Supo as viewed by its clients

The mission of Supo is to serve top-level national government and public authorities by supplying unique intelligence. We asked two long-term partners at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs what it is like to be a client of Supo.

Illustration, a ship and an orange crane.

Mikko Kinnunen, Director General for Political Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, notes that even at the turn of the century Supo conveyed a somewhat unseemly impression to the outside world. The agency was nevertheless also useful. Kinnunen recalls how a Supo representative had described the approaches used by foreign intelligence officers to an audience of young Finnish diplomats.

"This was very helpful when I was faced with circumstances in which a foreign representative actually approached me using the very playbook that Supo had described", Kinnunen says.

The situation that Kinnunen describes is a typical example of the traditional training work that Supo has done for many years in Finland. Though this important groundwork still continues, Supo now operates much more extensively with various operators. Conscious efforts have focused on organising and systematising co-operation with traditional clients.

Nowadays Supo endeavours to report as much as possible, subject to the confines of law and the need to safeguard its operations. Both Kinnunen and Sari Rautio, Director for Security Policy and Crisis Management at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, note that Supo has become more open in recent years. The slightly hideous agency of old has become more approachable.

"Supo has become more open towards the public and to other public authorities, and collaboration is excellent nowadays. We are able to support one another in the common goal of ensuring Finland’s security", Rautio explains.

Who are the clients of Supo?

Supo combats the most serious threats to national security, such as espionage and terrorism. Luckily such phenomena are rarely visible in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Supo nevertheless does not gather intelligence for itself, but for its clients.

When Supo refers to its clientèle, this often means top-level national government. Supo provides briefings for the President of the Republic, government ministers and senior officials, so that threats to national security can be considered when taking decisions.

Important clients and partners are public authorities, such as ministries, the police, the Border Guard, the Customs and the Finnish Immigration Service. Supo also works with various private businesses, universities and organisations.

Established nearly two years ago, the Supo partnerships team now helps specialists to customise briefings according to the needs of the client. Intelligence sharing must not only consider the kind of information that the client is authorised to process, but also what kind of information will benefit the client.

Supo now also collects feedback from its clients. The most widely appreciated aspect of the service is usually the fact that clients have been able to discuss issues with Supo specialists and ask follow-up questions. Indeed specialists who are among the finest in their field form the cutting edge of Supo expertise. Supo has recruited these specialists from a wide range of backgrounds, including cyber specialists, linguists and social scientists.

Kinnunen also notes that Supo has expanded its coverage into new subject areas, reserving particular praise for its analysis of issues related to China.

"Supo is the number one destination in Finland for anyone seeking a good analysis of China", he says.

IN 2020 SUPO PRODUCED

  • 69 security infos
  • 105 specialist briefings
  • 122 reports
  • 140 responses to the media

Effects of covid-19 are shown in the figures.

Teamwork is vital in a small country

Working at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Kinnunen and Rautio have been clients of Supo for many years. Supo views the world from a national security perspective, acquiring information by applying civilian intelligence methods. The work of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is in turn based on a unique diplomatic network representing Finland throughout the world.

Over the years Rautio has received Supo briefings and specialist background reports on various issues, such as terrorism and influencing operations by foreign powers. She points out that given the limited resources of a small country, no comprehensive impression of Finland’s international operating environment could be formulated without close co-operation.

"These various perspectives are mutually complementary. While I do not feel that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is merely a receiving party, we enrich one another’s views", she notes.

Kinnunen also finds commonalities in the work of Supo and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Both organisations gather intelligence in their own ways, combining and processing it into analysis for top-level national government. The division of responsibilities between Supo and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs nevertheless remains clear.

Supo briefings help in forming an overview

Supo has seen major changes in recent years. The agency’s staffing and its range of duties has grown. Civilian intelligence legislation that took effect in 2019 has given Supo better opportunities to gather intelligence concerning serious threats to Finland.

Supo finds crumbs of information that often help in formulating an overview. Kinnunen points out that the adoption of new intelligence legislation gives Finland some new instruments that may be used if the need arises.

"So we don’t need to consider these only in an emergency", he says.

Kinnunen observes that the authorities could further enhance intelligence sharing and the process of formulating a common overview. The importance of this is highlighted when combating hybrid threats, for example.

"Hybrid influence inflates the difficulty factor even more, as the external operator seeks to hamper formulation of the accurate overviews that are essential for policymaking", Kinnunen explains.