Uno Puusepp (63), the son of a Soviet army sergeant, may indeed have for years betrayed Estonians state while working at Security Police (the Kapo) and forwarding Kapo’s inside information to Russian internal security services. It is impossible, however, that he’d be behind all the Kapo foreign agents caught in Russia as listed by a NTV programme.
Why? In Kapo, Mr Puusepp was a technician of the lowest rank of all. All he had was restricted access to certain technical information and operations. He could not have known the identity of any of the foreign agents shown in the programme. And the programme did show not a few.
«Puusepp was this kind of a skinny guy, wobbly on his feet, and in certain issues he came across quite a wally to a bystander,» recalls a former Kapo colleague.
Lowest level official
By the Russian TV channel NTV propaganda programme «Our man in Tallinn», however, Mr Puusepp is cast as the past decades top info source for Russian intelligence. This, in itself, is absurd.
Firstly, the Russians had Herman Simm, guardian of NATO secrets in Estonia. Secondly, they had former Kapo counterintelligence operations chief Aleksei Dressen on their payroll, whose career in Kapo peaked during the time that Russia caught the majority of Kapo agents shown in the NTV programme.
Thirdly – they also had Vladimir Veitman. Unlike Mr Puusepp, this was a man with at least some sort of management capacity at the Kapo technical support unit, with access to classified documents. For instance, he is said to have disclosed to Russians all covert Kapo apartments in Estonia known to him.
To Russia’s surprise, all the three were apprehended. Had Mr Puusepp indeed been sitting at the «information pump» as claimed by NTV, the Russians would have removed at least one of these before their arrest. But the Russians did nothing. They never even tried.
Of the traitor quartet, Mr Puusepp clearly stands out as the man of smallest calibre. To Mr Veitman, he was linked by shared work, and – if the NTV propaganda programme be believed – also the same agent master Nikolai Jermakov, a one-time colleague at KGB who afterwards operated a little bakery in Tallinn.
Therefore, one may understand the NTV claim of Mr Veitman being jailed for 15 years was for Estonian justice a great mistake. The actual «mole» in the system, they said, was Mr Puusepp.
What NTV failed to mention while talking about Veitman is the fact that the former KGB technician personally confessed to treason and agreed with the 15 years sentenced to him. «An innocent person will not assume a burden of this sort,» says a former colleague of Mr Veitman’s at Kapo.
Thus, NTV paints Mr Puusepp to be a key person in Russian intelligence who grieved at the innocent Mr Veitman jailed in his place. «He did not want a kopeck for his information,» the agent master Mr Jermakov relates in the programme.
Decade-old covert operation
Not all shown in the programme is bluff, however. At least partially, for instance, it is true what Mr Puusepp told about how the US foreign intelligence agency, from a centre established at Aegviidu and with help by Kapo, attempted to monitor communication from Russian embassy through fibre-optic cable and organised to that end a special operation costing millions of dollars.
A link of that operation, for a moment, even managed to catch Estonian media attention a decade ago. It was when aviation enthusiasts, at the sleepy Pärnu airport, recorded the touching down of an undistinguished US government aircraft.
In media, back then, this was linked to a possible transportation of captured terrorists. Which, as later emerged, was partially true. Even so, the plane was in Pärnu for a reason altogether different – namely, the Yankees were allegedly bringing vast quantities of equipment for the Aegviidu operation.
At Kapo, a tiny percentage of people knew of the joint operation; however, it cannot be excluded that Mr Puusepp came into contact with classified information as related to solving of transportation issues.
Clearly, the Russian TV channel and Mr Puusepp were mainly trying to play on viewers’ emotions, as in addition to the Aegviidu story they spoke now a word about other Kapo and the CIA or British intelligence joint operations. Yet, allegedly these were in the dozens and Mr Puusepp who claimed to have been sitting at the information ought to have known.
The specialist technician and former KGB employee Mr Puusepp and his traitor colleague Mr Veitman, were in 1991 employed at Kapo by its first Jüri Pihl. The latter has substantiated the decision by the forced situation – the KGB eavesdroppers were the only guys who could operate the special bugging equipment.
Both men admitting to treason remained at Kapo for two decades, continuing to work under its later heads Aldis Alus and Raivo Aeg – continuing even when retirement with honours was the option.
Every once in a while, as prescribed, Mr Puusepp and Mr Veitman passed obligatory evaluations where the decision makers included high political figures.
As admitted by the longest serving Kapo chief Mr Pihl, he verily knew Mr Puusepp but desires not to comment. «I will not be commenting on an information operation by Russian intelligence,» he says.
According to security experts who talked to Postimees, it is advisable to think about the message behind the confession by Mr Puusepp and the TV programme.
«I do not believe this was to divert attention from some other stuff they have going on here, that’s too banal,» suggests one expert. «But it is a good message for domestic consumption in Russia – to show how hostile, and yet clumsy, is the Estonian security police.»
