in an Age of Transition - The Case of Sweden
Although a formally
non-aligned country with strong economic and security
links to the Western powers, Sweden nevertheless developed
an expansive national intelligence system during the Cold
War. After the tumultuous shift of European security policy
between 1989-91, Sweden realized immediate benefits in
the area of national security; it went from the exposed
position of a front-line state in the Baltic to an embedded
position behind a new Cordon Sanitaire to the east. As
other small European countries, Sweden in the 1990s was
thus faced with the task of aligning its national intelligence
system with new international premises and a broadened,
but largely unknown, future security agenda. The attempts
to reform its system offer insights into the process involved
in changing intelligence agendas and institutions, and
into the problems facing national intelligence policy
caused by globalization and European integration.
Challenge of Reform
rapid, dramatic changes in European security and politics
in the late 1980s and early 90s had the effect of redefining
national intelligence, its goals, and its institutions.
The Cold War was over, and gone with it were the military
structures and day-to-day activity that Western intelligence
systems had been designed to survey and assess. If the
Western defense establishments and defense industries
faced situations where much of their raison d'etre was
gone, the same was true for the intelligence communities
with no Cold War Order of Battle as a given priority.
But as traditional tasks lost priority, new tasks took
their place. The post-Cold War world was not less complicated,
and certainly not less hazardous1.
challenge of intelligence reform, however, was nothing
new for the 1990s. National intelligence systems in most
Western countries became increasingly outmoded in the
1970s and 80s as new problem areas became apparent, from
the oil crisis to control over technology transfer to
growing refugee and illegal migration.
intelligence institutions were also faced with the double
dilemmas of maintaining democratic control while managing
the effects of technical intelligence collection. Once
the peak of the Cold War had passed in the1960s, the legitimacy
of closed state-in-state intelligence organizations was
put in question. Occasional intelligence "scandals"
continued to poison the political climate and the democratic
credibility of national intelligence in countries such
as Britain, West Germany, Norway, and Sweden2.
Cold War methods and Cold War ethics, especially in domestic
intelligence, continued to bring discredit to all aspects
of intelligence. The stigma of illegality and oppression
only started to crumble in the 1990s. One cause of the
change in climate was the increasing practice of companies,
banks, and public institutions to euphemize their intelligence
efforts by using more positive or neutral designations3.
ethics, legality, and political control were the overt
problems, the imbalance between intelligence collection
and intelligence analysis, or finding questions for all
the answers, was the predominant internal problem facing
the intelligence communities and also the decision-makers
dependent on its output. Already in the1970s, the intelligence
communities felt the impact of the information explosion
that society was to experience in the 1990s. Few effective
countermeasures to this phenomenon were developed; in
addition, the increasing international tension and the
arms race in the late 1970s and early 80s further stressed
the need for more capable and effective technical means
for collecting intelligence.
the end of the 1990s, the Western countries, as well as
the former east and central European countries in the
process of transition, faced the tasks of reassessing
their security priorities and redefining their intelligence
goals, both designed to accommodate the new ways of thinking
about national security.
Swedish Intelligence System in the Cold War period
being a formally non-aligned country conducting a policy
of neutrality between East and West, from the late 1940s
informally established close ties with a number of key
NATO countries: the Nordic neighbors Denmark and Norway,
but first with Great Britain and the United States. In
1960 Sweden became a major recipient of US military technology
and far-reaching security guarantees that de facto gave
Sweden a position similar to the NATO allies.
cooperation developed mainly in the areas of advanced
defense technology and intelligence collection. Sweden
was well situated for the monitoring of activities in
the Baltic and Western USSR through radar surveillance,
signal intelligence, and sea/air reconnaissance. From
the late 1950s, Swedish intelligence (along with Norway)
received significant support from the US.
Swedish national intelligence system, established during
the Second World War, remained basically unchanged throughout
the Cold War4.
While the larger powers concentrated their intelligence
assets in organizations with a broad spectre of operations,
the Swedish intelligence community remained highly diversified.
