The tense security situation highlights the significance of counterintelligence

Finland is subject to the continuous and wide-ranging intelligence operations of foreign powers. Supo´s counter-intelligence continuously monitors these operations and actively hampers the work of foreign intelligence services.

Illustration a ceiling with fluorescent tubes.

Finland is subject to the continuous and wide-ranging intelligence operations of foreign powers. These operations are well resourced and characteristically of extended duration. The deteriorated security situation and tensions in superpower relations will also likely increase foreign intelligence operations against Finland. 

Foreign intelligence services seek information on the policymaking, economy and national defence of Finland, and on the findings of scientific and technical research. Besides gathering information, some countries that target intelligence operations against Finland also seek to influence its policymaking and public opinion. Intelligence and influencing operations also target the information and activities of organisations, businesses, universities and research institutes.

A disproportionately large number of foreign intelligence operatives are stationed in Finland relative to the size of the country. Continuous intelligence operations that jeopardise Finland’s national security are still conducted mainly by the intelligence organisations of Russia and China. Supo´s counter-intelligence continuously monitors these operations and actively hampers the work of foreign intelligence services.

All approaches are applied, from open sources to human intelligence

Foreign intelligence services seek to anticipate various aspects of Finnish policymaking and to influence political decisions. Intelligence services employ a wide array of information gathering instruments and methods in pursuit of these goals, from monitoring open sources to unauthorised intrusion into data networks. 

Another key method nevertheless remains the identification and engagement of covert human sources who are willing to supply information that would not otherwise be available. Foreign intelligence services also seek to recruit the assistance of individuals with a view to influencing policymaking and public opinion, either directly or indirectly.

The second full year of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions also hampered human intelligence operations in 2021. With fewer opportunities to meet in person, it has become more difficult to recruit new target individuals. Human intelligence operations have nevertheless continued, with the relaxation of restrictions regularly restoring them to normal levels. 

Travel problems have particularly limited the number of intelligence officers sent abroad for short missions, while highlighting the importance of foreign intelligence stations. Supo has also detected an increased use of e-mail and social media links for establishing first contact in intelligence service operations.

The targets of foreign intelligence remained unchanged, with particular interest in the prospects for Finnish membership of NATO

Foreign intelligence operations against Finland focused mainly on long-term interests in 2021. These include the issue of a possible NATO membership application from Finland, foreign and security policies, policymaking and associated preparations, defence procurement, international military cooperation by Finland, cyber security and expertise, the energy sector, initiatives promoted by Finland in the Arctic, and border security projects. 

Russian intelligence in Finland takes a particular interest in Finland’s relationship with NATO. The tensions around NATO expansion and the NATO debate that has lately taken place in Finland will likely further increase intelligence gathering on Finland’s short-term intentions with regard to a NATO membership application.

A few foreign intelligence services also continued to gather information on dissidents and political opposition members of their own countries who reside in Finland.

The work of Supo´s counter-intelligence also includes proliferation monitoring with a view to preventing illegal exports of dual-use products. Efforts have been made to procure export-controlled products from Finland and via Finland, such as dual-use items and sensitive technology for use in WMD programmes. The procurement process uses individual businesses and procurement networks operating in Europe.

Businesses require a licence to export controlled dual-use items to destinations outside the European Union. Attempts to circumvent export restrictions include acquiring entire businesses, falsifying end-user certificates, and cooperating in research programmes. Foreign powers seek to boost the technological development of their armed forces through procurement and foreign expertise. Quantum technology and the components required for a quantum computer are one field of technology that is targeted in Western countries, including Finland. Supo works closely with other public authorities in monitoring proliferation.