposes, without expressing any real compatriotic concern towards them. Experience confirms so far that individuals who visit Russia are more frequently approached by Russian special services, among them are civil servants, businessmen, small enterprises and students.

Opportunities are always seized to implement the so-called active measures or information actions. Their goal is to present Russia as a noble fighter against all of its enemies and immorality.  Other states and their leaders are on the other hand depicted as untrustworthy. In a systematic way an image is being created that has a long-term negative effect and does not correspond to the truth.

Counterintelligence is part of the complex measures of guaranteeing security for the Republic of Estonia. Estonia lies in the sphere of interest of hostile intelligence services. The Estonian Internal Security Service has identified hostile intelligence threats and impeded them successfully. One needs to be conscious of the fact that the success of the intelligence activity of a foreign state is contingent on our awareness and discipline to hold ourselves accountable for the nature and possible background of our relations. Collaboration with foreign intelligence services can result in long-term imprisonment. The goal of an intelligence officer of a hostile special service is not only purchasing or acquiring by deceit the information classified as state secret but in most cases it is collection of non-classified sensitive information, collection of information on individuals and conduct of foreign influence activities, especially in political, military and economic matters.