First contact, meetings and a test - methods used by foreign intelligence services in their recruitment efforts in Finland

Traditional human intelligence remains an important intelligence gathering method used by foreign powers. It enables intelligence services to acquire information that would be hard to obtain otherwise.

Illustration, railway station and a car.

Besides secret intelligence, foreign intelligence services are also interested in the views of Finnish experts, officials or individuals involved in politics, insider information held by them, and their assessments of future developments. It is difficult to acquire such information otherwise than by using methods of human intelligence.

The main duty of a foreign intelligence officer conducting human intelligence is to create contacts with individuals in his or her target country, to use them as sources, and try to recruit them as agents for secret intelligence gathering and influencing activity over a longer period. In the language of intelligence, “agent” refers specifically to an individual recruited to assist an intelligence service.

Recruitment is a long and multi-stage process. When the recruitment is carried out skilfully, the target does not find it suspicious - quite the contrary. The intelligence officer does not introduce himself or herself as a representative of the intelligence service but often operates under diplomatic or some other professional cover. The meetings are natural and work-related. 

It is possible that even though contact is kept for several years, the target for recruitment does not become aware that he or she is dealing with a foreign intelligence service. At a later recruitment stage, also money may become an important motive. 

It is important to note that every meeting with an intelligence officer is an intelligence gathering situation, even though the recruitment process would finish after the first meetings.

Supo’s duty is to identify individuals likely to be foreign intelligence officers and to warn the Finns keeping contact with those individuals of the true intentions of their contact partner.


Process of recruitment


The target for recruitment is selected in advance. The target is an individual through whom it is possible to obtain information being of interest to the intelligence service. The first approach  typically takes place at an event that the target attends as part of his or her official duties or in free time, such as a seminar or a conference. The individual may also be approached in a targeted manner online, via e-mail or through the LinkedIn profile, for example.


The intelligence officer contacts the target and invites him or her to lunch, for example. After that, several other meeting suggestions are made, some of them resulting in meetings. The intelligence officer may keep contact and make suggestions in a one-sided manner. The meetings look like natural professional discussions. As the meetings go on, the intelligence officer seeks to build up trust and increase friendliness. This phase can last for several years.


When the intelligence officer has cultivated the relationship long enough, it is time for the first test. The officer may ask the target for a piece of information or a favour, such as to pass open source information on paper or memory stick. The target individual does not actually do anything wrong but fulfilling the request means that he or she has crossed the first threshold - and done something at the request of a foreign intelligence service. The target may be rewarded with a gift for his or her efforts. The purpose of giving gifts is to accustom the recruitment target to receiving rewards, which lowers the threshold for carrying out assignments.


The posting of an intelligence officer in Finland lasts for a few years. The recruitment process may last longer than this. This means that the intelligence officer can change during the process. The officer introduces his or her colleague to the target individual as a friend, for example. The new intelligence officer continues to keep contact and to cultivate the relationship.


After a longer relationship, the intelligence officer does the final test and asks the target to disclose secret information, for example, or tries to influence the decision-making on some topic through the target.


If the final test is successful, the recruited individual has become an agent of a foreign intelligence service. This results in direct assignments, information requests, financial rewards and secretive behaviour. The assignments may also focus on influencing. In such cases, the intelligence officer may aim, for example, at publishing views promoted by the foreign power through the target individual or in his or her name.