“At the request of the state prosecutor, Harju county court arrested a former high ranking state official, Herman Simm, who is suspected of illegally collecting and communicating classified information for a foreign state,” Gerrit Maesalu, spokesperson for the State Prosecutor’s Office, said.
“The name of the state will not be revealed at the moment,” he said.
The Baltic News Service (BNS), however, has reported Simm that is suspected of having worked for Russia, Estonia’s Soviet-era master.
[Its widely speculated that the state is Russia and the state official was selling NATO secrets. Simm allegedly worked in the police system earlier in his career and then moved into the department of defense. More on this as the story evolves]
Thanks to Dig our man on the ground in Estonia…
Various news sources have confirmed that on Sunday, September 21st, Herman Simm and his wife Heete Simm were arrested on an arrest warrant issued by the Harju County Court earlier the same day. Herman Simm is being charged with treason, suspected of collecting secret information and forwarding it to a foreign country. The country has not been officially named; however, Baltic News Service has reported unidentified sources as confirming it was Russia. (Similarly, a few Russian news reports have claimed it was Russia, but as you recall, Russian news reports are not always reliable in such matters.) According to the postimees, Simm may have been getting money from Russian spy agencies for about ten years.
Reasons for particular notability
Herman Simm has had high-level access to secret materials for years, as he was the head of the Department of National Security in Ministry of Defence in 2000-2006. (Note that departments are not ministries in Estonia; accordingly, Simm’s position was not that of a cabinet member, but that of a bureaucrat.) In 2006, he resigned from the Ministry of Defence; according to this article and this article, this happened on direction of Jürgen Ligi, the Minister of Defense at that time, who claims to have identified indications of risk in Simm’s personal profile. After that, he worked as an adviser in the same department, until his position was laid off in March of 2008 and he retired.
Heete Simm has been working as a lawyer at the Estonia’s Police Board. According to latest news, her service has been suspended as of Tuesday on accord of the arrest.
Simm’s employment background
In his post as the head of the DNS in MoD, Simm’s responsibilities included organizing and coordinating the protection of state secrets. In fact, Simm has been credited with building such secret-protection organization up to international standards as a part of the requirements Estonia needed to fulfill in order to join NATO.
According to Baltic Business Network , Simm had been representing Estonia in both EU’s and NATO’s secret-handling infrastructure.
Simm’s career began in the Ministry of Internal Affairs deep in the Soviet times. He has held a progression of inspector-ships, and in 1995 became the Director General of the Police Board. Soon afterwards, he joined the Ministry of Defense.
According to Postimees, Simm has been displaying eccentric habits for quite a while. It has been reported that while he worked in the Police Board, he wore a bullet-proof vest in his office job for a while. Apparently, he has also been displaying signs that could be interpreted as indicative of delusions of being observed — but diagnosis of paranoia is hard to properly make for one who works in a spy agency. According to another article, for example, Koit Pikaro claims Simm has claimed being subject of private investigation by SIA, a notorious detective agency. However, back in 1995, SIA *was* an actor in a scandal of secret recording of private talks of several high-level Estonian politicians; the scandal ended in resignation of the cabinet of ministers.
Notes of history and law
This is the very first case in post-Soviet Estonia that somebody has been charged with treason. Notably, Estonian legal definition of treason differs somewhat from that common in English-speaking languages; put briefly, treason under Estonian law is espionage against Estonia if committed by a citizen of Estonia. If convicted, the punishment would be 3-15 years of imprisonment. My translation of the relevant part of the Penal Code follows:
§ 232. Treason
An Estonian citizen aiding a foreign state, organisation of a foreign state, foreign person or a person acting as an agent of a foreign state in non-violent acts directed against the independence of the Republic of Estonia, or collecting national secrets or classified foreign information with the purpose of transferring it to, or transferring it to a foreign state, organisation of a foreign state, foreign person or a person acting as an agent of a foreign state — is punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.