Confessions of a SUPO man
By Tuomo Pietiläinen
Last week Hannu Moilanen, 63, had his first dream in a long time involving espionage . “It was not nightmarish or positive, but it was amusing. In the dream my customers – Finns who had been caught spying – came out in a very surrealistic form”, Moilanen says.
He worked with the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) for nearly 40 years. Most of his career he focused on fighting foreign espionage in Finland, and the recruitment of Finns for illegal intelligence-gathering work.
Moilanen’s colleagues in the counterespionage section of the Finnish Defence Forces have praised him, saying that he is the best in his field in all of Europe.
He retired from his post at SUPO counterespionage and his various executive tasks in October last year. Disengaging from the role of the longest-serving counterspy in Finnish history is a slow process. When we speak of SUPO, Moilanen often says “we” and almost as often he quickly corrects himself and says “they”.
He still wears a small shiny SUPO pin on his lapel.
For most of his career Molianen was a faceless man. The first photographs of him were made public in 2004, after more than 30 years on the job.
You were only 24 years old when you took a job at SUPO in 1972. How did that happen?
“I had had dealings with SUPO for a while before that, but I prefer not to explain any further what this means.”
At least in the 1960s SUPO used students as paid assistants who took care of so-called dark cases. Is this what was going on?
“Everyone can draw his or her own conclusions. This was a profession of my dreams from the very beginning. I saw it as my life’s work.”
What was our first so-called heavy mission?
“It was in September 1976. My heart started palpitating in the dark autumn evening. We had been keeping an eye on Olavi Pihlman, chief registrar of the National Board of Customs for three years, and I saw him being given a plastic shopping bag by a KGB man who had kept us very busy. When we detained Pihlman, there was a bottle of Koskenkorva and a bottle of whisky in the bag, as well as money in an envelope. The red-handed nature of the situation felt exciting then, but the elation wore off.”
You worked at SUPO under five directors. Who was the best?
“Clearly it was Seppo Tiitinen [1978-1990]. He modernised the organisation and acquired resources for it.”
What were the challenges in Tiitinen’s time?
“The Soviet Union tried to keep Finland in its pocket through its ‘home Russian’ system [a network of Soviet diplomats who had personal contacts with individual Finns], and there were attempts to bring SUPO into the system as well, but we certainly were not Finlandised [a term suggesting excessive deference to the sensitivities of the USSR]. At the highest levels of SUPO attempts were made to pretend to be friendly with the Soviet Union, and to cooperate with it, but this was not the case in reality.”
What country was the main adversary in these past 40 years?
“The intelligence services of the Soviet Union and Russia by far. The US CIA was a bad boy of sorts among Western services; it always played tricks behind SUPO’s back. We didn’t like that, and at times we actually had to react to the CIA’s activities.”
What kinds of tricks did the CIA play in Finland?
“Eastern espionage services almost always hide their contact persons. With Western intelligence services there is a rule that the identities of the intelligence people are told to us. The CIA has not always remembered this. At the same time it carried out operations in Finland.”
What other countries have espionage that is worth keeping an eye on?
“We should not forget China; the country’s illegal intelligence gathering will be an increasingly large problem. Especially its scientific and technical espionage is growing in significance.”
Why are intelligence services needed at all?
“Intelligence services live for two reasons: a prevailing distrust against the target country, and a desire to secure one’s own interests.”
What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about espionage in Finland? Or are there any?
“Oleg Gordievski, the KGB’s station chief in London, who fled to the West in 1985, has calculated that the KGB had 160 agents or confidential contacts in Finland. They were more social contacts than real agents. The real Finnish agents can be counted with the fingers of two hands. The reason for such a large figure is that there was more openness in Finland, and the KGB got political information from the Finns, which in many countries would have required the establishment of contacts on the agent level.”
What has Gordievski himself said about your views?
“I have spoken with Gordievski, and he has been in complete agreement. These contacts were not criminal, but rather moral questions. Morality suffered when there were various kinds of opportunists tagging along behind statesmen.”
Have all of those who have committed espionage in Finland been caught?
“I hope so. Perhaps there have been some errors of scale.”
So something has been left bothering you? What would that be?
“The question of illegals should have been addressed much earlier. Illegals are spies who operate under false, but very convincing identities, and it is not possible to latch onto how they emerge without an understanding of the activities of the illegals of the Soviet Union.”
But some of them have even come out in public: Reino Gikman in 1989, Veikko Pöllänen in 1995, and others.
“SUPO should have started its counterespionage operations earlier. At SUPO we initially suffered from a lack of information and from a lack of knowledge of where to begin.”
What has happened with illegal intelligence gathering in recent years?
“The political price of espionage has grown, and intelligence services are increasingly fearful of getting caught. The amount of espionage is therefore unchanged, but the activities are more subtle than before.”
Why have the political risks of espionage grown?
“During the Cold War there were clearly marked front lines in the world, but now we’re ostensibly all friends. In such a situation it is more embarrassing than usual to be caught spying.”
Ambassador Alpo Rusi says in a book that is scheduled for publication in the autumn that a mole was at work in SUPO, who was able to affect the investigation of Stasi espionage in SUPO. Have the intelligence services of other countries tried to plant moles within SUPO?
“There have been attempts to send moles to work at SUPO, but these operations have not led anywhere. There was never even any suspicion of mole activities in the Stasi or Rusi investigation.”
What kinds of attempts were there to infiltrate SUPO?
“There have been some that were worth taking seriously. I would not tell about these things lightly, but the details might well be left to the next history book.”
Has a colleague of yours ever been shown to be a mole?
“Dr. Gabrielle Gast worked with West German intelligence, and was revealed to be a top-level mole for Stasi. That felt bad. It was a disconcerting feeling.”
Gast switched sides for love, attracted by the Romeo spy. Moilanen says that even in the profession of counterespionage, human characteristics ultimately emerge, even if old customers are never seen again.
Old colleagues certainly maintain contact around the world. A colleague from Sweden who is an expert in counterespionage recently popped in to visit Moilanen at his cottage in Kainuu. He was also retired.
Moilanen’s 40-year career at SUPO ended last autumn, when he handed back his official gun and badge.
“I had little use for my official weapon, but there was a wistful feeling handing back my badge. Is this it?”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.4.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Study: Russian espionage activities focus on political information (29.9.2008)
Ex-President Koivisto urges publication of Security Police Stasi list (3.9.2007)
Security Intelligence Service SUPO exposes itself (7.12.2010)
Debate over disclosure of Stasi material heats up as Security Police director resigns (30.7.2007)
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) (Wikipedia)
TUOMO PIETILÄINEN / Helsingin Sanomat