In March 2022, the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) released its 80-page Yearbook 2021 which describes the current threat to Sweden. The detailed report available in Swedish has been reviewed by Majalla.
The Yearbook states that Sweden’s security is being challenged on many fronts and that Sweden is facing a wider, a more complex and rapidly changing threat from hostile states and violent extremism. The report explicitly points a finger at three foreign powers’ intelligence activities “Russia, China and Iran are the biggest threats to Sweden’s security,” the report reads.
It continues to state that these three countries “are still the main threats, and are now acting more offensively to promote their own interests, create spheres of interest and force other states to act as they want them to. In Russia’s case, this was obvious already prior to their invasion of Ukraine.”
Charlotte Von Essen, the head of the Swedish Security Service says “Sweden is under pressure. The Swedish Security Service can see how other countries are acting increasingly aggressively, trying to gain advantages to strengthen their position. This has an impact on Sweden’s economy, political decision-making, democratic rights and freedoms, and territorial sovereignty.”
This article will look at the threat Iran poses and how these threats have been manifested. Säpo’s detailed report claims that Iran is on the lookout to secure nuclear technology through illegal means. The report explains that the Islamic republic “conducts industrial espionage which is primarily aimed at the Swedish high-tech industry and Swedish products that can be used in a nuclear weapons program.” It added, “Iranian intelligence officers act, among other ways, under diplomatic cover in Sweden.”
The Iranian threat is complex and manifested in both legal and illegal activities, such as targeting Iranians living in Sweden as well as Sweden itself. The threat actors, meaning the Iranian agents, get their instructions from the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Among other methods, these agents act under diplomatic cover in Sweden and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to achieve their goals.
One of MOIS’s high priorities is the continued survival of the Iranian regime. Opposition groups in exile are considered as an internal threat that just happened to be located outside Iran’s borders. Such groups and people are in Sweden and hence they have been targeted by MOIS which has employed various methods to reach them, e.g., refugee espionage, collecting data, mapping and monitoring their activities and, in some cases, target assassinations.
The relationship between Iran and Sweden has often been a troubled one. In July 2022, in a landmark proceeding, Swedish prosecutors charged an Iranian with war crimes over the mass execution of prisoners in 1988. The man is Hamid Nouri, a former prison official and prosecutor, who was found guilty of torture, inhuman treatment and the killing of as many as 5,000 political prisoners in Gohardasht prison outside the Iranian city of Karaj. Iran strongly condemned the judgment and claimed it is “politically motivated.”
MOIS’S REFUGE ESPIONAGE
Iranians are one of Sweden’s largest minorities, accounting for over one percent of the population. According to available data there are about 100,000 Iranians living in Sweden. They started arriving from early 1980 and onwards, many of them were dissidents and have been exposed to a multi-pronged threat at the hand of Iranian agents. It became so severe that in 1993, the Swedish government expelled a number of Iranian diplomats for spying on Iranian dissidents.
The survival of the Iranian regime is a high priority for MOIS. Opposition groups in exile are considered as an internal threat that just happens to be located outside Iran’s borders. Sweden has been marked as one of those countries that are hosting individuals MOIS wishes to “deal” with. MOIS’s refugee espionage in Sweden is aimed at those individuals whom the Islamic Republic views as a threat.
In October 2015, a couple entered Sweden under the disguise that they are Afghani refugees. Though the couple did not have any identity papers, the Swedish Migration Agency awarded them political asylum. Their neighbors told the Swedish newspaper Expressen, that the couple’s windows at home were always covered and they could not see a thing. In April 2021, they were arrested by Säpo for planning an act of terrorism in Sweden, and it turned out that they were not Afghani nationals, but rather MOIS agents, according to unconfirmed reports.
In 2019, one person was convicted of refugee espionage in Sweden. On behalf of the Iranian State, the person unlawfully collected data about exiled Iranians in Sweden and abroad.
In late 2021, two Iranian brothers with Swedish citizenship were arrested by Säpo. The two brothers were born in Iran and entered Sweden as children in 1994. They were both accused of spying for the Islamic Republic of Iran from 2011 until their arrests in September and November of 2021. They are currently kept in strict isolation and their trial is expected to take place in the coming months, but it will not be open to the public.
The two brothers’ arrest is a grim reminder of the extent to which Iran is willing to go. The older brother is named Peyman Kia, now 42 years old, and said to have worked as an intelligence investigator at Säpo. He also worked for the Office for Special Acquisition (KSI), which is part of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) and is one of the most secretive intelligence units within the Swedish Armed Forces. The main task of KSI is that of liaison with foreign intelligence organizations and espionage through human intelligence (HUMINT). The younger brother Payam, 35 years old, previously studied at the Swedish Police College and worked for a brief period for Säpo.
Previous Swedish Security Service Yearbooks also noted that Sweden has been targeted by Iran, and assess that the intelligence threat will continue to increase. Yearbook 2020 describes that hostile states target commercial actors, technology, research and development, and are life-threatening to those people who have sought refuge in Sweden. It continues to declare that hostile states will also continue to try to influence Swedish political positions.
In 2021, 2020 and the years before, Säpo has continuously viewed Iran as a hostile state and saw it as the most serious intelligence threat to Sweden alongside Russia and China. Säpo’s report findings of 2021 are similar to 2020 in that both reports allege that Iran is involved in illegal activity in Sweden and that Iran is dedicated in its efforts to secure tech for nuclear weapons. The report of 2020 noted, “Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden.”
The Iranian nuclear agreement is within striking distance. If an agreement is reached with Iran, it would require Iran to deliver on its obligations such as reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium, installing cameras in its nuclear installations and reporting its activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the countries that are party to the agreement such as U.S, UK, France, Germany and China and others must lift their diplomatic and economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran since 2012. In this regard, we are talking about sanctions relief worth over $100 Billon.
It is obvious that the Islamic Republic of Iran is engaging in hostile activities in mainland Europe, US and the Middle East. Various intelligence agencies and governments have accused the Iranians of supplying rockets and drones to various armed militias in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza and the West Bank. Iran is also accused of supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, weapons they used to target cities in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Israel along with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and other countries strongly oppose the prospective deal because it does not put a permanent halt to Iran’s nuclear program and the agreement’s provisions cannot be easily enforced. Moreover, the $100 billon of sanctions relief would give the Iranians the financial means to further fund and expand its army of proxies in the Middle East and continue with its illegal activities, be it in Sweden or any other part of the world. The question is why Biden sleepwalking to sign this disastrous deal?