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Prosecutor drops probe into US embassy 'spying'

David Landes · 4 Apr 2011, 12:53

Published: 04 Apr 2011 12:53 GMT+02:00

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Chief Public Prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand launched a probe in November into whether the US embassy's Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) may have engaged in illegal intelligence gathering.

According to the embassy, the SDU is focused on uncovering surveillance directed against the embassy.

On Monday, Lindstrand announced he was dropping the preliminary investigation because allegations of unlawful intelligence activities could not be substantiated and there were no grounds to suspect that a breach of professional confidentiality was committed.

In addition crimes against Sweden's Personal Data Act (Personuppgiftslagen – PUL) "could not be investigated".

"We've not been able to investigate those who work with or have worked with the SDU because their observations are considered to be part of the embassy's archives and are inviolable," Lindstrand told The Local, citing provisions in the Vienna Conventions.

"We're not allowed to look at them…we can't do anything about it."

Lindstrand explained that, based on information he received from Swedish law enforcement and military agencies, there was nothing to indicate that activities carried out by the SDU were anything out of the ordinary.

"It looks perfectly normal if you look at the memoranda and reports," he said.

However, Lindstrand was unable to access any information that may have been gathered by the SDU teams and entered into the US State Department's “Security Incident Management and Analysis System” (SIMAS) database.

According to the State Department, the register can contain a wide range of personal information, including hair colour, race, height and skin colour, as well as information about people's families and behaviours – information which, if recorded without a person's knowledge – could constitute a crime in Sweden

"But if things like this have really been reported, I can't say," said Lindstrand.

He added that his office made several requests with the embassy to be allowed access to the information gathered by the SDU, but the requests were rejected.

With respect to allegations that the US embassy conducted unlawful intelligence work, Lindstrand found that the embassy failed to follow its own guidelines when it came to informing the Swedish authorities about the Surveillance Detection Programme (SDP).

"No information has been given to the appropriate authorities about the programme and the activities. Neither is there any statement from the USA that the Swedish government has been informed about and approved the programme," Lindstrand wrote in his ruling.

While he didn't rule out that the programme may have constituted unlawful intelligence gathering, Lindstrand pointed out that the only way to prove so definitively is to show that activities carried out by the SDP violated Swedish laws.

"If the intention of launching the SDP in Sweden was for the SDU to report information on personal circumstances to SIMAS or to some similar register, already the existence of an organization like the SDU could be sufficient to constitute a punishable offence (under Swedish law)," he wrote.

However, since he was unable to access the content stored on the SIMAS database, nor conduct unrestricted interviews with members of the US embassy's SDU teams, Lindstrand had no choice but to close the investigation.

US embassy spokesperson Chris Dunnett on Monday welcomed Lindstrand's decision to drop the probe.

"We're pleased with the results of the inquiry, which we feel show that we've done our best to cooperate with the Swedish authorities on this matter," Dunnett told The Local.

He also downplayed Lindstrand's criticism of the embassy's efforts to inform Swedish authorities about the SDP.

"Clearly, there were some instances where the communication could have been better," he said.

Story continues below…

"But we've cooperated with the inquiry to the best of our ability and we think it clearly establishes that we acted properly and within our rights according to the Vienna Conventions."

When the SDU came to light in November, justice minister Beatrice Ask said she was not aware of the US surveillance programme, which has been in place since 2000.

The embassy has acknowledged the programme, explaining that it had informed the Swedish authorities about its existence.

According to Lindstrand, "there is nothing left for me to do from a criminal law perspective" in terms of investigating the US embassy's actions.

The programme is also being investigated by the Riksdag's Constitutional Committee in order to determine what current and former cabinet ministers may have known about the US embassy's surveillance activities.

The committee is expected to conclude its investigation sometime during the spring.

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David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:04 April 4, 2011 by Sergeantofstockholm
We can't tell if they broke the law, because they won't tell us if they broke the law.

