Supo focuses foreign interest investigations carefully

An investigation of foreign interests assesses whether another state is in a position to coerce someone working in an important capacity into collaborating to damage Finland. Each case is considered individually.

Illustration, benches at an airport and an airplane wing behind the window.

Many Finnish people have close connections around the world nowadays, for example through studies, work or family. The globalisation of Finland is also evident in security clearance vettings.

The security and intelligence services of certain authoritarian countries are known to attempt to coerce Finnish officials into engaging in covert collaboration to the detriment of Finland. Such coercion exploits the dependencies of these officials on those countries and their citizens. Security clearance vetting accordingly now examines the foreign interests of an employee in certain situations.

The investigation of foreign interests became possible in 2018. Such interests may always be investigated in the course of a comprehensive security clearance vetting, and may also form part of a standard form vetting.

Supo conducted more than 88,000 security clearance vettings in 2020, investigating foreign interests in 3 145 of these cases and notifying the applicant (usually the employer) of such interests in a total of 46 cases. The notified cases involved circumstances in which Supo felt that an individual could be coerced into acting to the detriment of Finland, either due to personal dependencies or to the dependencies of loved ones.

Foreign interests are investigated in duties that are important for national security

The purpose of determining foreign interests is to ensure that employees have no dependencies that jeopardise the proper performance of their duties. This investigation is particularly important in duties that have bearing on state administration and national security, affording the employee access to nationally critical information or the ability to cause damage to Finland.

Supo focuses its investigations of foreign interests on functions in which its information and analysis suggests that a threat of coercion may arise. Supo investigates the foreign interests of an employee by checking the foreign interests that the employee declares and by reviewing the information sources specified by law, such as various official registers. The employee is also interviewed if necessary.

Foreign interests may include the individual’s own current and former citizenship of another country, the current foreign citizenship of loved ones, a service relationship, business or property in another country, or any other ongoing fixed connection with a citizen of another country or another state.

The investigation will always protect the target individual

Based on the information gathered, Supo assesses an individual’s foreign interests from the point of view of the job that motivated the investigation. This assessment considers the nature, extent and duration of those foreign interests. Supo also assesses the likelihood of exploitation, coercion, corruption or other undue influence on the target individual in the light of information concerning the operations of an individual state.

Supo assesses whether the foreign interests of target individuals would be likely to compromise their ability and capacity to perform their duties independently and reliably.

Besides national security, an examination of foreign interests will always safeguard the target individual. Irrespective of personal conduct, anyone may end up in a situation where their loved ones living abroad are threatened or subject to extortion, or where the target individual is coerced into contravening the duties of a position.

The risks arising from foreign interests may accordingly be independent of an individual’s personal character.

Each case is considered individually

Supo always makes a separate individual assessment in each case when evaluating the significance of foreign interests and the outcome of security clearance vetting. This assessment focuses on the individual’s personal circumstances, and on how active and close the dependency is. It is highly unusual to report foreign interests to an employer. For example, mere dual citizenship or former citizenship of a state is not usually relevant as such to the outcome of security clearance vetting.

Individual consideration of each case in relation to the duties that motivated the request for clearance also safeguards fundamental rights of an individual, particularly with respect to ensuring equitable treatment.

The assessments made by Supo are backed by a Ministry of Justice Evaluation Criteria Committee, which has issued guidelines on statutory interpretation when investigating foreign interests.