Secret James Bond-party disclosed by request
Swedish security service throw a secret James Bond-party for their employees. The costs: 625 000 Euro (5,3 million Swedish kronor). How come we know? Reporter Mattias Carlsson asked for the expenditure verifications.
Some 1000 guests, one of them allegedly the British MI5-chief Jonathan Evans, wined and dined very nicely at the taxpayers' expenses. This was it itself a story good enough to draw substantial headlines (in Swedish only).
But this wasn't all.
Reporter Mattias Carlsson at Swedish morning paper Dagens Nyheter could also show that SÄPO, the Swedish security service, had failed to follow the EU-procurement rules when arranging the party, and had cheated for years with the deduction of value added taxes in its books.
The disclosure of the party happy security police followed disclosures of other public authorities using taxpayer's money on receptions and events of dubious character.
First to be displayed was AP, a pension fund. Then followed an authority to promote economic growth, a science foundation, the Ministry of Enterprise, and lastly the security service.
– The pension fund we started to look at on our own initiatives. Then tip and hints started to pour in, and we were given good ideas of where to look, Mattias Carlsson tells.
The disclosure of the authorities' spendings has been done by an almost classical method: Ask for documentation, check what you get and publish the results, and comments.
– There were some problems with the security service, but all in all the access law and it's implementation has functioned rather well. We got out all the documents in a legal way, strictly by the book, says Mattias Carlsson.
The finding which he himself finds most annoying is how the Ministry of Enterprise reacted to a request for documents handed in by Aftonbladet, another Swedish daily picking up in the expenditure hunt:
– Instead of giving out the material immediately (a requirement in the Swedish law on access to documents) the civil servants first contacted the spindoctors at the ministry to give them time to prepare a damage control. Only after that they processed the requests. This is a scary pattern.
The wobbed out expenses in Dagens Nyheter, and other papers has triggered a debate on what has been named ”receipt journalism”.
Critics say that the hunt for verifications moves the attention from the core activities of the authorities. The event money is after all peanuts, compared to the many millions or even billions of kronor used on security or science, the argument goes.
– I don't really see the point here, Mattias Carlsson says. My job is to find relevant news, and I think I've done that. Besides there is nothing stopping anybody to investigate the core business as well as the lush expenses.
The environment argument
The Swedish law on access to documents has been part of the constitution since 1766 but is not updated in all aspects. Although quite strong when it comes to paper documents the law is weak on digital formats. Authorities can easily find arguments not to release information in other ways than on printed paper. And they do.
Mattias Carlsson says he has found a good argument to get around this obstacle.
– I've started to ask for digital versions for environmental reasons. It works surprisingly often.
Following the disclosures Dagens Nyheter has opened an own portal where hints or leaks are promised to be treated in full security.
Swedish public radio already runs a similar website called Radio leaks with an introductory page in English.
For an example of expenditure verifications - see under Documents for the security service's party budget and the actual expenses. Non Swedish-readers might be able to grasp some of the headlines and/or get an impression of the details wobbed out.