People need unique information in an uncertain world

Antti Pelttari, Director of Supo.

2020 was an eventful sequel to a preceding decade that revolutionised Finland’s security environment in many ways. Besides the coronavirus pandemic, the downsides of digitalisation became increasingly evident, with Finland not spared from the spread of an extremist mentality that has assumed new overt forms around the world. Democracy and the open Western social model, including countries that have been regarded as stable democracies, are facing a stern challenge. Even Finland must remain vigilant to ensure that such developments do not emerge here.

2020 was the first full operating year in which Supo was able to apply the latest intelligence-gathering powers unanimously approved by the Finnish Parliament. With a total of some 500 employees, the Service has now reached the staffing level that was anticipated when the new intelligence legislation took effect. Even though full implementation of new practices and intelligence methods is still ongoing, Supo is already beginning to resemble a modern security and intelligence service in quite many ways.

The Service operates in a field where continual reform is essential. Our success crucially relies on anticipating changes in operating conditions and continually improving our work. The new intelligence legislation allows Supo to acquire intelligence concerning threats to national security, even without a concrete cause to suspect that any criminal offence has occurred. These powers have proved necessary, and have been useful in a wide variety of situations. Contemporary threats to Finland’s national security and the intelligence requirements of top-level national government do not dovetail neatly into the framework of Finnish criminal law. This was a key justification for enacting the new intelligence legislation, and it has proved to be correct.

The confidence of Finns in Supo is at a record high level.

It is absolutely essential for Supo to exercise its powers in a lawful manner at all times. The first annual report of the Intelligence Ombudsman who oversees our operations was published in summer 2020. This report finds that the use of intelligence methods at Supo was lawful in all respects. The confidence of the Finnish public in Supo has also reached a record high level, and we are keen to continue being worthy of public trust in Finland.

The main function of Supo is to gather, analyse and report unique information to substantiate policymaking by our clients, meaning especially top-level national government, officials and public authorities. We regularly gather comments from clients on how effectively our intelligence serves their needs. Though feedback collected in 2020 was quite favourable, we also heard some concrete suggestions for improvement. These are valuable to us as we continually enhance our reporting. Our clients also have a voice in this yearbook.

It is impossible to discuss 2020 without mentioning the coronavirus pandemic. Though also reflected in the work and evolution of Supo, this exceptional year fortunately had only a moderate impact on national security. We immediately prepared in many ways in the early months of 2020 to maintain our operational capacity over the pandemic, and this was never compromised at any stage.

Restrictions on travel and assembly hampered the efforts of foreign powers to acquire human intelligence in Finland, and after some initial rigidity, these states replaced human intelligence with more active campaigns of cyber espionage. This nevertheless in no way signals the end of human intelligence, and this yearbook accordingly also explains how agents are typically recruited.

We have collected some articles here that describe the various functions of Supo. These include contributions on anticipating trends in radical-Islamist terrorism after the Isil caliphate, discussing the role of Supo in securing critical infrastructure, examining foreign interests as part of security clearance vetting, and introducing some new Supo staff members. The yearbook also includes an updated terrorist threat assessment for the current year. The threat has become more multidimensional but remains at level two, meaning elevated.

Recent events in the USA, Russia, Belarus, and such regions as the Sahel in Africa have illustrated the importance of forecasting trends and assessing their security implications. There is certainly continued demand for the unique information that Supo gathers and analyses. Finland’s top-level national government and public authorities must have the most comprehensive and realistic picture of the surrounding world when formulating policy.

Antti Pelttari
Director of Supo