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'Switzerland's Security' 2018: The Federal Intelligence Service

Bern, 30.04.2018 – On 1 September 2017, the new Law on the Intelligence Service came into force, providing the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) with new tools to identify and prevent internal and external threats to Switzerland. For the first time, the FIS's annual security situation report – a decisive tool intended to support the orientation of security policy – defines the intelligence-gathering measures that were subject to authorisation and implemented in 2017, in a strategic environment marked by a heightened terrorist threat, and constantly increasing cyber risks and espionage activities.

The challenges security policy authorities are facing are becoming increasingly complex. This is due to the growing number of major stakeholders involved, the fragmentary nature of security policy itself, and the fact that several crises in Europe are heavily influencing Switzerland's strategic environment. The focus of the FIS's 2018 situation report lies on Russia, whose relations with the transatlantic West continue to deteriorate – a development that is not without its effects on Switzerland's security. In this context, information operations are becoming ever more important. The fight against the illegal gathering of intelligence – be it through traditional means or through cyber espionage – is also highly relevant today and pressure to protect information remains high. Even today, some states still engage in espionage activities to acquire intelligence. Cases of illegal intelligence gathering also occur in Switzerland – not only against the Swiss state, but also against international organisations and NGOs with locations in the country. Cyber sabotage is gaining more and more global attention. Countries that possess their own offensive cyber capabilities are actively developing them.

In light of the attacks that have taken place in Europe in recent months, the threat of terrorism in Switzerland remains heightened. The methods used in these attacks confirm the FIS's predictions: they are usually isolated incidents carried out by individuals or small groups that have been radicalised without necessarily having travelled to a conflict zone.

This April, the FIS registered around 90 'at-risk persons'. This term describes individuals who represent a heightened risk to Switzerland's security. Unlike jihad-motivated travellers, the approximately 90 at-risk persons currently registered are not part of a cumulative statistic, but provide as complete a picture as possible of the individuals who present a serious terrorist threat to Switzerland's interior and exterior security. The FIS not only registers jihad travellers, but also individuals who support or encourage terrorism in other ways. Among these 90 at-risk persons, there are individuals who have been radicalised in Switzerland without having ever travelled to a conflict zone. At-risk individuals are identified by the FIS through a combination of very precise criteria, with a concrete call to violence being a deciding factor. All at-risk persons are reported to fedpol and the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland. The FIS coordinates these cases with the Cantons and the relevant authorities, and implements the preventative measures that fall within its field of competence. The list of at-risk persons is being constantly updated. Cases that are no longer relevant are removed from the FIS's register.

Within the framework of terrorism prevention, the FIS also monitors public websites, social media and forums specifically used by jihadists. Since 2012 the FIS has identified a total of 585 internet users (550 at the end of 2017) that have spread material promoting jihadist ideology or who are in contact with individuals in Switzerland or abroad who are in support of such views. In cases where a person is suspected of radicalisation, the FIS carries out preventative interrogations and ensures the necessary measures under legislation on foreign nationals are put in place, e.g. entry bans, expulsions, revoking of the right to remain in Switzerland, or alerts for residency inquiries. The FIS hands over cases to law enforcement if it suspects that a criminal offense has been committed.

Another statistic published by the FIS deals with the issue of jihad-motivated travellers: the number of jihadists departing from Switzerland who were at one time or are currently in conflict areas has stabilised with 93 cases (same number as in February). Of the jihadists identified since 2001, 79 went to Syria and Iraq, and 14 to Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since these are cumulative numbers, it is important to note that some of these individuals still reside abroad, 32 have died (26 confirmed), and others still are travelling in the conflict areas or have since returned to Switzerland. The number of returnees is 16 (13 confirmed).

Approximately a dozen women and around 20 children in jihad areas

The FIS has not seen any new jihad-motivated travellers since 2016, and believes only a small number of fighters will return to Switzerland, either by themselves or in the company of their children. However, like its European neighbours, Switzerland too will be faced with the issue of families returning from these conflict zones. Among the jihad-motivated travellers the FIS has identified since 2001, it estimates that a dozen women with ties to Switzerland have gone to Syria or Iraq, and over 20 children under the age of 12 are affected. While adults who have travelled to conflict zones are prosecuted, children are dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the FIS, the federal and cantonal security bodies, as well as by civilian institutions responsible for countering radicalisation.

Implementation of the first intelligence-gathering measures

Whether in the area of terrorism, counter-espionage, the protection of critical infrastructures or proliferation, since 1 September 2017 the FIS can use intelligence-gathering measures requiring authorisation according to the Law on the Intelligence Service. By the end of December 2017, the FIS – having received the authorisation of the Federal Administrative Court and the relevant political authorities – launched four operations spanning a total of 40 measures. Two of these operations were counter-terrorism-related, two were espionage-related. As required by law, all intelligence-gathering measures were applied in a targeted manner and only to the most serious of threats.

Further information

Address for further inquiries

Isabelle Graber
Head of Communication FIS
+41 58 462 76 98