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First public report on military intelligence: New police-like powers already in use

According to military intelligence, the growing importance of the Arctic is affecting defence operations in Finland's neighbouring areas.

Tietokoneita ja datakaapeleita serverisalissa.
New powers granted to military intelligence include monitoring of data traffic. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

The Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) issued its first-ever public review of military intelligence on Thursday. The report follows the passage of new laws on military and civilian intelligence, which came into force in 2019.

According to the Defence Forces, the new laws have strengthened the activities of the military intelligence, giving it tasks, targets and powers that are clearly defined by law. Some of the powers defined by law were already in use but others were new.

The report reveals few details about military intelligence and its operations, though.

Defence Forces intelligence operatives have begun exercising their new powers, but details of the methods used have not been made public.

The review says that military intelligence capabilities have increased as district courts has begun to set clear boundaries for information retrieval, for instance.

Article continues after photo

Rankin linnakesaaren eteläkärki, meritutka tähystämässä merelle.
A radar at the military island of Rankki, off Finland's southeast coast. Image: Jani Saikko / Yle

No further details of this were provided in the review. However, the wording gives the impression that district courts have not granted permission for all the uses requested by military intelligence or that they have demanded additional justification from the FDF.

The methods available are specified in the 2019 Act on Military Intelligence. Some of these secret means of obtaining information are similar to those used by police, including surveillance, cyber-intelligence, covert operations, wiretapping and other covert measures.

The legality of the methods is decided by district courts and their use is supervised by Intelligence Ombudsman Kimmo Hakonen. He took office nearly two years ago when the acts went into effect.

Military activity in nearby areas

According to the review, military operations in Finland's neighbouring areas have remained active during the coronavirus pandemic. The activity included military exercises, strategic bomber flights and naval manoeuvres.

Unusual events have included the social movement spurred by the disputed presidential election in Belarus, including demonstrations against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, which lasted for several months.

According to the Defence Forces, Russia has moved more powerful weapon systems into Finland's neighbouring areas. Russia's readiness to concentrate additional troops in the region have also increased, the report says.

The return of power politics

The review notes that power politics have returned to the European operating environment, and are causing tensions.

As has already been observed in the last decade, Russia has shown its ability and willingness to use armed force to achieve its goals in Europe as well, the FDF says.

In Finland's military operating environment, this can be seen in the increasing military significance of the Arctic regions, according to the review.

The review also highlights the shrinkage of the ice sheet caused by climate change, which is opening up seaways and facilitating the exploitation of new natural resource deposits. This, in turn, is leading to more competition for resources and influence between the states in the region.

In this regard the report points to developments such as Russia's decision to establish a fifth military district in its Arctic regions at the beginning of this year.

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