This morning Finland’s (and the Nordic countries’) largest daily Helsingin Sanomat published what they claim is the first of a series of articles dealing with Finnish military intelligence. This is not in itself strange or unheard of, as Finland is set to receive new legislature regarding intelligence gathering aimed at both foreign and internal targets. The issue which has caused significant waves is that it is based on an “extensive material” including Secret and Top Secret documents, the two highest classifications in the Finnish four-stage classification system.
No, there’s not a link to the article. That’s an editorial decision on my part.
This has naturally caused quite an outrage, including comments from both major-general Ohra-Aho (chief of military intelligence), minister of defence Jussi Niinistö, and president Sauli Niinistö. The National Bureau of Investigation (Fi. Keskusrikospoliisi) has also started two investigations, regarding both the leak itself as well as against Helsingin Sanomat regarding if classified information that may damage Finnish national defence and security have been illegally published or shared with the general public.
My understanding is that both are prosecuted according to Finnish criminal law’s chapter 12 ‘Crimes related to treason’, 7§ ‘Disclosure of State Secret’, which cover both publishing and transferring such information that is classified or “of the nature that its disclosure is likely to cause serious damage to Finland’s national defense, security, foreign affairs, or the national economy”.
The article itself is surprisingly thin on new information. While technically everything about the Signals Research Center (Fi. Viestikoekeskus) is indeed secret, as confirmed by the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court a number of years back, in practice it is usually identified as the Finnish Defence Forces main SIGINT/ELINT unit. The other major pieces of ‘news’ in the piece, such as that of Russia being seen as the main possible adversary, is not new either. Neither is it news that the Finnish intelligence community would like the new legislation to include allowing interception of computer traffic under certain circumstances.
It should be remembered that Finland lacks any kind of clear-cut legislation regarding what the military intelligence is allowed to do, and as far back as 2013 when the work on the new legislation was started, then-chief of defence general Puheloinen expressed a wish for a law regarding military intelligence, as it would provide parliamentary oversight and rules for what the service could and couldn’t do, and thus provide increased transparency. This push from within the service to get away from the current case of “we figure it out ourselves” to a proper legal framework is completely overlooked in the article, which instead wants to focus on the fact that the law would likely give broader intelligence gathering authority to the service.
Helsingin Sanomat naturally defends the publication with calls for added transparency, and that the Finnish public should be allowed to know “at least as much” as foreign intelligence services about Finnish intelligence gathering (though the citizens right to know comes with a price tag, as the article is paywalled).
The managing editor Mäkinen also claims that the documents have been treated with the proper care, a statement which falls on the simple fact that the handling of Secret/Top Secret papers require every event to be logged, copies need to be traced, and they can’t be transferred outside the networks set up by the authorities, just to mention a few of the requirements (the short way to look at this is that it is illegal to run around with confidential material unless you are entrusted with them).
Another defence brought up by the paper is that the details given are of such a mundane nature that they won’t damage Finnish security. Indeed, much of the use made of the material is just namedropping memos and dates to dramatic effect without any proper analysis, and much of the acquire material seems to be rather old. However, while I am inclined to reluctantly agree when it comes to the information itself, Mäkinen doesn’t seem to realise the bizarre Catch-22 this throws their decision to print the article into. If the information gathered from the classified material is of such little value, why then break the law to publish it?
It certainly is possible to make a good, proper, article on Finnish military intelligence based on open sources and interviews. It might even be called for in light of the current debate on what by now is likely one of the most thoroughly prepared pieces of legislation in Finnish history. However, the feeling one gets from the current attempt by HS is largely one of cheap tabloid stories, trying to sell a story thin on anything substantial by sprinkling it with the allure of Top Secret-information.
I’ll leave the last word to Helsinki mayor and legal professional Jan Vapaavuori: ”
I learned as a young assistant in the 90’s that leaking confidential papers may get you fired, but leaking secret papers will get you to the courtroom.”