The core of the system consisted of two centers for analysis
and national intelligence estimates: the Defense Staff
Intelligence Branch (later renamed MUST) and the Political
Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This relation
was at best politely distanced, at worst suspicious or
hostile. Both tried to have the last say in the assessment
of any threat to the country. The bulk of intelligence
collection was carried out by two independent or semi-independent
institutions, the Defense Radio Agency, which was responsible
for all signal intelligence short of domestic illegal
radio communication (a task for the Security Police),
and a secret military intelligence bureau, which engaged
in domestic and foreign intelligence collection; the latter's
existence was unknown to the public (and most politicians)
the Cold War wore on, intelligence liaison became increasingly
important. Swedish intelligence collection in the Baltics
and from platforms to the east could supply neighbors
and Western powers with pieces of intelligence that they
could not readily collect themselves5.
In exchange, Swedish intelligence acquired advanced intelligence
technology as well as parts of the intelligence flow distributor
among the intelligence services of the NATO countries.
War intelligence was focused on external and internal
aspects of the perceived threat from the Soviet Union
and its allies. The State Security Police was the major
counter-intelligence agency responsible for monitoring
and investigating crimes against state security (espionage,
infiltration, subversion, and sabotage). In the early
1970s, the efforts of the Security Police began to focus,
with growing emphasis, on counter-terrorism and the monitoring
of armed political groups of foreign origin (among others,
the German Rote Armee Fraktion, Palestinian PFLP, Kurdish
PKK, and Croatian nationalists).
comparatively high priority during the Cold War was given
to counter-subversion, almost exclusively directed against
the Moscow-oriented communist party and its various genuine
or suspected front organizations. As in Norway, the ruling
Social Democratic Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s
established an impressive nation-wide intelligence network
to counter communist infiltration in the trade unions6.
public revelation of secret domestic and foreign intelligence
collection in 1973-74 resulted in the first comprehensive
efforts to evaluate and reform the Swedish intelligence
system. The parliamentary intelligence commission of 1974
concluded that the Swedish intelligence system lacked
guidance, effective political control, and analytic efficiency,
shortcomings that were shared by many Western intelligence
systems in the 1970s7.
The commission of 1974 formed a parliamentary board to
monitor the intelligence services. However, the role of
the intelligence board was limited by budgetary concerns,
and operational control remained within the services.
commission of 1974 discussed a new intelligence structure,
but in the end it suggested only marginal changes. All
attempts to change the existing intelligence institutions
turned out to be a slow and complicated process. Institutions
could be assigned new tasks and new instructions, but
with staffing and internal culture left in place, little
change occurred in the 1970s and 80s. The Security Police
successfully resisted repeated attempts to establish political
control. The parliamentary board appointed to supervise
the vast register of Swedish citizens appears to have
had very limited insight, and no impact on conduct.
role of intelligence in national decision-making
large segments of the Swedish intelligence system were
engaged primarily in counter-intelligence and counter-subversion,
its main task was to supply the military and political
decision-makers with short- and medium-term early warning.
The role of the intelligence system in the conduct of
long-term policy and the day-to-day implementation of
this policy was utterly limited; the system generated
a plethora of "nice-to-know" intelligence, but
it did not necessarily fulfill the intelligence needs
of top- or medium-level decision making.
commission of 1974 also examined the function of this
early warning system. After reviewing the raw intelligence
and intelligence assessments from a number of international
crises in the 1960s, a commission concluded that the system
really had been effective8.
The study revealed, among other findings, that Swedish
intelligence had monitored in detail the Warsaw Pact mobilization
and exercises prior to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.
However, it misinterpreted the political developments
and thus was unable to predict the timing of the invasion.
the intelligence system had ample resources for intelligence
collection, the analytic function as well as contact with
national decision-makers remained a bottleneck. The more
complex the tasks grew, the more obvious the limitations
became. Being mainly targeted against the perception of
a military threat, the intelligence system possessed only
limited assets in the areas of economy, trade, infrastructure,
and social indicators. An office for East European economic
intelligence was established in the 1950s by the secret
intelligence bureau and the Swedish Industry Association,
but the focus was on the defense-relevant Soviet and WP
economy; trading with the Eastern bloc remained a marginal
business for Swedish industry.
the 1970s, the focus of business and national decision-making
was shifting away from the Cold War agenda, but intelligence
support in new fields was at best incidental. The consequence
was often no or inadequate intelligence support for vital
decisions and no early warning regarding crises outside
the East-West framework. One example was the multibillion
losses suffered by the Swedish government due to over-optimistic
export credits supplied to Swedish companies in Iran prior
to and during the fall of the Shah's regime in 1978. This
was probably neither a case of inadequate intelligence
information nor a lack of competent analysis. The relevant
questions simply were not asked9.
