Culture - Tuesday 31.10.2000

Finland was an auxiliary country for top Cold War spies

 Researcher reveals details of why Finns committed treason in 1945-1972

By Tuomo Pietiläinen

The last golden decade of what was called "bush espionage" was the 1950s. After that KGB operatives got out of the bushes, put on suits, and moved to the cities.
Finland was no longer an interesting target, but this neutral country was turned into a tool in the extremely demanding and dangerous business of top-level espionage.
This is how one might crystallize the major work by historian Juha Pohjonen, in which he has gone through all of the 125 convictions for treason in Finland between the years 1945 and 1972. In these years, the history of espionage was specifically the history of Soviet espionage; only about 20 people who spied for Germany, NATO, or other western powers were caught in that time.
The close analysis of the events and the sentences has required about 500 pages of a doctoral thesis, which was released in book form by Otava Publishers on Tuesday.
Detailed descriptions of events are the strength of a doctoral thesis and the weakness of a work of non-fiction literature. The published book should have been edited extensively before publication.
A number of cases of "espionage" which occurred at the border seem to have been so insignificant that their detailed description makes for tedious reading. A Finn could be sentenced for treason simply for speaking to a Soviet citizen on the other side of the border fence.
One interesting revelation in the thesis is that people in border villages may have been drawn into cooperation with agents on the other side simply out of the boredom that prevailed in the villages of eastern Finland. Cross-border espionage was exciting entertainment in the pre-television age.

The most interesting chapter
in the thesis involves the use of Finnish identities in broader international espionage. Once Finland was no longer considered interesting as a target per se, the Soviet Union started to take advantage of the neutral country in the creation of false identities.
False persons were used in all of the most sensitive spy missions. They were the ones who maintained contact with the top sources of information who had to remain undetected at all costs. People with false identities looked very much like ordinary people with genuine identity documents and a passport.
In reality they were highly trained agents of the KGB or other intelligence organisations.
KGB forgers created entire Finnish families in Finnish church records. Their members were brought to life whenever an appropriate mission arose. This means that they got genuine passports, issued by Finnish embassies and consulates, for instance.
The most important Finnish source of help for the KGB in the 1960s was an Orthodox priest Vladimir Tsvetkov, who lent original church records to the KGB. When he was caught in 1971 a shocked head of the Finnish Security Police, Armas Alhava wrote to President Kekkonen: "The KGB now has unlimited possibilities to manufacture official documents."
Pohjonen believes that the identities created with the help of Tsvetkov have become obsolete and unusable by now. However, these counterfeit individuals can have children who might continue their espionage activities in the second generation, if the operation remains a secret.

Pohjonen gives a thorough description
of Tsvetkov’s operation, but unfortunately he does not report on the consequences of the priest’s treasonous activities. They came up once again in 1989, when the spy Martta Nieminen, the wife of the even more famous KGB agent Reino Gikman was found travelling around the world with a Finnish passport.
The spies Veikko and Sirkka Pöllänen, a couple of spies who also spent time in Finland, were also the creations of Tsvetkov’s treasonous activities.
Tsvetkov was sentenced to seven months in prison in 1972. The sentence seems small, considering the fact that during the period under investigation, the average sentence for treason was about four times as long.
In fact, one of the things that Pohjonen points out is that in the 1950s, sentences for border espionage were quite heavy, considering how minor the actual damage that may have been caused would have been.
So how was it possible that security leaks could have occurred in Finland where there has always been some kind of a security police? Pohjonen’s answer is simple: the Defence Forces and the Security Police were not good enough.
The lax security of the armed forces meant that a Finnish captain dealing with photographic reconnaissance was able to deliver several kilos of military secrets to the Soviet Union and Sweden in the 1950s.
The failures of the Security Police meant that Tsvetkov was able to continue his work throughout the 1960s.
Pohjonen’s thesis does not contain any big pieces of news. The most important cases have been documented in books and in the media, and in the astoundingly candid 50th year anniversary book of the Security Police which was published in 1997.
The main value of Pohjonen’s book is in that he draws together the causes and motives which combine treasonous activity. Why did anyone actually take part in espionage? In Pohjonen’s words, it was usually "a very mundane, grey, and stupid crime".

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 25.10.2000


Previously in HS International Edition:
 Fresh dissertation on espionage: Intense cross-border spying in 1945-1960 25.10.2000

TUOMO PIETILÄINEN / Helsingin Sanomat

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