Risk of loss of confidence in the intelligence service

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Facts: Brothers charged with aggravated espionage

On Monday, September 20, 2021, the Security Police carried out an operation in Central Sweden, where a man was arrested on suspicion of gross unauthorized occupation with secret information. Soon after, it emerges that at the time of the intervention, he was a senior manager at another authority.

It also turns out that he previously worked at the Security Police and the Military Intelligence and Security Service, Must, at the Armed Forces. DN can also reveal that he served at KSI, the Office for special collection, the most secret of all Swedish intelligence agencies.

In November of the same year, another man was arrested in the case, suspected of aggravated espionage. It turns out to be the younger brother of the first man.

In connection with this, the suspicions against the older brother are also sharpened to now apply to gross espionage. According to the prosecutor, the crimes must have taken place between 2011 and 2021.

On November 11, 2022, charges were brought against the brothers, for aggravated espionage. The elderly person is also charged with gross unauthorized position with secret information. Both deny wrongdoing.

In connection with the indictment, it appears that the investigation was already started in 2017.

“It can have completely devastating consequences for the mutual trust in the relationship,” continues Agrell, professor emeritus in intelligence analysis at Lund University.

The espionage on behalf of Russia for which the brothers are suspected has, according to the indictment, continued for ten years, where the older of the brothers is said to have gained access to sensitive information in his work at the Security Police and the Military Intelligence and Security Service, Must.

According to Agrell, the degree of seriousness can only be put on par with the cases of Stig Wennerström and Stig Bergling.

“The current one has the potential to be the most serious,” he says.

Highest secrecy class

The reason is the information that the older of the brothers is said to have had access to. Among other things, Agrell takes note of information that he served at Must at the most secret of Swedish intelligence agencies: KSI, the Office for special collection, which DN reported. The man has also, according to his own statement, had counterespionage as his main area at Säpo.

— So this is a person who had access to the highest classifications and the most protective information. A person like Wennerström had a lot of secret material, but never of this nature from within the intelligence and security system itself, says Agrell.

Tony Ingesson, lecturer in intelligence analysis at Lund University, shares the opinion that it may be a particularly serious espionage case that is now unfolding.

“Potentially, you can assume that it can be in the same class as Wennström and Bergling,” he says.

“The risk is that he has come across information that they (the other party) could not have come across in any other way,” he continues.

Influence from within

But it is not only a question of what may have been leaked, but also in what way the man may have influenced the system from within, says Wilhelm Agrell, who compares to the great spy Kim Philby who was head of British MI6 and at the same time spied for the Soviet Union.

— He influenced the intelligence system and steered it astray. It is also an explanation for why the investigation has taken so long: it is extremely difficult for the Swedish security service in retrospect to map what types of leakage or influence it had and see what significance it had.

In addition to the direct damage that the suspected espionage may have entailed, it may also damage the confidence abroad in Swedish security and intelligence work. In the long run, it can mean reduced opportunities to carry out effective work.

— There is definitely such a risk, because the espionage has been going on for such a long time and there are a number of authorities that he may have tapped for information. This means that the risk of this kind of relationship-destroying loss is significantly greater in this case, says Agrell.

Tony Ingesson, lecturer in intelligence analysis at Lund University. The aftermath is decisive

Tony Ingesson does not see that it necessarily leads to a loss of trust in the longer term, and points out that, among other things, the US has had significantly more serious cases.

— Everyone understands that this kind of thing can happen. The important thing is what you learn from it, he says.

— Does this mean that there has been a systematic weakness or is it the case that he has been a little lucky to have managed to slip through the filter? It is of course serious, but mainly we look at how it is handled in the aftermath, Ingesson continues.

Agrell also says that the decisive factor is how the authorities have behaved.

— If it turns out that you didn’t react to warning signals, that you got a mole in and let the person in question stay for too long, that affects the credibility of the entire safety culture.

TT: What consequences could that lead to for the cooperation that is carried out with other countries?

— It is not that you break your relations with the Swedes. Any intelligence agency can run into these things. But it will inevitably lead to a certain caution towards Sweden from important partners today.

System error

According to Agrell, the solution to overcoming security flaws is rarely to fire individual people who may have missed things – the weaknesses are basically always at the system level and that is where you then need to take measures.

Such a review is also crucial for building trust again, says Tony Ingesson.

– It can be assumed that internal work has already been going on for some time to ensure that there are no more (spies) and that routines and so on have been reviewed. This allows trust to be rebuilt. This is exactly what the US has done after its scandals.

Wilhelm Agrell compares what happened in a natural disaster. It’s not about finding someone to blame, the central question is what you do when it happens, he says.

— Once the dust has settled around the legal process itself, a lot will be about it – how was this actually handled?