Without as much as a whisper in the media, the Swedish intelligence agency SÄPO quitely switched employers on New Year’s day. I would have missed it myself, if not for some alert Facebook users sounding the alarm.
SÄPO, Säkerhetspolisen, translates to “Security Police” and has been the covert backbone of Swedens police force protecting the citizens against terrorists and extremist plots for decades. Like all police, they were at least in theory unpolitical, with citizen safety being the only concern.
Well, not anymore. On Jan 1, SÄPO was separated from the regular branches of the police. They no longer answer to the public, but instead report directly to the minority government.
This is a common structure in dictatorships. The regular, uniform-clad police handle regular crime, while the security forces move in the shadows to protect the interests of the government rather than the people. Nazi Germany is a well-known example, where anyone opposed to the Führer was sure to be under close watch and eventually “disappear” if getting too vocal.
Now, before the tinfoil-hat crowd gets too worked up, this is not the situation in Sweden today. There are no jackbooted death squads dragging people away in the dead of night.
However, it is concerning that a democratic government would choose to adopt the same framework favored by dictatorships. Why the change?
It is also concerning in light of the vastly expanded authority of SÄPO to conduct surveillance against the citizenry. The hotly debated and contested FRA-laws grant SÄPO unlimited access to all phone, web and postal traffic, the right to place cameras and audio bugs in “non-public settings” and other goodies for anyone not concerned with personal freedom and integrity.
The law was also recently changed so that SÄPO can, at its sole discretion should they deem the matter “urgent,” call upon the military to fight domestic targets. The only prerequisite is that the targets are classified as “terrorists”. Which is not that far of a stretch from Prime Minister Löfvens claim that nationalist party SD is “antidemocratic” and “fascist”.
Again, I want to stress that there are no signs of political oppression today beyond the civil stigmatization. Political dissidents get shunned, excluded from unions and subjected to hate crimes by extremist left activists. But they are still allowed to speak freely, and there are no government agents busting down doors for thought crimes.
So why bring out the toolbox that enables it?