Sweden: How an inquiry into the security services was undermined



Statewatch bulletin, vol 10 no 5

In December 1997 the Swedish government gave the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSFR) the task of carrying out an in- depth research project on the Swedish military security and intelligence (MUST) from 1920 up to the beginning of the 1980s - a five year programme at a cost of 20 million Swedish kroner. A report "Truth and Consequence", published in Swedish in August, tells the story of the major differences in seriousness "with which Swedish power handles these questions and, for example, the MacDonald Commission in Canada and the Lund Commission in Norway." Full text of the report (pdf)

The decision by the government to commission a special research programme was taken at the time of a "lively and politically inflamed discussion" fuelled by a series of major revelations - the IB (Swedish Military Intelligence Service) affair, the hospital spy affairs and the Leander affair (see Statewatch, vol 7 no 6 and vol 8 nos 1 & 5). The parallels with the Norwegian situation led to major calls for a similar "truth commission" in Sweden. The Lund report showed that surveillance and bugging of the left (many of whom were interviewed) had been run for years by the security police, the military intelligence service and the Social Democratic Party. The government financed project thus posed many basic questions for the researchers, the major one being how much access to the files and data would they be given and could it achieve the same results?

The research programme did not quell demands for a commission, it simply highlighted the real issues. The government tried to claim that the Official Secrets Act would not stand in the way of access to archives, "it goes without saying that researchers should have access to the archives... the responsible authorities [would be instructed] to assist the researchers [and] to adopt an extremely open attitude." Critics said that the project was "a fairly shameless attempt to use research for tactical political purposes, as a weapon against the call for a truth commission". Early in 1998 the government decided that the Intelligence Committee of the Armed Forces (FUN) should carry out a parallel investigation - a move seen by the Prime Minister Göran Persson and two senior ministers, Carl Bildt and Olof Johansson, as an alternative to a "truth commission" and as a "complement" to the research programme. It transpired that the research project would be given no access to the interviews carried out by the Committee nor to classified inventories of material.

As to access to material the researchers were to be frustrated at every turn. Most documents were refused, "ask the government for permission", some supplied with whole sections and pages blanked out and without full inventories of all the material in the files whole categories of documents were withheld. They found that 90% of the material on the 1970s and 1980s was classified and that anyway SÄPO (the security police) had too few staff to check the material before it could be released. The agencies put up every excuse to delay or deny access and protests to the various ministries brought no change.

In November 1998 the FUN committee report was published but did little to satisfy public demand for a proper investigation, so in January 1999 the government proposed setting up an "examining commission" on the same issue (but with a brief covering from the Second World War to August 2001). Importantly the Minister of Justice, Laila Freivalds, emerged as the key obstacle to any meaningful cooperation.

At about the same time Janne Flyghed, one of the key researchers, resigned from the project saying: "If we are not given the chance freely to study the material, there is a risk that our research will be part of a cover-up project." In June 1999 Dennis Töllborg, one of the key researchers and long- standing critic of the security services, said he could no longer take a salary from the project: "You cannot really take a salary when the subject of your research is blocked with such force and by such forces."

The research project and the commission's work is continuing their different remits and cooperation unresolved. On 21 September Laila Freivalds, the Minister of Justice, resigned over a strange affair concerning the purchase of an apartment.

"Truth and consequence" presents a fascinating account of the dilemma of academic researchers, their tenacity in getting information against the odds, and the fact that state-funded work can rarely be separated from the politics of the "real world" governments and state officials seem to believe their own "spin". Academics and students, activists and researchers, should read the full report.

The full text of the report "Truth and consequence" by Professor Christer Jönsson, translated and comments by Professor Dennis Töllborg, September 2000: Full text of the report (pdf)