Earlier documents put in context with recent revelations show that Sweden has been systematically wiretapping Russia on behalf of the United States. This is clear after putting a number of previous questionable agreements and developments in context today. The question that remains is what Sweden gets in return.
The story begins with a reporter’s feature in 2005 about the secretive Swedish intelligence agency FRA, Försvarets Radioanstalt, translated loosely to National Defense Radio Establishment. The story of Echelon had just broke, and the reporter Martin Jönsson dug far below the dirty surface. One thing that comes across in this new context is this passage:
The NSA is the largest intelligence organization of the United States of America and of the world. [...] The NSA is the center of the wiretapping network, where the FRA is also plays a part. The NSA is considerably larger than the CIA, and is targeted at signals intelligence. It operates planet-wide through wiretapping stations on the ground, on aircraft, on ships, and on satellites. Through an agreement from early Cold War days, there are close ties to the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. One of the common computer systems, Echelon, has erroneously come to be used synonymously with the entire surveillance network.
It’s also important to note just how deep the rabbit hole goes in the cooperation between the Swedish FRA and the U.S. NSA, and how questionable the real allegiance of the FRA is. A former Navy captain recalls when he had had FRA troops on board (part of the story):
“They had important information they didn’t share with the Swedish Defense. We were developing countermeasures against Soviet missiles to protect our ships. At that point, the FRA had detailed information about the missiles in question; information they had received from the Americans. They didn’t give it to the Navy, and that was to protect their source, the NSA. It was more important to protect the cooperation with the NSA than it was to protect Swedish lives and interests.”
We know since the Echelon debate that the key players in the NSA wiretapping network are known to be five countries – the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Early 2007, reports surfaced in media that Sweden would get access to U.S. information and security research through an “exclusive agreement”, where Sweden would be “the sixth country”. This was a very conspicuous wording, but makes sense in context. According to the media reports, the agreement between Sweden and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be signed “late March”.
At the same time, a horrible piece of legislation had appeared in Sweden. Known as the FRA law, it allowed and mandated wiretapping of everything if it happened to cross Sweden’s borders at some point – web surfing, phone calls, mail, video conferences, the works. It was a violation of constitutionally and conventionally guaranteed privacy rights on every conceivable level. It changed the standard from “you have a right to expectation of privacy” to “for all intents and purposes, you are always wiretapped”.
There were huge protests against the wiretapping law at the time, in no small amount coordinated by myself and other pirate activists. With the administration having a very narrow parliamentary majority, the media drama logic was perfect. Unfortunately, the administration won, and the law passed – but I’ve learned since that the protests outside Parliament on that day really shook the administration to the core. To no avail, unfortunately.
“If we’re coordinating, it’s a rally, and we would need a permit, which we won’t get since it’s on the steps of Parliament. I’m going there as a private individual, completely unorganized. And then, perhaps a couple thousand other people are doing the same thing, how would I know?”
Back to the Sweden-U.S. security agreement:
As the Minister of Defense Odenberg signed the security cooperation agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the debate intensified in Sweden, to the point where the U.S. Embassy took an interest in the FRA law (according to the WikiLeaks cables).
Media reacted to this, and asked pertinent and important questions at the time, none of which got a response. In a piece titled “A deal with Washington is not a tea party“, one of Sweden’s largest dailies were sharply critical. Other newspapers, and the entire cadre of bloggers, echoed that sentiment.
Some time later, the actual agreement leaked through an unknown mechanism. It states that the U.S. and Sweden are basically to share surveillance and wiretapping data for security purposes, and much more. (Do note that the metadata of the document says it’s an agreement between Australia and the U.S., suggesting that there is a similar agreement in place between those countries, and that the metadata remained after the U.S. re-edited the agreement for Sweden.)
“The objective of this Agreement is to establish a framework to encourage, develop and facilitate bilateral Cooperative Activity in science and technology that contributes to the homeland security capabilities of both Parties in: a) the prevention and detection of, response to, and forensics and attribution applied to, terrorist or other homeland security threats and/or indicators [...] The Parties shall seek to achieve the objectives [...] by means which may include, but are not limited to: a) facilitating a systematic exchange of technologies, personnel, and information derived from or applied to similar and complementary operational Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation; b) collaborating to develop technologies and prototype systems that assist in countering present and anticipated terrorist actions in their respective territories and other homeland threats that satisfy their common strategic interests and requirements” [etc]
Back to the FRA law. The concept of wiretapping everybody warrantlessly all the time was hugely controversial (rightly so), and the administration tried to justify it with every trick in the book. Among the less credible attempts was the statement that the wiretapping was necessary to protect our troops in Afghanistan against insurgents there. The obvious counterquestion – why on this green Earth insurgents in Afghanistan would use e-mail and phonecalls over Swedish servers – was met with a telling silence.
Then, Swedish media broke the story of what the FRA law was for: wiretapping Russia. 80% of all international Russian internet traffic passes through Sweden, making it an ideal wiretapping point if you want to keep tabs on an adversary. It made perfect sense. It was still a violation of fundamental privacy rights, but at least it made sense, especially in combination with the high-profile data-sharing agreement.
“TeliaSonera has one of the world’s biggest global fiberoptic cable networks. The company maps show that the cabling is routed so all traffic to and from Russia goes through Sweden. All Russian mail and phonecalls abroad go through Stockholm, regardless of where the recipients are located.”
The administration protested loudly against those media breaks at the time, stating that the reports “hurt Swedish security”. That language is familiar by now.
Putting it all together, Sweden is wiretapping Russia for the NSA, and has been doing so since the FRA law took effect in Sweden. The FRA agency is continuously wiretapping Russia based on the agreement signed in April, 2007, and sharing the data with the NSA.
In this context, it is no coincidence that Sweden and the UK, as the only two European countries, recently chose to block EU investigations into U.S. wiretapping of European officials and industries.