Intelligence services for the country of Estonia have reportedly uncovered that one of its top scientists had been recruited by Chinese military intelligence and was working at a sensitive NATO research institution specializing in maritime and submarine research, according to a bombshell Daily Beast report.
It’s been revealed that the spy, identified as 57-year old Tarmo Kõuts, was recently arrested and stood trial last week. The man “renowned in the Estonian scientific community for his research” was convicted of espionage and handed a three year prison sentence (reportedly the “lighter” sentence was due to his case not being deemed “treason”).
While Baltic countries’ intelligence services have been heavily focused on exposing Russian plots and operatives, it’s believed that Chinese operatives have recently made deep inroads into Eastern Europe, despite this latest case being the first conviction of its kind.
The case had until just days ago remained under a strict gag order, only coming to light upon the conviction. He was alleged to have had access to sensitive NATO technology and research while at the same time maintaining contact with his Chinese handlers for up to three years. Some of the details are as follows:
According to Aleksander Toots, the deputy director of KAPO and Tallinn’s top counterintelligence official, 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.
The top Estonian intelligence official further said that Kõuts was recruited on Chinese territory during a trip: “He was motivated by traditional human weaknesses, such as money and need of recognition,” Toots said.
Akin to recent cases in the US involving similar accusations of Chinese influence ops and research theft and gaining access to trade secrets, the spy’s handlers had used a think tank as cover. He had earned over $20,000 from Chinese intelligence, but what’s more is he had enjoyed multiple paid trips across southeast Asia which was said to include high-end luxury hotels and Michelin star restaurants.
EXCLUSIVE: Estonian counterintelligence just caught another spy working within NATO. Only this one wasn’t recruited by Russia; Tarmo Kõuts was recruited by China. With @holger_r: https://t.co/i60WZkIpOi
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) March 19, 2021
“From 2006, Kõuts became directly involved in the national defense sector,” the report details of his background. “He was named a member of the Estonian Ministry of Defense’s Scientific Committee, which oversees the country’s military research and development initiatives.” He’d long been on the scientific committee of NATO’s Undersea Research Center in Italy. There he helped advise the military alliance on its maritime capabilities and strategy.
He’d had a NATO security clearance for fourteen years as well as a ‘state secret permit’ in Estonia. However authorities don’t actually believe he had yet passed any specific confidential military information to his Chinese handlers, which likely would have resulted in a much longer prison sentence.
The Estonian intelligence official Toots had said further as part of his statement that Kõuts’s possessing security clearances :”was one of the reasons we decided to put a stop to his collaboration [with the Chinese] so early.”