Helsinki again a centre of international espionage
By Tuomo Pietiläinen and Santtu Parkkonen
Foreign intelligence services are better represented in Finland now than ever before, say a number of sources interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat.
With the revival of Russia's intelligence service, the number of spies has rebounded to Cold War levels after a dip in the early 1990s.
Espionage focuses on the Helsinki region, where Finland’s political leaders, the largest companies, and most important research institutes are located. Helsinki also has foreign embassies, where experts say most of the espionage activities are based.
Helsingin Sanomat has learned that there are now about 50 trained spies representing intelligence services of different countries operating in Finland.
Most of them operate in Helsinki and nearby areas. Officially, they are diplomats, journalists, researchers, businesspeople, or students.
An estimated 30 of the spies are specialised in civilian intelligence, and 20 on digging up military information. In addition, Finland has an unknown number of "illegals", whose identities have been constructed artificially by forging documents.
Clandestine activities in Helsinki are often quite mundane. In 90 percent of cases, the information that spies dig up is openly available on public databases, on the Internet, in the press, and in public libraries.
Nevertheless, nothing can replace personal contacts, which are the only way that spies can get their hands on insider information, recruit contacts, and acquire carefully-guarded documents.
Foreign diplomats and spies establish relations with Finns seen as valuable sources of information in familiar Helsinki restaurants. Experts say that such places include Marski, Torni, König, and Mikado.
"The location itself is not so important, as far as meetings are concerned", says Juha Pohjonen of the Finnish National Archives.
All Cold War methods are still in use. Spies eavesdrop on phone calls, follow people around, and photograph secret documents.
The Finnish Security Police (SUPO) issued a warning in September that old methods had returned to the gathering of political intelligence, including KGB-style recruitment, confidential and clandestine contacts, and paying for information.
About 80-90 percent of espionage takes place under the guise of diplomacy. Embassy secretaries, passport officials, and spouses of diplomats are not always what they appear to be.
For about the past 20 years, Russia has had the greatest number of diplomats in Finland, with the United States coming in second, and China in third place. They are followed by Germany, the UK, and France.
When the Soviet system collapsed, the number of Russian diplomats in Helsinki went down within a few years from 58 to 43. Now there are as many Russian diplomats in Helsinki as there were in the mid-1980s. "This indicates that espionage activities are on the increase", Pohjonen says.
SUPO said in the autumn that foreign civilian and military intelligence officers have actively sought information on Finnish defence policy, and on support for possible NATO membership among Finnish decision-makers. The EU has also remained a central theme.
International intelligence-gathering has increased, because countries that are economically and technologically behind Finland want shortcuts to growth.
Russia remains the most interested in Finland. Nearly 60 people work at the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, which is almost as many as in the US, Chinese, and German embassies combined.
Helsingin Sanomat has learned that the Russian civilian intelligence service SVR alone has about 20 spies in Finland, and the military intelligence service GRU has about ten. The remaining 20 professional spies in Finland are employed by the United States, China, about five Western countries, and the countries of the former East Block.
SUPO annual reports reveal that the United States is most interested in matters related to Russia, while China focuses on scientific and industrial espionage.
SUPO changed its counterespionage tactics in the early 1990s. Civilian spies who are caught are no longer allowed into Finland a second time. This prevents the person in question from continuing his or her activities as the sources of information advance in their careers as civil servants at Finnish ministries, for instance.
Because of the change, SVR spies have had to make due with mid-level contacts at Finnish ministries. Things were different during the Cold War when KGB General Viktor Vladimirov managed to work behind the scenes and maintain contact with Presidents Urho Kekkonen and Mauno Koivisto.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.11.2005
More on this subject:
Helsinki was buzzing with spies during Cold War decades
Finnish Security Police also recruits double agents
TUOMO PIETILÄINEN AND SANTTU PARKKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat