Increasing security threat to Sweden

2021-03-19

The threat to Swedish national security has increased and is assessed to continue to increase over the next few years. This threat comes from hostile states as well as from violent extremism. Attackers have heightened capabilities, not least due to digitalisation and today’s polarised society. The ongoing pandemic and insufficient protective security also add to vulnerability. This is described in the Swedish Security Service Yearbook 2020.

Sweden is now facing a wider and more complex threat from hostile states. The Swedish Security Service has noted that an increasing number of states are dispersing their security-threatening activities to target areas such as fundamental rights and freedoms, economy, political decision-making and territorial sovereignty. There are also more connections between different areas. One example of this is when states exert financial pressure for political purposes. This at a time when there are protective security vulnerabilities.

- The traditional intelligence threat remains, but hostile states have also intensified their security-threatening activities. Attacks on dissidents in Sweden and abroad are an indication that hostile states are taking higher risks, and we have also seen cases of state-sponsored terrorism, says Klas Friberg, Head of the Swedish Security Service.

The Swedish Security Service Yearbook 2020 describes the current threat to Sweden. The Service notes that Sweden is an attractive target for hostile states, and assesses that the intelligence threat will continue to increase. Hostile states target e.g. commercial actors, technology, research and development, and people who have sought refuge in Sweden. Hostile states will also continue to try to influence Swedish political positions. The most serious intelligence threat to Sweden comes from Russia, China and Iran.

- The threat from hostile states may have a multi-faceted purpose, and can be both direct and indirect. The underlying aim may be to strengthen both the regime and the country’s status as a superpower. The fact that not all activities are aimed at causing direct harm to Sweden, but will cause indirect harm, makes the threat more complex.

While those targeted often face a substantial threat, their ability to protect themselves is low. Cyber attacks in combination with protective security vulnerabilities risk revealing Sweden’s total defence ability at the same rate that this is being enhanced. Functional protective security is vital to protecting Sweden against attacks.

Protective security vulnerabilities have been revealed in several sectors examined by the Swedish Security Service, such as research and development in areas of importance to Sweden's security. The Service has also noted vulnerabilities in security-sensitive areas, including protective security analysis, IT security and personnel security.

The ongoing pandemic has added new vulnerabilities taken advantage of by hostile states as well as violent extremists. Hostile states spread disinformation and show an interest in new sectors. All the violent extremist environments in Sweden use the pandemic in their propaganda, linking it to ideological argumentation.

The threat of attacks by violent Islamists and violent right-wing extremists is still elevated. At the same time, there is a long-term threat to democracy, with all three extremist environments using threats and violence to prevent people from exercising their democratic rights and freedoms.

- The growing polarisation in society, and the polarising rhetoric, contribute to the growth of extremist movements. Public funding increases their scope of action and new technology increases the opportunities for violent extremists to engage in security-threatening activities under the radar.

As concerns right-wing extremists, the line between violent and non-violent groups has become more blurred, and we are seeing an increasing interest in environmental and animal rights issues. We have also seen attacks glorified in social media.

The Swedish Security Service states that threats to Swedish national security have increased and that collective action is necessary to counter the security threat.

- Our remit is to protect Sweden and secure a future for democracy. We see that a national effort is needed in all levels of society to provide the tools necessary to handle not only the threat from hostile states and violent extremism, but also the existing vulnerabilities. This is something that can’t wait. These threats are real, here and now, says Klas Friberg.

An English translation of the 2020 year book will be published later this spring,