The Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) is not only spying on foreign military interests. Now Uppdrag Granskning is able to report that the Baltic region and civilian targets such as the Russian energy sector are also targets of the FRA’s espionage. The information is then shared with the United States, which expresses great appreciation for the Swedish contribution.
In documents drawn up for a meeting in April this year between the US intelligence agency NSA and the Swedish FRA show that Sweden is spying on Russian energy interests and the countries in “the Baltic region”. And that the information collected is passed on to the United States.
”Thank Sweden for its continued work on the Russian target, and underscore the primary role that FRA plays as a leading partner to work the Russian target, including Russian leadership, energy [REDACTED]. “FRA`s [REDACTED] access has resulted in unique SIGINT reporting on all of these areas”, NSA writes.
Civilian targets such as the energy sector are controversial for a government espionage organization to focus on but a source in the Swedish
intelligence service that Uppdrag Granskning talked to does not want to call the activities industrial espionage, even though they deal with private
companies. “Put it this way: there is a very obvious interest in looking at the Russian companies. That’s a part of our mission. What taps are available, what infrastructure. Long-term plans and short-term political decisions.”
Uppdrag granskning: Is this companies like Gazprom? “Gazprom is one possible… But there are many other, smaller players. Don’t
forget that we get an extreme amount of information back [from the US]; we’re not slaves.”
The NSA documents do not reveal what energy interests are of interest to the United States. No companies are mentioned by name, nor are specific installations.
The US government often states that the NSA and its espionage are necessities for US security, and that it differs from Russian and Chinese
espionage, which in the west is often claimed to specifically target economic interests.
However, several of the other documents that have turned up in material leaked by Edward Snowden show examples of similar espionage that is not related to military targets or combating terrorism.
In September this year, the Brazilian current affairs programme “Fantastico” from O Globo Television disclosed material from the NSA that revealed a secret operation called “Black Pearl”. Among other things, it targeted the national Brazilian oil company Petrobras, one of the world’s 30 largest companies.
The international bank network Swift, of which most international – and all Swedish – banks are members who use it to carry out large currency
transactions, is also a target of the NSA, according to material that Fantastico published.
One of Ericsson’s greatest competitors, the Chinese tech company Huawei, has also been targeted by the NSA’s espionage, according to the Brazilian TV network O Globo. Its programme showed an NSA training manual dated May 2012, which mentioned by name not only Huawei and Swift, but also a Saudi bank.
Huawei, one of the world’s largest companies, with over USD 35 billion in sales in 2012, said in a press release that they were “utterly disturbed”
about what they call these “illegal practices”.
But this is not just about espionage against the Russian leadership and the Russian energy sector. One of the documents, a top-secret report from the NSA’s Sweden desk, states that the FRA conducts: ”unique collection on …[REDACTED] the Baltic region include countering foreign intelligence and military.”
Another source in the Swedish intelligence service confirms to Uppdrag granskning that the Baltic region is a target for the FRA.
“The formulation ‘the Baltic region’ is difficult to interpret in any other way than as meaning the Baltic States, and likely also Poland, “our source says. “The FRA had a mission there when [the countries in] the Baltic region became free. They had a role to play in seeing where things were headed. Now they’ve found a new niche.” The source says with reference to the FRA’s tapping of the cable traffic from the Baltics and Russia, a large portion of which goes through Sweden.
Neighboring country Latvia is not surprised over the Swedish espionage, or the fact that the information is turned over to the US. “I would be upset if it was about spying on me, for example, but spying on Latvian territory, for example on Russian interests, that does not surprise me,” says Latvian defence minister Artis Pabriks to Uppdrag granskning. “I think most countries that have the capacity to do so, conduct espionage in Latvia. In addition, it’s important to us that our allies in the EU and NATO are aware of conditions here.”
On Friday, Artis Pabriks met with the Swedish Minister for Defence Karin Enström for discussions in Riga. According to Pabriks, the disclosures about the Swedish espionage against Russia were not on the agenda and Enström had nothing to say about the Swedish intelligence gathering activities in the Baltic region.
“No, we did not discuss that. It was a very good meeting,” says Pabriks. “We discussed security in the region.”
The FRA did not want to comment on the information that they are spying on civilian companies and neighboring EU countries.
Uppdrag granskning: According to information from the NSA’s internal documents, the FRA is spying on Russian energy interests, and sharing this
information with the US. “The FRA does not spy, we conduct intelligence gathering according to instructions from our Swedish principals,” says Fredrik Wallin, FRA spokesman. “This may include a variety of foreign-policy circumstances that are of interest to Swedish international, security and defence policy. But in general we cannot comment on this type of information regarding intelligence targets or our intelligence operations.”
Uppdrag granskning: the data from the NSA also show that the FRA is spying on Baltic nations and sharing that information with the US. “I cannot comment on that type of information either.”
Uppdrag granskning: But your answer does not rule out that you do spy on neighboring EU countries? “I cannot confirm or deny information about specific intelligence targets,” says Fredrik Wallin.
The NSA says in a written comment to SVT: “We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and the US
government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations"
CREDITS: Sven Bergman, Joachim Dyfvermark, Ryan Gallagher, Glenn Greenwald and Fredrik Laurin