Aleksander Einseln:
"They say I sank Estonia"

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Translation from Estonian to English: Helje Kaskel

The founder of the Estonian Defence forces, retired general Aleksander Einseln [U.S. Army], tells in an exclusive interview given to Arter (the weekend magazine of Estonian daily Postimees), how Der Spiegel tried to prove in the end of 2000 that he had given the order to sink the passenger ferry Estonia.

Jutta Rabe's
feature film about the sinking of Estonia called Baltic Storm has now been shown in the movie theatres in Estonia. The release of the film took place in Tallinn on November 13. Jutte Rabe was hailed as a heroine. The widow of the captain Avo Piht - second captain at the time of the catastrophe - handed over flowers.
In this interview the retired general Aleksander Einseln uncovers some background information unknown until now regarding this film.

 Arter: Are you going to see "Baltic Storm"?

 Einseln: I don't know. I am not a big movie goer.

 Arter: What if you will recognize yourself in some of the characters?

 Einseln: Let others go and see it and if somebody will then say that there was something negative said about me, then I have to go and see it myself for clarification.
In an earlier piece, perhaps in an article from 1995, Der Spiegel has hinted as if I could have had some role in sinking of Estonia. Next to the article they had printed my photo as well. It is as if they wrote an article about some Peeter Ernits being caught shoplifting and then they print somebody else’s photo next to it.

 Arter: When did you meet with Der Spiegel the first time?

 Einseln: In November 2000. I was then visiting my son in Virginia. In spite of the fact that I did not want anybody to know about my whereabouts, I was found through my acquaintances in Canada. One day the Estonian consul in Toronto called me that Der Spiegel wanted to talk to me about the sinking of Estonia.
I had avoided giving interviews on that subject before. This time I promised the consul that they could give me a call. So they called from Hamburg. I agreed to give an interview. Soon the journalist flew from Hamburg to Washington. He was accompanied with another journalist, cameraman and an assistant from their Washington office.

 Arter: How long did you talk to the journalists?

 Einseln: All together about four hours. Of that they got 1 hour and 40 minutes of film footage. I agreed to that only in condition that I would receive a copy of the whole material without editing.

 Arter: Did you get it?

 Einseln: Yes, I did.

 Arter: Was the name of the Spiegel-journalist Jutta Rabe?

 Einseln: No. Rabe had wanted to get an interview from me before and pursued me even later on. She kept calling several times. But I did not want to talk to her at all, because she is not the most ethical journalist in my eyes.
The Spiegel journalist from Hamburg told me that he/she and his (her) colleague had done very serious research for four months. Now it would take just a couple more weeks and the story about the Estonia catastrophe will be on the front cover of all the newspapers in the world.

 Arter: What was the point of it?

 Einseln: That was exactly what I started to wonder about as well; that WHAT was it they had found out. When the conversation was over, I got the notion as if they had planned to make a cover story of me (laughing). I think they had that in mind. Before leaving we stepped outside the house. They asked me to walk in front of it. My son lives in a well-to-do neighborhood, in a respectable house. I think that they needed this footage in order to show that: look, this pig who sank Estonia now lives in such a big house and enjoys his life, or something like that.

 Arter: Why you?

 Einseln: According to Der Spiegel, it was me who gave the order to sink Estonia.

 Arter: What were their sources?

 Einseln: Somebody from Estonia. According to their story I was sent to Estonia from the States in order to buy up the Soviet military technology and then send it to America for the purpose of research. Estonia was reportedly carrying some military technology. Through some secret sources, the informants in Estonia claimed, that I had received a warning about the Swedish police who was aware about my criminal plan and were waiting for in the harbor in Stockholm. In order to avoid the scandal, I had been the one who gave the order to sink Estonia.
Of course, such an accusation aired in the media, no matter whether it was correct or false, would have been extremely dangerous for America.

 Arter: Did Der Spiegel believe it?

 Einseln: They claimed that at first they did not believe in a connection between the Estonia catastrophe and me, because the story seemed to be too full of fantasy. But there were more meetings to come. As I recall they had met with the "informants" for three, even four times on the initiative of the Estonian side. The Estonian source was finally questioned by Der Spiegel asking how they could prove that the general gave the order to sink Estonia. To answer that, the journalists were handed a specified telephone bill with the markings of my phone calls.