Good one Mr Public Prosecutor

Seems clear to me - if they won't let you see the records then they are hiding incriminating evidence
15:25 April 4, 2011 by willowsdad
If the self-proclaimed Greatest Country in the World deems it necessary to spy on you , it must be for a good reason, like fighting terrorism.
15:35 April 4, 2011 by truthworthy
Who was seriously expecting that Sweden will be able to prosecute the Super Power.Anyway. Not me.

the US has no respect for any countries. It is like an older student bullying the younger ones.
15:45 April 4, 2011 by pjtaipale
>if they won't let you see the records then they are hiding incriminating evidence

Quite. Please give me the content of your hard disk, you have nothing to hide, right? Otherwise you are hiding incriminating evidence? Hey, that logic's not going to work.

I think it is obvious that - since embassies are technically within the territory and under the legislation of the country whose diplomatic mission they are - the US embassy is applying US law within its embassy, and the Swedish personal data act is not relevant. That's what the Vienna Convention is all about.

Likewise, the Swedish embassies in Washington and New York are doing things according to Swedish law, and local law only applies outside the embassy (and even there, the Vienna Convention provides restrictions due to diplomatic immunity). I think Washington has some silly laws regarding, for instance, what positions are permissible when having sex. Should Washington start to enforce these laws, and require the Swedish embassy to provide videotapes to prove compliance of sexual acts, the Swedish embassy would quote Vienna convention, diplomatic immunity, and simply brush it off. That's the usual thing in diplomacy.

If you don't like it, drop diplomatic ties with the US. Although there are probably a few other countries with which you really should do that much sooner.
15:58 April 4, 2011 by eZee.se
The real question is was the prosecutor b!tch slapped by the US before or after dropping the case?

Won't be the first time Sweden has bowed down to the US, just look at ThePirateBay raid and the fiasco that was the ThePirateBay trials that followed.
17:33 April 4, 2011 by bravo96
Hey, Don't forget about the Wikileaks thing either.

By the way, what ever happened to that Asange dude anyway, or did that fiasco just get swept under the rug too?
19:49 April 4, 2011 by RobinHood
What a waste of public money. There wasn't even prima facia evidence of a crime, let alone enough to begin an investigation. The people who instigated this should pay for it themselves.

Maybe a bit less of this, and a bit more time spent investigating Swedish policemen who rape and beat the public.
19:53 April 4, 2011 by jomamas
All Swedes should thank the US and their NATO allies for protecting them in this world, as well as saving them during WWII.

Or were you all to busy working with the Nazis during your supposed 'neutrality'?
22:03 April 4, 2011 by Valdemaratterdag

And the US should thank their ally, the French, for helping them to create a country to start with. Maybe we can deal with the crimes of the present without appealing to who saved whom in the past as a justification for present misdeeds?
22:39 April 4, 2011 by wenddiver
@Valdemaratterdag- We should thank God for the French hatred of the English and the Hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico and Carribean, because without it there would have been no French Fleet in the Atlantic, but would have stayed in the South stealing Spice Islands for the French.

Besides the US has admitted to spying and is ready serve it's time, we will use the Super Tankers and super Carriers to start moving our Citizenry to the nearest Swedish Prosecuter's Office. Tell the Prosecuter we will start ith Chicago and move to the bigger cities as soon as you process Chicago. We hope to have all 300 Million people in Sweden by the end of the month. Stupid Prosecuter.
01:02 April 5, 2011 by waffen
Do not look to the Americans who comment here to offer anything that remotely resembles common-sense.

Like their so-called Tea Party, they are right and everyone else is wrong.

They proved that by attacking Iraq and Afghanistan in "quick" wars, that are still going on, and they just added a third in Libya.

They can do this because they are always right, according to them, and everyone else is wrong.
14:27 April 8, 2011 by tadchem
Historically, almost all spy groups protect themselves by spying on those who could threaten them. That is why people like J. Edgar Hoover and Hillary Clinton had files on people who were not suspected of any crimes. Getting a little 'dirt' on one''s enemies gives you a handle on then which can greatly improve your leverage.

I'm thinking the investigation was dropped because the investigators had some secrets of their own which the SDU knew about that the investigators did not want to have publicized.
18:05 April 8, 2011 by IWP
This isn't by any chance the same shower that managed to pursue Julian Assange for its US controllers, is it? What a surprise! Prize assoles.
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