August 18, 2017

Finland at "elevated" threat level after Barcelona attack


Finland's Security Intelligence Service (Supo) says the agency has not received any indication which would lead them to believe that Thursday's terror attacks in Spain had any links to individuals in Finland. The agency also says it has not raised Finland's threat assessment level following the attacks.

File photo of crowds alongside the Aura River in Turku during July's Tall Ships Races. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

Following the terror attacks in Spain on Thursday, the security service Supo said on Friday that Finland's threat assessment level remains at level two, meaning that according to the agency there continues to be an "elevated" risk of a terror attack in the country.

The security agency uses a four-tiered terror threat level assessment scale:

1. Low

2. Elevated

3. High

4. Severe

Pekka Hiltunen, a research specialist at Supo, says the agency uses three main factors in determining the level of danger posed to the country.

"Our assessment of the threat level is always based on three factors: the operative information we have, how radicalised elements view Finland, and current trends in terrorist incidents," Hiltunen explained.

"At the moment we do not see a change which would make it necessary for us to change our overall assessment," he said.

On the other hand - pointing to this week's terror attacks in Spain which claimed 13 lives and injured more than one hundred - Hiltunen says that the threat posed to Europe as a whole remains acute.

He said the terrorists in those incidents were aimed at targets similar to attacks in the recent past; such as places filled with tourists and large public events.

Hiltunen says that Spain has long had a relatively high threat level. In 2004, train bombings in Madrid killed 192 people.

Too early to draw conclusions

"The country has been attacked before. It's also been widely known that threats have been directed towards tourist destinations," he said.

Hiltunen said that people should not be making any far-reaching assumptions about the attacks at this time.

"We still don't know if the [attackers] were from two different groups - where one group's [attempted] attack was triggered by the other attack, or they may have attacked earlier than originally planned. Or they may have been coordinated attacks," he said.

The terror group IS has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Spain, but Hiltunen said that Spanish officials need to complete their investigation before any conclusion that the group was actually behind the attacks

Finnish intelligence warns foreign powers targeting young politicians

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service Supo says foreign powers are intensifying efforts to recruit young Finnish politicians and businesspeople before they reach positions of power. In its 2016 report the agency says that the terror threat has also increased as the flow of jihadi fighters to and from conflict zones stepped up.

Suojelupoliisin päällikkö Antti Pelttari Supon tiedotustilaisuudessa
Supo Director Antti Pelttari Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Finland's Security Intelligence Service, better known as Supo, says in its annual report that Finnish politicians and decision-makers are under pressure from foreign intelligence agencies at ever-younger ages.

Supo only mentions Russia once in the report, at the start, where it says that "especially Russia sees Finland as an interesting intelligence target but also other major powers find our country important".

The agency says young people in Finland in particular are the target of foreign intelligence recruiters, especially those that are expected to rise to prominent positions in commerce and politics.

"This is an example of state-run intelligence activity having long-term horizons," according to the Supo report. Supo noted that it had "been forced to interfere" in the activities of certain intelligence agencies.

In a step-by-step guide to recruiting agents, Supo explains that intelligence officers first carry out a thorough analysis of their needs, after which they select a target with access to information. Next, that person is assessed according to their strengths and weaknesses to determine the likelihood that he or she could be persuaded to work for the benefit of a foreign state. When this stage is completed, they establish contact and build up a friendship, leading to the last phase: recruitment.

Pelttari would not comment on how many cases of this kind there have been in recent years.

"I won't take a position on the details, but it is an on-going operation on the part of intelligence services of foreign governments," he told Yle.

Cyber espionage a major concern

There have been no espionage convictions in Finland for years, nor have any spying investigations been conducted - as far as anyone knows.

Supo's 2016 Yearbook also devotes a chapter to the spread of cyber espionage, noting a "sharp increase" in visible activity against Finland's foreign and security policy, comprehensive espionage priorities and the abuse of Finnish data networks in espionage targeting third countries. The agency says the most observations were linked to the APT28/Sofacy attack, which made no effort to cover its tracks. They say more "key people" are also at risk in Finland of illegitimate intelligence gathering.

The leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported more on the Sofacy connection, saying that the report was the first time the Finnish Security Intelligence Service had of its own initiative spoke of Russian cyber espionage directed at Finland.

Sofacy also operates under the names Fancy Bear and Strontium, and the APT28 software Supo names is the same that was found in the US Democratic Party networks in May 2016 ahead of the presidential elections. The emails and voicemails that were retrieved – most of which dealt with the Clinton campaign – were then forwarded to Wikileaks.

Systematic cyber espionage via APT28 has been linked by US intelligence to Russian interference in the elections in the US, along with the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and additional sanctions on Russian intelligence services, says HS.

Terrorist attacks and jihadist fighters

Although there have been no terrorist attacks in Finland, Supo says structures supporting terrorist activity have emerged in Finland, and breaking the links to young potential movers and shakers is one way to prevent this.

The agency reports that over 80 adults and dozens of children travelled to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq in 2016, and this problem too is expected to grow, as jihadist fighters from Finland have given the radical Islamists a better knowledge of Finland. 

