Following in the footsteps of a scandal where the Swedish Security Police Säpo was discovered to have wasted half a million taxpayer euros on a James-Bond-themed internal party, the government has classified all economic records of the Säpo – down to the coffee change jars.
The Swedish Security Police, Säpo, doesn’t exactly have a stellar record in the eyes of the public. From having been called “Sweden’s most incompetent organization”, via failing to protect the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs both from being murdered, to being indicted for serious violation of constitutional privacy safeguards recently – but where they were found to be too incompetent to even stand trial (!!!) – they’ve now been caught with the hand in the cookie jar spending half a million euros of taxpayer money playing James Bond.
When Sweden’s largest daily, the Dagens Nyheter, requested the result sheets of the Säpo for 2010 and 2011 to investigate further, the Minister of Justice responded by classifying all economic records of the organization, down to and including petty change spent on coffee, as secret due to “national security”.
(A result sheet is a bookkeeping document that lists the sums of all expenditures per type: how much was spent on taxi, air travel, phone calls, phone taps, and so on. It is issued as part of the closing of the books for a fiscal year.)
This is remarkable for four reasons.
First, an organization whose reputation is so tarnished – no, shredded – as the Swedish Säpo needs a metric ton of strong sunlight to restore its reputation, even if it means that you would find more and more and more dirt from where we stand today. Eventually, the strong light won’t find any more dirt, and at that point, the healing process begins – even if the way to that point can be painful (and probably will be). An organization with as much state-sanctioned violence at its disposal as the security police must always and continuously be held to scrutiny and accountability.
Second, Sweden has a history of priding itself on being default transparent. The Mitt Romney kerfuffle, where people nagged him to release his tax return forms, could never have happened in Sweden: there, everybody’s tax forms are public, so if somebody’s running for office, anybody and everybody can request their current and historic income records from the Tax Authority to check for conflicts of interest.
Any document written by, or received at, any authority in Sweden becomes a public document. It needs to be explicitly classified as secret, and for good reason (on paper), to be taken out of the accountability-holding pool. (You may recall how this was used in the early 1990s by Zenon Panoussis et al to make the ridiculous Scientology Papers public – he just mailed them to Swedish Parliament.)
Sweden has fought for this principle in the European Union, which is generally default opaque, and where eurocrats would generally like Sweden to import the principle of a political, unaccountable nobility.
Third, this shows a routine carelessness with classifying documents as secret that obviously can’t be sensitive to national security. While there may be contemporarily valid reasons to classify parts of the Säpo result sheet, the total cost of coffee obviously can’t be sensitive. To see Sweden’s minister of Justice defend this secrecy comes across as political-nobility arrogant.
Fourth, this is an obvious attempt to escape accountability (and culpability) by the Säpo which doesn’t look good at all, on top of an already-shredded reputation. Oldmedia, newmedia and everyday citizens have more than a right to hold their elected leaders and authorities accountable; they have a duty to do so.
Classifying careless and extravagant party expenditures on the taxpayer’s cent as sensitive to national security is not worthy of a transparent, accountable government.