High-quality intelligence is essential for foreign and security policymaking
In an escalating security situation where the role of diplomatic exchange is narrowing, the need for information grows. The confrontation between the West and Russia highlights the importance of intelligence that supports Finnish policymakers in their work, and Supo seeks to provide information to serve as an essential element in Finland’s foreign and security policymaking. Simultaneously, Supo’s traditional role to counter covert intelligence gathering by foreign powers is emphasised.
In spring 2021 Supo identified an APT31 state-sponsored cyber espionage operation targeting the core of Finnish policymaking in Parliament. Our new intelligence powers are useful for investigating such cases and have helped to curtail cyber espionage operations. Cyber espionage efforts cannot be prevented, because most systems have to be connected to a public network, with espionage traffic included in normal messaging communications. With intelligence powers now enabling earlier detection of such incidents, cyber espionage operations often stall at the first attempt.
The USA and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan in late summer 2021, and the Taliban rapidly took control of the country. The impact of the upheaval in Afghanistan will only be seen in the longer term. The stability of Afghanistan and changes in the operations of terrorist organisations remain among the issues to be monitored. The accession of the Taliban means that Afghanistan will remain a support area for terrorism. For the time being, the Afghanistan situation has had no immediate impact on Finland’s security situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic rolled on throughout 2021. Several European countries have seen civil unrest over COVID-19 restrictions. Such confrontation has not been as sharp in Finland. Opponents of restrictions and vaccines are relatively few in number and varied in background. Social movements related to COVID-19 countermeasures have not endangered national security in Finland for the time being.
The police arrested five men in December 2021 on suspicion of far-right motivated terrorist offences. While investigation of the case is pending at the time of writing, the overall impression is largely in line with the Supo terrorist threat assessment, which has identified a rising threat of far-right terrorism alongside the danger of radical Islamist terrorism. Supo has discharged the duties of its new role by providing specialist assistance to the police at all stages of the investigation.
A new strategy makes way for improvements in intelligence gathering, operating culture and collaboration
Supo published its new strategy in autumn 2021. We are especially seeking to improve our intelligence gathering, operating culture and collaboration. Supo gathers intelligence the top-level national government and our partners cannot get from other sources. Systematic, result-oriented and focused intelligence gathering is the cornerstone of our work. Merely aggregating data serves no purpose. Intelligence must instead be analysed and supplied to policymakers at the right time and in a clear format.
Supo staff have been working for many years against the background of a major ongoing shift in the organisation. We shall focus on consolidating and fine-tuning a new operating approach over the next few years. We must also ensure that the operating culture of Supo supports the success of its staff. We are developing leadership, staff competencies and teamwork. Supo must become an even better workplace for its staff. We all understand the importance of this work.
We requested comments from stakeholders when formulating our strategy. While this feedback was gratifyingly positive, it certainly provided motivation for improvement. Supo was encouraged in particular to be more interactive. We are seeking more proactive and systematic cooperation, which always benefits our partners as well. We are attentive to the wishes of our partners, and building a Finnish intelligence culture together.
Cooperation is also a theme of this yearbook. The various articles include contributions from specialists outside Supo, because a good end result requires a range of perspectives and expertise.
The work of Supo is continually scrutinised in various ways – and we are all the better for it. A Government report approved in December finds that the new intelligence legislation has enhanced the ability of public authorities to safeguard national security. While there is always room to refine legislation, we are pleased with the current powers and with the effectiveness of the new laws.
Supo is now approaching its third anniversary as a security and intelligence service. I firmly believe that this combination is an effective arrangement for combating dangers to Finland and providing unique intelligence to ward off threats. Finland’s national security has been and can be significantly enhanced through well-targeted investment. This will enable Finland to manage in an increasingly complex world.
Director of Supo