changing security agenda
the turmoil caused by the shift in European Security policy
in 1989-91, Sweden realized immediate benefits in national
security, moving from the exposed position of a front-line
state in the Baltic to an embedded position behind a new
Cordon Sanitaire. The potential geo-strategic threat from
the Soviet Union disappeared, Soviet bases in the now
independent Baltic states were closed, and the once powerful
Soviet armed forces were rapidly crumbling. In the late
1990s, the Swedish military intelligence (MUST) concluded
that Russia no longer possessed the operational weapons
systems, trained units, or transportation to sustain an
offensive operation against Scandinavia. The threat was
gone for the foreseeable future; and internally, the Signal
intelligence complained that the level of routine Russian
activity in the Baltic was so low that the personnel manning
the electronic intelligence stations were not receiving
the traditional threat was gone, the intelligence agenda
was not empty. Just the opposite. Sweden in the 1990s
was confronted by a mix of intelligence needs, but without
any self-evident priority. Since a Russian invasion appeared
remote, defense was cut down and essentially mothballed.
Instead of on rapid mobilization, Swedish defense was
based on timely early warning (one to two years warning
of drastic change in the European security environment).
The intelligence system was relieved of most of its routine
monitoring tasks and assigned a new role.
and Kosovo not only revealed that European security in
the early 1990s was unstable; in addition, the demand
for collective crisis management pushed Swedish political
and military decision-makers into situations where they
had to evaluate the consequences of Swedish military participation
in multi-national forces, such as UNPROFOR, IFOR/SFOR
and KFOR. Suddenly, detailed intelligence about remote
conflicts was crucial; for example, the government in
1993 decided not to deploy Swedish UN forces in the Srebrenica
new threats came as side effects of the political and
social changes in the East and Southeast. As most other
EU countries, Sweden by the mid 90s became increasingly
restrictive toward spontaneous non-union migration and
took strong action to prevent and block asylum- or employment-seekers
from reaching the union area. A more hostile threat came
from the rapid increase in organized crime, facilitated
by increased freedom of movement and international business.
the most profound changes in the intelligence agenda concerned
matters outside traditional security policy and new transnational
threats. Globalization, the de-regulation of the flow
of international capital, and Swedish membership in the
European Union in 1995 transformed the core of national
security, changing it to participation in a process of
political, social, and economic integration. The new short-
medium- and long-term intelligence assessments required
for the conduct of national policy were radically different
from the old, traditional - or extended - threat assessments.
and limitations of reform
the 1990s, an array of "new" state intelligence
services was in place to offset the "new threats."
Prompted by the free movement within the Union, the custom
authorities shifted their emphasis from traditional border
crossing control to an active campaign against organized
smuggling. The role of customs service intelligence rapidly
changed; as a result, the customs criminal investigation
branch added a new arm.
a similar fashion, the police created a criminal intelligence
service (CIS) designed initially to combat organized crime,
but also to fulfill the role of Swedish participation
in the Europe intelligence cooperation. Thus the national
police suddenly had two intelligence institutions with
overlapping functions - the Security Police and the CIS
- the former responsible for operations against armed
(domestic and/or foreign) political groups, the latter
for operations against similar (often identical) groups
with criminal intention. As expected, the two services'
areas of responsibility often overlapped. For example,
in the late 1990s, Nazi extremists were engaged in a mix
of "ordinary" criminal acts and in acts of political
and racial terrorism. The security police, however, strongly
resisted suggestions to combine the two institutions.
1996, the Swedish government finally appointed a committee
to survey "the tasks, guidance, and outline of the
intelligence service." The committee's task was to
evaluate the impact of the many changes in the international
environment, the impact of the new security agenda, and
resolve the problems inherited from the 1974 commission.