For Mr Puusepp, things got shaky in Estonia after Kapo, on August 7th 2013, arrested his comrade-at-department Mr Veitman. Prior to that, he had little reason to fear.
Mr Puusepp had retired in 2011 after two years of overtime. He had no riches to show from labours at espionage. The only treasure of note that he possessed was a house of 150 square metres in Peetri, close to Tallinn, which he and his wife Valentina – of Russian decent and seven years his senior – had purchased in 2004. Back then, they were the first inhabitants in their block, still without streets and street lights.
That Mr Puusepp, a Tallinn Fishing Industry Naval School graduate from 1975, had worked at KGB was no secret to the neighbours. Also, his keenness towards technology stood out for all to see.
To go shopping, Mr Puusepp had an electric scooter, and the house featured several satellite disks. In the neighbourhood, he was known as the man who till 2011 drove around in a mint green VAZ 2109. Afterwards, however, he became the first Estonian who secured himself an electric car by support of Kredex.
«The acquaintances are divided into two: some say you’re a fool and ask why I waste the money while not looking like a millionaire,» Mr Puusepp, excited about the car, told Postimees at the time. He had to feel secure, back then, as the electric car had a long term lease and one will not take a car like that to Russia.
A neighbour of the Puusepps, Riigikogu member Tõnis Kõiv recalls the wife Valentina only knew some single words in Estonian and the family spoke Russian. The family which included a grown-up sun Andrei, one who needed special care, were the aloof kind, but even after retiring from Kapo the father worked someplace.
As 2014 arrived, the family celebrated it together. However, this February, Uno disappeared without a trace. «The wife’s explanations seemed suspicious: sometimes she would say her husband was working in Norway, then in Bulgaria. Then she said she did not have an idea where he was and what he was doing,» remembers Mr Kõiv.
In the beginning of the summer, Peetri village folks had flyers appear in their post boxes, selling Mr Puusepp’s electric vehicle. Right after that, the house and all assets were put to sale. As a young family bought the house this June, only Valentina was at the notary’s office.
On the morning of August 5th, the neighbours beheld a suspicious sight: the lady loaded the family assets unto an international removal service vehicle and left. Only the family cat was left behind, its fate now to be decided by the new owners of the house.
«I rather thought that perhaps the old KGB guy was awoken, so to speak, to do some task someplace,» relates Mr Kõiv. «I could never have guessed that he might be betraying the state living right next to us as he put it straight on the TV show. So sad to have had a person like that living in our street.»
The rest of life in FSB hands
Raivo Aeg, at helm of Kapo in 2008–2013, admits the actions of Mr Puusepp stuck him as surprise. According to him, Mr Puusepp was a lay-low and modest person, whose profile suited the adversary. Mr Veitman working for Russian foreign intelligence (SVR) and Mr Puusepp for security service (FSB) all at the same time was to Russia’s advantage: thus, they were able to compare their notes.
As admitted by Mr Aeg, some of Russia’s discoveries boasted by Mr Puusepp in the NTV video are facts, and he possibly did have access to such data. «Unavoidably, while the operative branch at Kapo is collecting data and producing documents, someplace these need to be processed and linked together,» he says. «And is a person purposefully sets information aside, certain kinds of information will definitely be obtainable from that.»
Meanwhile, says Mr Aeg, it’s obvious that some of Mr Puusepp’s «achievements» belong to somebody else or is just fiction aimed at driving a wedge between Estonia and its partners. Kapo was aware of Mr Puusepp’s wife’s connections with Russia, but the man himself was not able to travel to Russia at least during his past ten years at office. That this February Mr Puusepp moved to Moscow must have made Kapo think.
«Well as for now, Mr Puusepp’s life is in FSB hands. Should the cooperation not continue, his life there can be made very unpleasant. He is totally dependent on the Russian Federation and the good will of the Russian state – livelihood, income, accommodation,» said Mr Aeg.
According to the former Kapo chief, not all former security police officers with KGB background should come under criticism due to two traitors. At the beginning of the 1990ies, they were hired due to necessity and laying them off later on could have backfired.
«If we jettison someone, by the very deed we make him angry which would drive him to change sides. One can’t risk such things! People need to be treated nice till it’s proven they have committed a crime,» said Mr Aeg.
Security Police press representative Harrys Puusepp told Postimees that Kapo knew of Mr Puusepp’s wife’s relatives in Russia and the family’s trips there. Even so, prior to the admitted treason on the Russian TV channel there was no reason to suspect him in treason.
Definitely, as a specialist, Mr Puusepp had access to Estonian state secrets, but not to classified NATO or EU information.
«In the programme, we saw the outcome of classical Russian intelligence methods, with half truths and outright lies mixed together. Extraordinary, definitely, that for this they uncovered their own covert co-operator,» says the Kapo press rep.