Recently what I’ve termed the Snowden Operation has taken aim at Sweden as part of its rolling barrage of leaks of classified information that Ed stole from NSA. In recent months, harming the foreign relations of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the U.S. Government generally, seems to have become the main point of the Operation, which is fronted abroad by Glenn Greenwald and a motley crew of self-styled journalists who are really activists of a determined kind.
Although the allegations of illegalities and nefarious activities by Sweden’s SIGINT agency, Försvarets radioanstalt or FRA, are the customary mix of Greenwaldian overstatement mixed with uninformed pontification, the revelation that FRA has a longstanding close relationship with NSA and other Western intelligence agencies has raised a few eyebrows in Sweden, since the country has long been a neutral power, through two World Wars and the Cold War. Although Swedish defense and security agencies have cooperated with Western partners for decades, that amounted to an open secret (and a true secret in its details), one that the Snowden Operation has now exposed.
While Stockholm failed to get ahead of the leaks by preemptively talking about its intelligence activities before Greenwald and others did, as I recently praised Danish intelligence for doing effectively, the reaction of the Swedish government to the leaks has been commendable and deserves commentary. The message has been consistent: FRA activities are fully legal under Swedish law and they are something Stockholm necessarily does to protect the country from foreign threats, no matter what Glenn Greenwald says.
“We need this,” explained Defense Minister Karin Enström, adding, “We need a well-functioning military intelligence organization in order to protect Sweden against external threats.” She explained further: “We have clear legislation concerning the purposes for which FRA gathers signals intelligence for military intelligence, and it is well known that FRA cooperates with corresponding organizations in other countries. On the other hand, we do not say which countries are involved, or in what way, or what content is involved.”
Moreover, Swedish intelligence cooperation with NSA and other Western security agencies is hardly news, as it goes back to the Second World War, explained the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet, which noted that Sweden has been well compensated for its espionage acumen, particularly regarding Russia. Stockholm is anything but the pawn and victim of U.S. intelligence that the Snowden Operation has made it out to be. Good intelligence “is a hard currency for which we are enormously well paid,” explained a Swedish intelligence officer, who added that the lives of Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan had been saved “on several occasions” by information supplied to FRA by NSA. “We don’t give away anything,” commented an officer with long experience with Swedish security agencies who emphasized the quid pro quo aspect to international intelligence cooperation.
The effectiveness of FRA can be judged by the fact that its headquarters on Lovön island near Stockholm was one of the two Swedish facilities targeted by Russian TU-22M3 long-range and nuclear-capable bombers in a simulated night strike in late March – an incident that caused public outcry as the Swedish Air Force reacted slowly and had to call NATO for fighter help against the Russian threat. Moreover, the humbug at the heart of the Snowden Operation can be deduced from the telling fact that, although Moscow has certainly been aware of the extent of FRA activities against Russia since at least June, when Ed showed up at Sheremetyevo Airport, Russian telecommunications companies have done nothing to reroute their traffic away from Sweden, which remains the main data hub for Russian Internet traffic going abroad.
The most revealing riposte to the Snowden Operations’s propaganda attack on Sweden comes in the form of an open letter and invitation by Runar Viksten, the head of the country’s Defense Intelligence Court (Försvarsunderrättelsedomstolen) that performs oversight of FRA activities. Tellingly titled “Inaccuracy damages Swedish signals intelligence work,” this remarkable document is the most comprehensive rebuttal to the Snowden-Greenwald agitprop model I’ve yet seen in a single letter, and I’ll give you its highlights; I encourage any of you who know Swedish to read the whole thing.
Beginning with the statement, “In step with the so-called revelations made by Snowden, several fallacies about Swedish signals intelligence and its uses have been spread by media representatives and representatives of political parties,” the letter makes a point-by-point refutation of the lies that have been propagated about FRA recently.
“It has been claimed that Swedish legislation on signals intelligence was commissioned by foreign authorities. That is not true … The allegation of foreign control is a conspiracy theory of a highly fanciful nature.”
“It has been claimed that foreign powers can order signals intelligence from FRA. That is not true. Everything FRA does, in an operational respect or in terms of development, must be sanctioned by the Defense Intelligence Court.”
It has been claimed that surveillance belonging to the areas of follow-up on the signals sector and signals technology, as well as the development of this country’s own technology, has been insufficiently regulated as far the protection of personal privacy is concerned. That is not true. This signals intelligence work also has to be sanctioned by the court.”
“It has been implied or insinuated that Swedish signals intelligence is directed at our Nordic neighbors and other Western democracies. That is not true … Swedish signals intelligence work, in contrast to legislation in other countries, is not directed at protecting economic interests. The list of surveillance targets also shows that foreign powers might be the targets of this work, mostly with regard to external military threats, and in cases where the actions of foreign powers have a substantial impact on Swedish foreign, security, or defense policy … These insinuations are therefore groundless.”
“It has been claimed that signals intelligence cooperation with other countries means that Sweden passes on information on persons in this country and receives information which, for reasons of personal privacy, it should not have been possible to obtain pursuant to signals intelligence legislation. That is not true … FRA does not accept information which lies outside the areas authorized by Swedish law and those sanctioned by the Defense Intelligence Court.”
“As far as the latest claims regarding so-called active signals intelligence work and suspected computer hacking are concerned, the following can be stated without going into the methods which may be used to gather information. Everything that FRA does regarding signals intelligence requires the court’s authorization. The activities that FRA engages in after receiving such authority are not illegal and therefore cannot involve the crime of hacking.”
To top it off, Viksten concludes his letter with an invitation to Planet Greenwald to provide their evidence in open court:
“The ignorance I have referred to, which has been expressed in various contexts, damages confidence in Swedish law and Swedish signals intelligence work. It would therefore be good if those persons who express opinions on the regulations governing Swedish signals intelligence would take pains to provide a firm foundation for their claims. That could, for example, be done by making an appointment for a visit to the court, which in contrast to the claims that have been made, is not a secret tribunal.”
That’s how you do it, folks. Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald often have said they just want a chance to make their case to the public, preferably in court. There it is. It shouldn’t be too hard to get in touch with Mr. Viksten or his office.
We’ll be waiting …