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The Daily Vertical: Russia's Spooks And Crooks (Transcript)

  • Brian Whitmore

It's not every day that cigarette smugglers get convicted of espionage.

But that is exactly what just happened in Estonia -- and it's a sign of the times.

Prosecutors announced this week that three men -- all smugglers of contraband cigarettes -- were convicted of collaborating with Russia's security services, providing them with information on the operations and movements of Estonia's border guards and defense forces.

Now espionage cases involving Russian spies in Estonia are not uncommon, but they usually involve high-level officials with access to state secrets.

On one hand, the prosecution of low-level informants indicates heightened vigilance on Estonia's part as Moscow continues to menace and threaten the Baltic states.

But it also starkly illustrates the dark alliance between organized crime and Russia's security services -- the nexus between its spooks and its crooks.

WATCH: The Daily Vertical for February 24

It is worth noting that when Estonian law-enforcement officer Eston Kohver was abducted by Russian agents in September 2014, he was investigating a smuggling ring run jointly by organized crime groups and Russia's Federal Security Service.

Russia's nationalization and weaponization of its many mafias is one aspect of the hybrid war it is waging on the West.

And as a result, the West's response needs to go beyond traditional notions of defense.

In this environment, law enforcement, counter espionage, and national security are intertwined.

The Estonians are on the front lines, and they clearly get this.

And it's a lesson the rest of the West needs to learn as well.

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