Espionage by Europeans 2010-2021. A Preliminary Review of Court Cases


  • Michael Jonsson
  • Jakob Gustafsson

Publish date: 2022-05-16

Report number: FOI-R--5312--SE

Pages: 78

Written in: English


  • Espionage
  • counterintelligence
  • Europe
  • Russia
  • China
  • GRU
  • FSB
  • SVR


This report analyses openly reported cases of infiltration or insider espionage in Europe in 2010-2021 instigated by state actors. Based on open-source reporting, cases that have resulted in convictions during the time-period are analysed, with a focus on European citizens as perpetrators. Espionage by so-called illegals is excluded from the core sample, as are other types of illegal intelligence collection, such as cyberespionage and espionage against diaspora communities. The perpetrators are studied regarding personal attributes, motives, methods of access, foreign connections and foreign counterparts. The report represents a first step in replicating a series of American studies, with slight methodological adjustments, due to differences across countries. The underlying data set includes 62 individuals, of whom 42 were convicted of espionage in 2010-2021. Another 13 were awaiting trial at the end of 2021, and 7 are included in a miscellaneous category, including 4 Russian illegals and 3 cases where suspicions have been publicly reported, but not prosecuted. The study finds that espionage in Europe - similar to the U.S. - was overwhelm-ingly conducted by men (95%). The median age of spies was 30-39 years and approximately 41% were 40 or older when espionage began. As in the US, a majority of the spies (¾) were civilians, not uniformed military (7) or intelligence officials (4). The identified cases are centred on northern Europe; excluding Russian citizens, more than ¾ were from the Baltic states and Poland alone. Contrary to in the US, espionage in Europe was overwhelmingly instigated by Russia (37 cases) - not China - with cases mainly involving the GRU and FSB, with far fewer for the SVR. A time series tentatively suggests that the number of convictions on espionage charges in Europe has increased significantly during the 2010s, and an unusually large number of cases are now headed to court, but stringent comparisons over time are highly challenging to conduct.