The committee, chaired by a leading jurist, included several
senior intelligence officials but no representatives from
the private sector or the universities. The committee's
findings were published in March 1999 in a lengthy document
that was fully declassified, in itself an important concession
to the necessity for increased openness in intelligence
committee's findings concerned the nature of the changes
in national security and the problems involved in redirecting
and coordinating national intelligence efforts. National
intelligence tasks had, the committee found, become increasingly
long-term, geographically remote, and more demanding of
analytic capability. Any changes, therefore, should result
in a more flexible national intelligence structure with
full competence in areas previously subordinated. But
first, achieving coordination and guidance was a primary
of coordination in the Swedish intelligence system had
been debated internally since the end of the Second World
War, but little had been decided and still less implemented.
The major reason was the strong inter-institutional rivalry
between the intelligence branches and the structures that
they served. The services fought for "their"
intelligence services; so did the joint defense staff,
the ministries of foreign affairs and defense, and the
state police. Although there were compelling arguments
for a centralized intelligence agency, the politicians
and senior military and civilian officials feared the
concentration of power in such an organization and the
subsequent lack of external control. Also, the problem
of inadequate political and legal control over the powerful
Security Police was still ongoing.
the 1996 committee was aware of the changes in the international
environment and thus the need for comprehensive intelligence
efforts in new fields, it failed to suggest any corresponding
institutional reform. On the contrary, the committee declared
itself satisfied with the existing order (influenced,
perhaps, by an internal clash between the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and the Military Intelligence Service
(MUST) over the crucial task of assessing future military
threats). Instead, the intelligence services should first
recruit analysts with broad competence; then they should
compensate them so that they stay in the service. But
with business intelligence offering higher salaries, it
is probably a vain hope.
most surprising, the 1996 committee dealt only marginally
with the topic of most concern to intelligence analysts;
that is, the future relationship between national intelligence
assets and goals and the growing number of serious non-state
intelligence entities. Much of the analytic capacity lacking
in the national intelligence services also existed in
the intelligence departments of the large corporations
and in the consulting firms employed by them and by the
major financial factors.
outcome of the Swedish reform process in the late 1990s
was not impressive. Sweden adopted an intelligence coordination
board similar to that which existed in Britain for decades
and in the US for most of the Cold War. The intelligence
community, therefore, consisted of the same institutions
created during the Second World War. Meeting the challenges
of complex international developments will thus continue
to be an issue of division of the labor, rather than one
of integral analysis.
a national intelligence system an illusion?
attempts to reform national intelligence systems in Sweden
and the other small and medium-sized European countries
are based on the implicit assumption that creating a new,
more appropriate system is possible. This may be so, at
least in theory. National intelligence systems were once
created to counter the extreme circumstances of the Second
World War and the effects of the Cold War. National security
and national decision-making in this period was fairly
one-dimensional and coherent, even in countries with an
export-oriented market economy.
business intelligence is still predominantly a component
in large corporations; there, the level of professional
skill is about even with and, in some instances, surpasses
the traditional national intelligence institutions. Beyond
doubt, the analytic capability and the skill to plan and
execute mission-oriented intelligence efforts are higher
in large corporations competing in the world markets.
If national intelligence institutions are to reform, they
must learn from and adapt to the experiences and methods
of professional business intelligence.
with long-term policy becoming less a restricted national
matter, so is national intelligence. Today, the European
Union is establishing a structure for crisis management
that includes the military capability to intervene in
ancillary conflicts not directly threatening member states.
I suspect this effort will fail if it does not include
- or rather is precluded by - the establishment of an
integrated European intelligence system for early warning
and evaluation of threats from local conflicts. Without
such a system, Union members must rely on the United States
for intelligence collecting, for intelligence analysis,
and also for policy recommendations. European attempts
to intervene in the successive Balkan crises of the 1990s
are replete with examples of the hazards that accompany
intelligence voids and an over-reliance on US estimates.
a national intelligence system feasible in a world where
international structures, security goals, and intelligence
agendas are inconstant and fluid? The answer must be no,
if national intelligence systems remain the type of omnipotent,
closed intelligence bureaucracies of the Cold War. The
answer could be yes if national intelligence is based
more on cooperation and networks, more on national goals
that are supported by information networks and by the
analytic competence of an internationalized economy and
society. True, the key functions of national intelligence
will still rely on specific institutions for coordination
and intelligence collection, especially in the field of
international crime prevention, counter-terrorism, and
the monitoring of incipient military threats. But to achieve
the ideal - insightful perception of the goings-on on
the international stage - still demands a surgical change
in intelligence priorities and attitude.