An annual report by Security Intelligence Service (Supo) has highlighted the threat posed by operatives working for foreign intelligence agencies, which comes as a surprise to many, given the size of the country. Russia and China were particularly actively engaged in espionage, Supo's yearbook alleged.
While cyber warfare by state actors is becoming increasingly active, Supo noted, intelligence services still rely on traditional means when conducting spycraft. These include gaining access to personal data and recruiting individuals who can help influence public opinion and political decision-making. According to Supo, a typical foreign intelligence officer enjoys diplomatic status.
"Diplomatic cover is typical, but not the only method. There are intelligence staff who live in Finland permanently, but also some who just visit," Supo director Antti Pelttari said at the presentation of the annual report in Helsinki, as quoted by national broadcaster Yle.
According to Supo, foreign intelligence services exhibit a perennial interest in non-aligned Finland's NATO debate, its foreign and security policy, Finland's position on EU sanctions and the security situation in the Baltic Sea region. In addition to this, foreign intelligence services were also interested in Finland's presidency of the Arctic Council, preparation of new intelligence laws and Finland's international military cooperation.
"The world of cyber-espionage has become more aggressive and intrusion into systems is even conducted with violence," the head Supo's cyber section, Jyrki Kaipanen, said in the annual report.
Still, Pelttari suggested that foreign state efforts to influence the upcoming parliamentary election are unlikely. This marks a departure from an international trend to accuse Russia of meddling into foreign countries' elections. For instance, Swedish officials last year talked about Russia's meddling even before the election took place, only to later admit that no hacking had occurred.
"Over the past few years, we have focused on efforts to influence election meddling and ways to prevent it. We do not believe that the parliamentary election is a target of significant influence from any foreign state," Pelttari argued.
Lastly, Supo highlighted a level terror threat stemming from lone wolves and small groups with ties to radical Islamist networks and organisations. At present, 370 individuals are being tracked by Supo as part of its terrorism prevention measures.
First deputy chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee Andrei Krasov said in an interview with the Federal News Agency that Moscow has always sought to build a normal dialogue with Helsinki, despite tensions in the global political arena. He called Helsinki's recent report "clearly untrue" and ventured it was a "sponsored story" developed in order to "stab Russia".
Earlier this March, Supo's colleagues from Sweden's Security Police Säpo issued an annual report stressing a "growing threat" from Russia and China, focusing on the vulnerability of the digitised infrastructure. Säpo chief Klas Friberg even told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter that the threat to Sweden was "more extensive than ever".
In February, Norway's Intelligence Service (E-Tjenesten) accused Russia and China of increasing intelligence pressure on Norway in an attempt to undermine the political process and whip up contradictions in Europe. E-Tjenesten's annual report singled out foreign intelligence as "the most urgent and comprehensive threat", Verdens Gang reported.
Previously, Denmark's Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) chief identified Russia and China as the biggest espionage actors, claiming that Russia was after "power" and China was after "industrial secrets".