As Sweden battles for the extradition of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks cables on the country's close co-operation with the US are provoking a public backlash.
The text revealed Washington's push to influence Swedish wiretapping laws so communication passing through the Scandinavian country can be intercepted. Now Sweden is bugged and wiretapped – at the behest of the US.
The Swedish intelligence service, the FRA, has the power to monitor and intercept all internet traffic in the country. And thanks to leaked US State Department cables, we now know the controversial law was adopted after pressure from Washington. And the security services were deliberately kept out of the process to reassure Swedes there was no “funny business”.
“Forced to operate under strict data storage and protection laws for Swedish citizens, they [FRA] are concerned that the public may perceive their involvement as an attempt to work around these restrictions by using a foreign intermediary (the United States), thus poisoning any chance for success,” US State Department cable (UNCLAS Stockholm 000704) goes on.
The US interest is clear. Eighty per cent of all the internet traffic from Russia travels through Sweden. And from there, to America.
Swedish MP Christian Engstrom explained the set-up. “It was mentioned by the government representatives that ‘No, the purpose is not to spy on Swedes, it's to monitor, among other things, Russian transit traffic.’”
But what kind of information are they after?
“I think the information that is made accessible to special services by this law is, of course, sensitive and there are ways it can harm Russia’s political interests,” head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev believes.
The law has been slammed by some as “the most far-reaching eavesdropping plan in Europe,” and prompted widespread protests ahead of its implementation. Cables also suggest the Swedish government was colluding with the US to avoid involving the public at all costs.
“The agreement may have to be presented to Parliament under a vague constitutional requirement for ‘matters of great importance’. If so, the process will take considerably longer and be subject to public scrutiny, something the Government of Sweden will want to avoid. As the Ministry of Justice continues to analyze the proposed text, it is also considering how to craft an arrangement that will avoid the need for parliamentary review,” says US State Department cable (UNCLAS Stockholm 000704).
“There is no parliamentary control of what the FRA does, and of course the public in Sweden has even less control,” Christian Engstrom says. “Much of the pressure comes from the US and the copyright industries, and the Swedish government is more than happy to do whatever these American corporations ask through the American government,” Swedish MP revealed.
Judging from the dates on the leaked cables, while Sweden was debating whether to pass the bill, the Americans were already negotiating with the Swedish authorities on what kind of information they wanted.
“They [the Swedish Ministry of Justice] see your October 23 meeting as an opportunity to seek precise details on the type of information the United States wants and overall aim of the agreement,” the same cable informed.
And it is clear that the US ended up getting what it was after – at least in terms of information on the 80 per cent of Russian internet traffic that passes through Sweden.
“Our intelligence co-operation with Sweden on Russia is excellent,” acknowledged another cable (Stockholm 00000266 002 of 003). “DIA Director Lieutenant-General Burgess will be here next week for exchanges with the Swedes on Russia and other topics.”
Now it is not just information on Russia that the US is after from Sweden. America is reportedly carrying out its own investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the source of all this information about the deal, to see if it can bring espionage charges. If it can, and applies to Sweden for Assange’s extradition, all this close co-operation we have seen may mean his feet will not touch the ground in Stockholm.