Reede, 24 November 2017 19:00
Laas Leivat - Estonian Life No. 47 2017
The KAPO arrest a few weeks ago of the Russian FSB agent, Aleksei Vassiliev aged 20, is typical evidence of the reach and penetration of Moscow’s clandestine activity in Europe. Apparently Vassiliev was part of a digital warfare effort targeting Estonia’s government establishments.
In may of this year Estonia expelled two officials of Russia’s consulate in Narva who had prepared contacts for Russian diplomats with local Estonians officials. Prior to that a GRU operative was convicted by an Estonian court. Incidents involving Russian intelligence services in Estonia have increased in frequency as they have elsewhere in Europe.
The Soviet KGB enjoyed practically unlimited power in destabilizing foreign countries and espionage. With the collapse of the USSR Russian intelligence activity decreased temporarily until Putin gave it renewed and strengthened capability while feigning to pragmatize relations with the West. With the beginning of his current term in office in 2012, Putin has directed his secret services to suppress any political opposition and pursue the destabilization of powers abroad.
Western governments have begun to perceive the Moscow’s intrusive activities in neighbouring countries as well as further West, not necessarily as strictly military in nature but obtrusive political operations. Russia’s secret services are well financed and free of diplomatic or political constraints.
As said, they’re not restricted by economic limitations. The substantial resources that have been invested in the secret station named ‘Valerija’ across the Narva river allows Russian intelligence to intercept all electronic transmissions, within hundreds of kilometers, of whatever wavelength, to capture and analyze them, and to pinpoint the location of their origin. This would include mobile telephones as well as military communications. ‘Valerija’, an advanced high-tech installation, currently placed in Ivangorod on the opposite river bank to the historic fortress in Narva, can also be easily relocated as needs arise.
Not far from the intelligence installation is Russian military unit 32229, which according to an informant is a local branch of the Russian military intelligence GRU’s special operations section OSNAZ.They are specifically tasked with electronic intelligence operations.
Vassiliev was arrested some 200 meters from the Narva-Ivangorod border crossing, just 20 kilometers from his Russian home town of Kingisepa (named after the notorious Estonian Bolshevist Viktor Kingisepp) to where he was returning. He had studied at the Russian-language Sillamäe Trade School. Since the past summer he was studying production automation. at the Tallinn Technical University’s affiliate Virumaa College.
Private and government establishments in which information transmission is strictly internal is of particular interest to Russia’s FSB. These closed networks carry a wide variety of data including military info and personal medical details which can help intelligence services influence and recruit individuals. He was to uncover the weak spots in government IT networks. Vassiliev had excellent IT training, having had thorough preparation and instructions from the FSB regarding what to target.
Estonian counter-intelligence had to establish his connection with the Russian security apparatus, pinpoint exactly the extent of his activity and identify with certainty his targets and possible penetrations. Thus, apparently, KAPO had him under close surveillance for some time. One may suggest that this is a substantial achievement for KAPO being mindful of the fact that the US intelligence services have not yet fully confirmed the crucial details of the Russian digital assault during the US presidential elections.
It’s clear that the FSB has a special interest in people living close to the Russian-Estonian border who travel back and forth often. Especially targeted are those foreigners whose occupation, habits or weaknesses have aroused the FSB’s extra curiosity which might result in successful recruitment.
If during the Soviet era, the powerful KGB and other similar agencies were ultimately still under the control of the Communist party and government, now it’s said, that former secret personnel are in fact in control at the country’s leadership. Many suggest that these individuals are paranoid, convinced that they are surrounded by domestic and foreign enemies (keeping in mind that many cognizanti insist that the term ‘former’ doesn’t apply to intelligence cadre).
Effective cyber-defence has become a crucial necessity in national security for Russia’s neighbour-states and others. Pin-pointing Russia as the culprit is difficult, because the Kremlin always denies any connection with any domestic or international hacker organizations and can’t be easily traced to intelligence services but actually conduct the brunt of the cyber warfare. Oh for the good old days of humint.Laas Leivat