Sweden unprepared for terrorist attack

An examination of Sweden's preparedness for a terrorist attack has found the country’s state agencies lacking. The Swedish Defense Research Agency, FOI, released the dismal report today.

Since the September 11 attack in the US, Sweden’s own commission made recommendations for a crisis setup in 2003. FOI’s evaluation criticizes not only those recommendations, but also how agencies cooperate in crises other than terror attacks.

FOI report author Magnus Norell told Swedish radio the agencies lack resources in several possible – though unlikely – scenarios: “We simply need more trained personnel who are equipped to handle heavily armed terrorists in case of a large attack where dozens or perhaps hundreds of people are taken hostage, where there have been many deaths or in case of several simultaneous attacks.”

FOI criticizes the concept of “owning” an issue. Sweden’s security police, Säpo, are considered the “owners” of the terrorism issue. It is Säpo that can most quickly and simply bring in more resources from other agencies if needed during a terrorist attack.

In a press release, FOI states: “By naming an ‘owner’, important and relevant information and knowledge could be lost or never used correctly.” Norell adds that rivalry between Säpo and Swedish police has hindered cooperation.

Norell further states that Sweden’s own September 11 commission was ineffective. “None of the recommendations from Munck’s investigation are concrete steps (toward preparedness) except for calling for a new committee that will look at how police can get help from other agencies in extreme situations.”

The agency suggests setting up a crisis center focused on specific events, with enough resources and a mandate to quickly acquire relevant knowledge and experience when necessary. Norell says elite soldiers could be used to defend Sweden from terrorists, but in that case a change in Sweden’s constitutional law would be necessary.

He says a crisis center would be useful in other catastrophes, like the Estonia sinking and the Asian tsunami last December. “It’s clear that cooperation and organization are going to be necessary in other events as well, not just during a terrorist attack.”

Norell stresses that Sweden doesn’t appear to be at high risk for a terrorist attack, but likens a crisis plan to home insurance. “It’s better to talk about these things in peacetime, or before a crisis hits. when something happens, no matter how unlikely it is, then we’re too late to be ready,” he says.