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Defence Forces file criminal complaint over newspaper's intelligence story

The Finnish Defence Forces' Defence Command has filed a criminal complaint regarding the disclosure of security intelligence data to Finland's most widely-read newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. The paper featured a story on a top secret intelligence research centre on Saturday

Image: Ari Lahti / AOP

The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat ran a feature story on Saturday, December 16 that shed some light on the Defence Forces' Intelligence Research Centre (Viestikoekeskus), whose operations have been shrouded in mystery in Finland. President Sauli Niinistö released a statement the same day saying that the leak of the classified security information can be considered a criminal offense.

"The disclosure of highly classified security intelligence documents is a critical affront to our security and can cause serious damage," the President's statement reads. 

Defence Minister agrees

Finland's Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö – no relation to the President – told Yle later in the day that the charge is a serious matter.

"I'm not aware of the full scale of the leak, but what we read in Helsingin Sanomat this morning – the fact that the newspaper published highly classified documents – is always a serious issue, as it can have an impact on national security and Finland's relations with other countries," he said.

He says Finland's Defence Command has submitted a request for a criminal investigation of the leak to the National Bureau of Investigation. He also clarified that the Defence Forces were already aware that the leak had taken place.

"Today the Defence Command expanded its investigation inquiry to include the journalists involved in the leak of the classified data. The Defence Forces are working in accordance with the law, but is Helsingin Sanomat? That is the question," the minister said to Yle.

Rule of law

The Defence Minister says the purpose of the investigation is to determine if a felony has occurred.

"If an illegal act is determined to have taken place, the crime must be sanctioned. This is how things are done in a country that observes the rule of law," Minister Niinistö said.

MP Ilkka Kanerva heads Finland's parliamentary defence committee. He says that the leak demands an investigation, but also calls attention to a need for better protection of classified data in cyberspace.

Kanerva says the leak will also likely substantially affect parliamentary preparation of amendments to Finland's intelligence laws, which are scheduled to commence in early 2018.

HS editor replies

Esa Mäkinen, editor at Helsingin Sanomat, explained in a column late Saturday afternoon that the newspaper decided to make the data public in line with its primary duty to inform.

"The most important task of the media is to monitor and control the activities of the authorities. HS is responsible for supplying its readers with sufficient truthful information about what is happening in society," he wrote.

The editor makes the case that the residents of Finland, and even its MPs, know very little about the centre that was reported on in the article, and so the paper felt compelled to share the data it had obtained.

Mäkinen wrote in his column that "if you want to say more than the official data, you have to rely on classified information".

He also points out that as intelligence agencies in Finland are now being granted larger operational scopes, it falls to the media to keep even closer track of their activities.


EDIT 16.12 The headline and lead of this story originally suggested that President Sauli Niinistö's office had filed the criminal complaint over Helsingin Sanomat's story. In fact the complaint was filed by the Defence Command, which is the joint command headquarters of Finland's military.

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