Ministry of Truth? Alleging Russian Interference, Sweden Launches Disinformation Agency

Mikael Damberg, Minister for Home Affairs in Sweden gives a press conference on the coronavirus COVID-19 situation at the government's headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 20, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Sweden has launched a new agency to counter foreign disinformation, the new leader of which cited alleged Russian interference in the US to justify action.

Sweden has launched a new agency to counter foreign disinformation, with the new organisation’s leader citing alleged campaigns by China, Iran and Russia as justification for the agency’s operations.

The new Swedish Psychological Defence Agency will aim to safeguard Sweden’s “open and democratic society”, as well as the “free formation of opinion”.

During the press conference announcing the creation of the agency back in October, the nation’s interior minister, Mikael Damberg, said that its first task would be protecting Sweden’s upcoming general election from meddling.

“Disinformation is a threat to Swedish democracy, our decision-makers and to our independence,” The Telegraph reports Damberg as saying. “A very important duty for the agency in 2022 will be to work to strengthen society’s ability to identify and handle misinformation directed at Sweden in connection with the General Election.”

Henrik Landerholm, the head of the new agency, has since cited alleged Russian influence during the US presidential election as something that the agency would be looking to prevent happening in Sweden.

“If we look at how the narratives of how Sweden is functioning or not functioning are formed, a lot of that is aimed at destabilising or undermining trust in government agencies,” Landerholm said. “We’ve seen that work quite well in, or example, the USA, where the Russians were very effective at sowing disunity in the run-up to the election.”

“The first part of the job is threat analysis, the second is assessing the vulnerability of Swedish society to different types of influence, and the third is to build resilience in society,” Landerholm continued, noting that the agency’s 45 employees will be working closely with the Swedish Armed Forces, as well as the media, universities and central government.

Despite the nature of the agency, however, Landerholm did not want to impinge on the freedom of Swedes.

“This is not the Ministry of Truth or a State Information Board like we had during the Cold War,” Landerholm said. “We want to protect freedom of opinion in our country.”

Russian political interference has become a prevalent topic in western political discourse over the past number of years, with accusations made regarding Russian interference during the UK Brexit referendum, with some Remainers claiming that it was “probable” that “hackers” based in the country swung the referendum.

However, after an investigation, the Independent Security Committee reported that it had seen “no evidence” of Russian interference in the 2016 referendum.

This matched a claim made by the government in 2018 that it had seen no evidence of “successful use of disinformation” to influence the democratic process in the UK.

 

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