 Arter: What could one see there?

 Einseln: One could see that about half an hour before the first S.O.S. signal given by Estonia, a phone call was made from my phone to the captainís bridge on board of Estonia. The source had claimed that after that phone call the bow visor was opened and the ship was sunk.

 Arter: Did Der Spiegel believe that?

 Einseln: They seemed to have fallen into that trap finally.

 Arter: This would have been an extremely juicy bite. The chief of staff of a small post communist country who has arrived from the States, gives an order to sink a passenger ship carrying a thousand passengers in order to hide his own murky deeds.

 Einseln: It would have been, no doubt, a very sensational, sweet, and profitable story for Spiegel.

 Arter: You did not fulfill their expectations?

 Einseln: The whole information that they got from me was in full contradiction with what they had been provided before.

 Arter: How can you prove that it was not you who called to captain Piht on that tragic day (I would say "night" - HK] in September and gave the order to sink Estonia.

 Einseln: I was in California during that time, my mobile phone stayed in Estonia. My phone stayed with my driver. I do not know whether he used my phone or gave it to somebody else to use, if such a phone call was made at all, because the specified phone bill given to Der Spiegel could have also been a fabrication.

 Arter: Have you investigated who was that person made the phone call to Captain Piht?

 Einseln: At that time I did not know anything about it and after I left the post as a chief of staff of the army, I did not have the possibility to do that.

 Arter: How did you find out about the Estonia catastrophe?

 Einseln: I heard about it in the news. I was in California.

 Arter: Has Der Spiegel ever shown the video interview they made with you?

 Einseln: To my knowledge no. If a newspaper hires two top journalists to work for four months on as story and then discovers that it has just been a wild goose chase, I do not think they want to acknowledge it.
It means that they have wasted a lot of money - salaries, trips to Finland, America. It is not a small investment, even for Der Spiegel.

 Arter: Soon to be shown movie "Baltic Storm" is unfortunately based on the same thing.

 Einseln: When Jutta Rabe once called me. I recommended her to watch the tape in the office of Der Spiegel. Rabe was then working with Der Spiegel when the accident happened.

 Arter: Had she seen it?

 Einseln: She said she had but still wanted to talk to me. I refused.

 Arter: What happened to Estonia in your opinion.

 Einseln: Unfortunately, to this day, there has been no independent investigation. Everybody has their own interests in this sad story. In this case, an international independent commission, either from Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, whoever, should have investigated the thing. I tend to think, that there was something to hide. Maybe opium, maybe precious (rare) metals, maybe some technical things. All this is possible.

 Arter: Is it a common practice that Americans try to acquire the military technology of their enemy during the times of turmoil?

 Einseln: Not only Americans. If there are possibilities, then these opportunities are certainly taken advantage of.

 Arter: Then Der Spiegel’s logic is right?

 Einseln: Yes, it is. Such things happen all over the world. But they would have never given such a task to a person like me. I was too visible. Tasks like that are done by people whom you don’t recognize on the street, whom you can’t even suspect. I told Spiegel that although I did not know anything specific about it, I would not wonder at all if such a thing was going on. In the end of the interview the journalist looked into my eyes and said quietly: you are maybe the only person who has told us the truth.

 Arter: Why?

 Einseln: I saw myself what Russians were selling here at that time! The head of the division, a general, hinted me that everything was available. And all the money went into his pocket. Everything was for sale at that time, absolutely everything. Only the things that were not nailed down or what the retreating army did not want were left behind.

 Arter: Can you guess, why were the slanderous accusations made to harm your reputation internationally in the end of 2000?

 Einseln: That’s another story. Such things are not done without reason. Even the crow won’t fly without reason. If there is a reason to believe that Estonia catastrophe was connected with some criminal activity, then a new independent international investigation should be taken up. I am for it, since certain circumstances after the Estonia catastrophe strongly point to such a need. In the course of a profound independent investigation we would maybe get answers to these questions.