As the Vietnam war raged and international opposition to US policy gathered momentum, the CIA launched a program codenamed MHCHAOS in a number of cities around the world.
When the CIA finally laid bare the 700 pages of documents on secret and illegal operations – referred to internally as the ‘family jewels’ – it emerged that Stockholm was one of the locations on the spy agency’s itinerary.
A two-page CIA document dated May 8th 1973 pinpoints the target areas for the secret operation:
“Over the course of the MHCHAOS program, there have been approximately 20 important areas of operational interest, which at the present time have been reduced to around ten: Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Dar Es Salaam, Conakry, Algiers, Mexico City, Santiago, Ottawa and Hong Kong.”
Speculation has long been rife in Sweden that the United States had its eyes and ears trained on the country’s anti-war movement, but never before has there been any tangible proof.
“Until now this has all just been rumours,” Joakim von Braun, a former Swedish Security Service (Säpo) agent, told The Local.
“It was widely believed that there were CIA people in Sweden playing the roles of deserters and Black Panthers. And since there were people in Sweden being used by the Soviets at the time, it would have been natural for the CIA to place people here. I would have been surprised if they didn’t,” he added.
This view is echoed to an extent by Kim Salomon, Professor of History at Lund University and author of a paper detailing the pro-Viet Cong movement in Sweden.
While he too understands the CIA’s desire to monitor developments in Sweden, he is surprised that they went so far as to send their own agents to gather the necessary data.
“We knew that Säpo collected this kind of information and we expected that Säpo had contact with the CIA.
“I have never heard anything concrete before about the CIA having agents here. It was among the conspiracies floated by the left in Sweden at that time,” Salomon told The Local.
Salomon reasons that the CIA was acting partly in response to the volume of American deserters landing on Swedish shores.
“Next to Canada, Sweden took in more deserters from the US Army than any other country,” he said.
The MHCHAOS program is described in the CIA documents as “a worldwide program for clandestine collection abroad of information on foreign efforts to support/encourage/exploit/manipulate domestic US extremism, especially by Cuba, Communist China, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, North Korea and the Arab fedayeen.”
The CIA recruited agents for the program from “selected FBI sources who travel abroad in connection with their extremist activity and/or affiliations with hostile foreign powers or with foreign extremist groups” as well as “Americans with existing extremist credentials”.
It is not clear from the documentation when the surveillance operations in question took place. Nor are there any specific comments on the agency’s rationale for its choice of locations.
Leading Left Party politician Johan Lönnroth was active in the Gothenburg branch of the Swedish Committee for Vietnam in the early 1970s.
“I’m not shocked at all. I suppose there was a general assumption among the Swedish left that this was happening. Practically everyone believed it,” he told The Local.