'Activity of Russian intelligence service has risen exponentially'

In an interview with MO*, Alain Winants, the head of the Belgian civil secret service (“Veiligheid van de Staat”) comments on the recent spy case in Estonia.

  • Kristof Clerix Winants: 'Espionnage back to Cold War level' Kristof Clerix

At the end of September, Herman Simm was arrested, an employee of the Estonian ministry of Defense, suspected of espionage for the Russian secret service. For years, Simm had access to “top secret” documents exchanged by Nato member states. Does this new espionage case have any consequences for Nato member state Belgium?
Alain Winants: The case has consequences for the intelligence community, in this sense that it has been discussed several times by different secret services. When a case like this is revealed, several steps have to be taken. First of all a damage assessment, and after that conclusions have to be drawn: what went wrong, where should the security be enforced and how can these kind of incidents be prevented in the future?
Has the case led to any concrete measures in Belgium?
Alain Winants: This case was revealed only recently. At Nato level, we are still in the first phase of investigation. Once this phase is over, we will work out which measures are to be taken.
In the past couple of years, Russia has reemerged as a strong player in the geopolitical field. Do you notice the effect of that in the world of intelligence? Is Russia more active in terms of intelligence compared to a couple of years ago?
Alain Winants: Ik think it’s fair to say –and this is something that “in globo” has been noticed by all Western intelligence services– that the activity of the Russian services abroad has risen exponentially. That it displays a certain aggressivity, selfconsciousness. That quite a lot of agents of Russian services are active. And that in most of the countries it is noticed that the level of presence and the nature of the activities is actually almost –if not exactly– the same as during the Cold War.
In comparison with other countries, Belgium of course has extra potential targets for espionnage: the Nato and the EU. Does this contribute to even more Russian intelligence activities?
Alain Winants: I think Brussels is, because of its position and because of the presence of Nato and Shape and the European Commission, of course an ideal work area for several secret services. The attention of Russian services for Brussels is obvious.

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