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Finland's Border Guard to get extra powers to fight 'little green men'

A new bill is set to grant the Finnish Border Guard additional powers and jurisdiction for use in hybrid warfare. Shooting down drones, bugging suspects and blocking mobile networks are all ways of combating so-called 'little green men'.

Rajavartijoita Nuijamaan raja-asemalla
Border Guard personnel on shift. Image: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

The Finnish Border Guard may get powers to fight international hybrid warfare, illegal immigration and people smuggling if a new bill goes through parliament. If the proposal becomes law, border guards will be authorised to employ the same assault tactics as police at border crossing stations, including use of military force.

The measures are intended to improve the Border Guard's defense capabilities against serious incidents at the border such as hostage situations or IT systems failure.

The Border Guard's legal chief of staff Ari-Pekka Koivisto says that the Crimean crisis involving "little green men" or unmarked foreign combatants was also a wake-up call for the organisation monitoring Finland's frontiers.

Border guards would essentially hold down the fort until the police arrive, should a serious incident take place.

"Hybrid threats typically escalate very quickly and are difficult to anticipate," says deputy commander Jaakko Olli from the South-East Finland Border Guard. "These new powers will allow us to react to situations quicker and more effectively, even in everyday conditions."

Under the new law-to-be the guards' jurisdiction would extend some hundreds of metres from border crossing points and other Border Guard assets.

Jamming mobile networks

The proposal includes giving the Border Guard the right to utilise covert information gathering techniques. One of the central means of acquiring info is tapping into mobile phone network base stations located near border crossing points.

Virvepuhelimen tukimasto
Jamming signals is part of hybrid warfare. Image: Kare Lehtonen/Yle

"In a hostage scenario it is important that we gain data on who and what to expect before we charge in," Koivisto says.

Guards could also use audio-visual monitoring to learn more about tactically significant areas. Sometimes mobile telecommunication networks can be silenced using jammers, which would make it harder for "little green men" to coordinate their missions.

"Shutting down teleoperations in an assault situation is a matter of Border Guard staff security," says Koivisto. "People trying to covertly circumvent our standard measures may use telecommunication channels that aren't connected to any specific teleoperator."

Only the Finnish authorities' encrypted Virve network would remain unaffected by jammers. Decisions to jam frequencies could also be authorised after the fact.

Drones, soldiers, transport

The Border Guard would also closely monitor the airspace along the border. Crisis powers would include the right to incapacitate low-flying drones and other unmanned aircraft using live rounds, in an effort to prevent spying.

Drone ilmassa
Drones may be shot out of the sky. Image: Kare Lehtonen / Yle

Border staff would also receive technology to locate and take control of drones.

One of the more conspicuous changes, if the bill were passed, would be that military conscripts could be used as backup. Only Border Guard-trained conscripts and students at the Border and Coast Guard Academy have so far been eligible as crisis support; that would change if the law were passed, as the Defense Forces could also send in the cavalry if needed.

The conscripts' tasks would be more carefully defined under the new system.

"Conscripts would mostly do routine work such as traffic control, monitoring individuals or conducting simple security checks," Koivisto says.

In addition, shipping companies, airlines and railway operators would have more responsibility should Finland decide to check the passports of people travelling to or from Estonia and Sweden, for instance. Passenger manifests would have to be delivered to the Border Guard in advance.

Any transport company that, knowingly or not, lets in a person with insufficient paperwork would be fined 3,000 euros for the error. The same company would also be responsible for repatriating the person(s) in question.

The bill will be discussed by Parliament in the autumn, and will come into effect in spring 2018 if passed.

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