Sweden’s caretaker government, which had been ruled by one of the smallest minority governments in the country’s history before falling apart last summer, has launched a psychological operations agency to inoculate Swedish minds against information deemed by the state to be untrue.
Officially established on January 1st, the Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, which alleges its purpose is to safeguard “democratic society” and “the free formation of opinion,” will be led by Henrik Landerholm, a former Army officer and ambassador to the Middle East who in the past served as a lawmaker for the liberal-conservative Moderate Party, The Washington Post reports.
The main objective of Landerholm—along with the agency’s 45 employees—will be to work alongside the Swedish Armed Forces and institutions within civil society like the mainstream press and central government to identify and neutralize organized campaigns seeking to disseminate information deemed to be false or misleading.
In October, during a press conference where it was announced that Landerholm would serve as the agency’s head, Sweden’s interior minister Mikael Damberg claimed “Swedish democracy, our decision-makers, and to our independence” are in jeopardy as a result of disinformation, adding that the agency’s first crucial assignment would be to shield the country’s upcoming election from foreign influence campaigns.
Furthermore, Damberg emphasized that the authority shouldn’t focus its efforts solely on false information coming from specific countries like Russia, China, and Iran, but should generally be able to recognize and combat misinformation which he says seeks to sow societal divisions and undermine trust in the authorities.
In an interview with Sveriges Radio which followed his appointment, Landerholm echoed the interior minister’s sentiments, saying: “If we look at how the narratives of how Sweden is functioning or not functioning are formed, a lot of that is aimed at destabilizing or undermining trust in government agencies,”
“If we look at how the narratives of how Sweden is functioning or not functioning are formed, a lot of that is aimed at destabilizing or undermining trust in government agencies,” Landerholm added.
The agency’s chief was eager to draw a clear distinction between its efforts to counter false information and Orwellian, quasi-authoritarian efforts to exert total control over the information available to the public.
“This is not the Ministry of Truth or a State Information Board like we had during the Cold War,” Landerholm claimed, adding: “We want to protect freedom of opinion in our country.”
Although the state-funded agency is not officially a part of the Swedish government, it will report to the Ministry of Justice.
The agency’s inauguration comes several months after the French government announced its own plan to create a national agency to combat disinformation and so-called ‘fake news’ which seeks to “undermine the state.”