Talking about Estonian intelligence, one first thinks of Russia. In what other countries are Estonian intelligence agents active? You mentioned the need to speak Chinese and Arabic for example.
A lot of countries is all I can say. It depends on the mission, task and needs. Places where intelligence activities are easier to pursue, where there is a greater chance of success and better security are preferred. It is determined by what the task prescribes and where it can be performed. I would refrain from pointing out specific countries. We might as well just read out a list of them.
Is Estonian intelligence only active in so-called unfriendly states or do you also stage operations in allied countries?
It has happened. We have strong allied relations and we’ve carried out quite a few joint operations. I dare say we are valued among our allies.
Are allied intelligence services always aware of your operations in their territory or are there exceptions?
They are for the most part.
When did you last work abroad?
How often do you need to leave the country for work?
It happens. It is different at different times as certain things need a lot of preparation. That also requires traveling. You might not have to go anywhere for weeks, while a period of traveling might then follow. And then you return.
How long can these missions take?
Not very long, it’s usually a few weeks. We do get to come home before we have to leave again.
The coronavirus has introduced major travel restrictions. Do they affect intelligence work?
Of course. The entire world is affected by the coronavirus, including our traveling. Some things take more time today, while the job still needs to get done. Sometimes you have to take a detour etc. Travel restrictions affect everyone. But we cannot say there are only negative consequences. There are useful aspects as well.
Does an intelligence agent need to be in top physical form? Have you ever had to use physical strength or fight in your work?
My tasks have never required me to fight someone. As concerns physical preparation, our most developed muscle needs to be our brain, everything else comes second. We need to be fit simply because sometimes you need to take a very long walk. We need to stay in shape to maintain mobility and the ability to perform certain technical tasks, ensure our own safety and make sure we’re not being monitored. That requires a physical base.
But physical form is not the most important thing in intelligence. A person who is in a wheelchair but has a well-developed sense for other people, ability to read people and convince them would make for a brilliant EFIS employee candidate in my book. Others can take them where they need to go.