The intelligence threat

Sweden is facing a wider and deeper intelligence threat from other countries, involving legal as well as illegal methods. New types of operations that threaten Sweden’s security are being carried out alongside traditional intelligence activities such as agent recruitment and intelligence activities targeting refugees.

Electronic attacks, espionage and influence operations are some examples of how foreign powers operate against Sweden. The Swedish Security Service works to counter and investigate any such activities as they may weaken Sweden’s power of action.

Traditional intelligence activities

Intelligence activities by foreign intelligence officers, such as collecting classified Swedish information and passing it to the home country, are being carried out here and now. Such activities often involve attempts to recruit agents with access to the required information or who are part of a network of interest.

Agents are always being cultivated through the use of various clandestine methods. Examples include the use of data encryption software when communicating with certain individuals, deciding meeting times and venues based on previously agreed procedures, carrying out anti-surveillance before the meeting, and using cover names and cover positions.

Engaging in intelligence activities using clandestine means, i.e. espionage, is a criminal offence.

How an agent is recruited

Unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees

“Refugee espionage”, i.e. unlawful intelligence activities against an individual, refers to intelligence activities targeting dissidents and minority groups from other countries in Sweden. Typically carried out by authoritarian and non-democratic states, such activities make people fear not only for their own security, or life and health, but also that of relatives in their former home countries and in Sweden. This also undermines the democratic process, as people given refuge in Sweden may be afraid to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms. Others who express their support for these dissidents may also be subject to monitoring by foreign intelligence services.

The states in question often limit human rights and freedoms within their borders as a way of exerting control over their citizens, It is not unusual for any type of political activity that is seen to question government policies to be controlled or suppressed by violent means. Individuals openly expressing alternative political opinions or demands often face harassment, arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture or murder. They may also face prosecution for offences against national security.

Foreign intelligence and security services may work outside country borders to control and silence, in various ways, critics and dissidents in exile. In some cases, ethnical Swedes supporting these individuals are also targeted.

The Swedish Security Service investigates any indication that individuals have been tasked by a foreign country to engage in intelligence activities targeting refugees in Sweden.

Preventing unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees

Intelligence activities targeting refugees can in many cases be prevented and countered before any offence has been committed. One way the Service tries to achieve this is through outreach activities aimed at groups at risk so as to increase awareness of the fact that such intelligence activities actually occur and are a criminal offence.

The Service also actively works with organisations and public agencies that may be subjected to unlawful intelligence activities carried out in order to gather information which could subsequently be used to monitor private individuals. Making staff aware of the intelligence threat to refugees reduces the risk that they unwittingly provide information that may be used by foreign intelligence and security services engaging in such activities.

Activities in the grey area between peace and armed conflict

Alongside traditional intelligence gathering and espionage, foreign powers engage in various other activities against Sweden to achieve security-policy objectives without provoking military conflict. These activities, legal as well as illegal, occur continuously.

Foreign powers carry out a number of activities against Sweden. These include:

  • Influence operations where foreign powers try to influence the decisions, opinions or behaviour of the Central Government, the public or certain targeted groups. These operations typically involve spreading misleading or false information via social and traditional media. Messages are adapted and intensively dispersed to various target groups. Foreign powers often launch influence operations indirectly, i.e. through state-controlled businesses or organisations.
  • Strategic acquisitions or investments, where foreign powers acquire ports, tech companies or industries and use these to gather information or for influencing purposes.
  • Electronic attacks by foreign powers on critical electronic systems in areas such as healthcare, power supply, communications or payment systems. An electronic attack may be carried out to impel a country to act in a certain way but is also a means to acquire information that is vital to the functioning of society.
  • Influence via proxy, whereby a foreign power uses other groups to attain its objectives, e.g. extremist groups that use violence in order to influence public opinion or change society.
  • Strategic deterrence through military or diplomatic displays of power.