Senior NATO scientist caught spying for China

A senior Estonian scientist employed by NATO has been convicted of conducting intelligence activities on behalf of the Chinese military, according to the Daily Beast.

Tarmo Kõuts was sentenced to three years in prison by an Estonian court last week after he pleaded guilty to conducting intelligence activities against Estonia on behalf of a foreign country.

Kõuts, and another accomplice who is yet to stand trial, secretly began working for China’s Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission in 2018.

A member of both the Scientific Committee of the NATO Undersea Research Center and Estonian Ministry of Defense’s Scientific Committee, Kõuts was a specialist in maritime and submarine research.

The conviction of a Chinese asset is the first of its kind in Estonia, with the country’s intelligence community traditionally focused on Russian agents until recently.

Aleksander Toots, Tallinn’s top counterintelligence official, said the spy “was motivated by traditional human weaknesses, such as money and need of recognition.”

Kõuts is reported to have received cash payments for his espionage, with one prosecutor saying the figure was €17,000, as well as luxury trips abroad throughout Asia.

After working on various maritime projects, Kõuts was recruited to the Estonian defense sector in 2006, eventually becoming vice-president of the Italian-based Scientific Committee of the NATO Undersea Research Center from 2018, the same year he was recruited by Chinese intelligence agents.

He had enjoyed a NATO security clearance for fourteen years at the time of his arrest, but Toots told media he failed to pass on any confidential military information to the Chinese.

“That he had such security clearances was one of the reasons we decided to put a stop to his collaboration [with China] so early,” Toots said, indicating Estonian investigators could have waited until treason was committed before arresting the spy.

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