A senior official for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was convicted of spying for China last week.
Tarmo Kõuts, an Estonian military defense scientist with top security clearance, had been spying for China since 2018, according to Estonian prosecutors.
According to the report, intelligence services for the Baltic countries allegedly have been warned of the growing Chinese threat for years, but Kõuts’ conviction would be the first of its kind. He was tried in the Tallinn-based Harju County Court.
A Baltic Offical allegedly told Business Insider:
Russian intelligence activity obviously takes the highest priority in our neighborhood but the amount of resources required to monitor China increases for us each year. Our natural experience is more with the Russians but we have been warning about China for well over a year.
The deputy director of Kaitsepolitsei (KAPO) and Tallinn’s top counterintelligence official, Aleksander Toots, spoke to the Beast about Kõuts:
Kõuts was recruited in 2018 by China’s Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission—as Beijing’s military intelligence agency is known—along with an alleged accomplice who is yet to be tried in court. Both were arrested on September 9, 2020, with no publicity or discussion of the case in the Estonian media.
Kõuts was recruited on Chinese territory, said Toots, who spoke exclusively with The Daily Beast and Estonia’s Delfi newspaper: “He was motivated by traditional human weaknesses, such as money and need of recognition.”
Toots added that Kõuts received cash payments from his Chinese handlers as well as paid trips to various Asian countries, with luxury accommodations and dinners at Michelin star restaurants. The intelligence operatives handling him were operating under cover of a think tank. Inna Ombler, the prosecutor handling the case confirmed that Kõuts earned €17,000 — a little over $20,000 — for his espionage, which the Estonian government has since seized from him.
Toots also said the reason the Chinese went after Kõuts was due to the security clearances he held. This is why “we decided to put a stop to his collaboration [with the Chinese] so early,” Toots said.
The scientist pleaded guilty to “conducting intelligence activities against the Republic of Estonia on behalf of a foreign state,” said the report.