The Model Estonian Soldier Who Spied for Russia
I spoke to Metsavas under the auspices of KAPO, which gave The Atlantic virtually unrestricted access to him, but not to his friends or family. Notably, I was not allowed to speak with his wife, his mother, or his father, the last of whom played an integral role in his son’s ordeal. The rules of engagement were simple: I could ask my subject anything I liked, but he had been instructed beforehand not to divulge information that might compromise KAPO’s counterintelligence investigation, particularly any details that would telegraph to the Russians what the Estonians knew about their tradecraft and the secrets they had stolen. “They don’t deserve it,” Toots said.
For KAPO, the interview was an opportunity to publicize its already legendary reputation of catching Russian spies. For me, it was an unmissable chance to speak to a contemporary spy and raise the curtain on the inner workings of a Russian intelligence agency whose century-long history of skulduggery—from election tampering to dirty wars, from attempted coups to assassination plots—shows no sign of abating. And for Metsavas, it was a chance to atone for his high crimes against his country, his comrades in the army, his friends and family. I believe he had little apparent incentive to lie: Everything he said would be within earshot of at least one KAPO case officer, tasked with ensuring that he didn’t speak out of turn, or embellish or misrepresent his autobiography. I got the impression that Metsavas, as much as the men who had unmasked him, took such matters earnestly. In general, there was a strange camaraderie between Metsavas and the KAPO case officers who flitted in and out of the interrogation room as our interview wore on. All interacted with him not as an enemy of the state, but as an old acquaintance, with an intimacy born of close proximity and repetition. I asked Metsavas whether he felt compelled in any way to talk to me. He said he didn’t and insisted that this whole thing was his idea in the first place. I eventually saw why.