A textbook example

The tabloid Iltalehti reports on Friday about one specific incident of targeting, as young Finns Party firebrand Sebastian Tynkkynen responded to a Suomen Kuvalehti story in which he said he was "very aggressively pursued" by Russian intelligence.

He clarified for the tabloid that he never specifically said that the foreign country applying the pressure was Russia, and asked the SK reporter Pekka Ervasti to correct his Thursday story accordingly.

"When I saw the story, I asked that the error be corrected before it was published, but he refused to fix it. I don't know why; perhaps he had such a strong preconceived notion about what country it could be. It feels wrong that he put the words in my mouth," Tynkkynen said.

A former Finns Party youth branch chair, Tynkkynen told SK that he attended an Arctic camp organised by Russia a few years ago.

"We were in Tver [northwest of Moscow], and I was the only participant from Finland. There were plenty of others from Sweden, Norway, the US and Canada. We discussed topics like the future of the Arctic Sea, and the pros and cons of oil drilling in the region," he said.

He would not confirm to Iltalehti if his trip to Russia was connected to the supposed foreign connections he discussed with Supo. He was tight-lipped about the Supo encounter in general, but praised Finland's intelligence agency for the work it does.

"I'm worried about how weak Supo's operational resources are in light of what they could be doing, especially when we know that there have been attempts to influence Finland's youth politics. Supo has done extraordinarily good work for the amount of resources it has," Tynkkynen told the tabloid

Radical Islamic networks have an increasingly strong presence in Finland, Jyri Rantala, the head of communications at the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo), estimates in an interview with Talouselämä.

“We could even say that a ‘jihadist underworld’ is emerging in Finland. These networks have ties to all key terrorist organisations,” he said.

Supo estimates in its official terrorist threat assessment that the risk of an individual attack carried out by a lone-wolf terrorist or a small jihadist organisation has increased in Finland. Rantala reveals that the risk has risen partly as a consequence of the so-called foreign fighter phenomenon, which has contributed to the country’s recognisability among terrorist organisations.

Supo has urged decision-makers to enhance the ability of security authorities to obtain information crucial for preventing possible attacks.An estimated 80 people are believed to have travelled from Finland to conflict-ridden regions in Iraq and Syria, primarily to participate in the hostilities. More than a dozen of them have later returned to Finland, according to Supo.

Rantala reminded on Thursday that while international intelligence co-operation also yields information concerning Finland, activities concerning the country are not the top priority for any other country.

He concedes that in spite of the efforts to combat terrorism, identifying and arresting individual suspects is extremely difficult. The so-called Islamic State, for example, has instructed its sympathisers to resort to measures that do not require painstaking planning or preparations, such as the lorry and knife attacks that have recently occurred around Europe.

*This is June Report,*

Supo raises terror threat level in Finland


Finland remains one of the safest countries in the world despite the heightened terror threat, reminded Antti Pelttari, the director of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo).


The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) has raised its terror threat level to the second lowest level of elevated.

Supo on Wednesday estimatedthat the threat of a terrorist attack is higher than ever before in Finland due to the country’s increased visibility in jihadist propaganda and the ever-closer ties of counter-terrorism persons of interest to terrorist activities.

The threat, it reminded, continues to be posed primarily by lone-wolf terrorists and small terrorist groups influenced by radical propaganda or larger terrorist organisations.

Supo said it has identified approximately 350 individuals as counter-terrorism persons of interest, a number that represents an increase of roughly 80 per cent since 2012 and that is projected to continue growing as a consequence of radicalisation and the emergence and detection of new terrorist networks.

Such persons of interest are believed to have more direct and serious links to terrorist activities and include a growing number of people who have either participated or expressed a willingness to participate in armed conflicts, or participated in terrorist training.

Supo’s updated threat assessment indicates that some of the people who have left Finland to participate in armed conflicts in Iraq and Syria have risen to influential positions in, especially, the so-called Islamic State.

Supo also revealed that is has become aware of more serious terrorism-related plans and projects in Finland.

Finland’s position has changed substantially, Pekka Hiltunen, a special researcher at Supo, summarised in a press conference according to Helsingin Sanomat.

The country, he pointed out, was previously regarded as neutral and remained relatively unknown among terrorist organisations. Today, however, it is portrayed in jihadist propaganda, which is also disseminated in Finnish, as a country that is hostile towards the so-called Islamic State – a fact that has increased the likelihood of an attack in Finland.

Another factor contributing to the heightened threat level is the fact that terrorist organisations have widened the range of their possible targets. “Efforts are made to direct attacks against all states and groups that are regarded as hostile. This increases the threat of attacks in Finland,” writes Supo.

The new four-tier terrorist threat scale was adopted to reflect the continuing changes in the operating environment of counter-terrorism, told Antti Pelttari, the director of Supo. The new scale, which measures the threat of a terrorist attack on a scale ranging from low to severe, will according to him enable Supo to inform people of the current threat level more clearly than before.

“Finland remains one of the safest countries in the world. We’re doing everything we can to make sure the situation stays unchanged,” he reminded on Wednesday.

Supo issued its previous terrorist threat assessment in November, 2015. It at the time estimated that the threat of an isolated violent attack had increased but that the threat of an organised attack by a terrorist organisation remained low.