Espionage professor’s jail sentence prompts fears for researchers

A professor of international politics at Copenhagen University has been jailed for five months after being convicted of espionage for passing documents to Russian diplomats.

The prison sentence imposed on Professor Timo Kivimäki has raised fears over its implications for the conducting of research.

The trial at the Glostrup district court was conducted behind closed doors, because the foreign ministry was afraid it would damage relations with Russia, Danish newspapers reported. The text of the 31 May decision is confidential.

The prosecutor demanded that Finnish-born Kivimäki be deported from Denmark, but that was not included in the sentence.

Kivimäki was charged with a breach of section 108 of the Danish penal code, which covers so-called 'mild espionage'.

He took part in a large number of meetings with Russian diplomats from 2002-10. The prosecutor argued that Kivimäki had known that he was meeting Russian agents rather than diplomats.

Kivimäki was shocked by the verdict. He has yet to decide whether to appeal.

He admitted to having planned to give Russian diplomats contact information on Danish researchers, but stressed that this was publicly available information from the internet.

Lars Bo Kaspersen, his head of department at Copenhagen University, said the verdict was profoundly regrettable both for the professor and his family, and for Danish research.

“It is unhealthy for research that you cannot uphold a knowledge-sharing process, hold meetings and be in dialogue with people from embassies and the like,” Kaspersen said.

“This is after all what gives researchers their contacts, and a platform where they can meet people with the expertise,” he said in an interview on his department’s website, reported in Copenhagen University’s University Post.

The verdict has drawn reaction from academics and political experts.

Dr Christof Lehmann, a clinical psychologist and former political advisor to Yasser Arafat, Joshua Nkomo and Nelson Mandela, wrote on his nsnbc blog that the trial verdict set an “extremely dangerous precedent” for scholars, political advisors and peace activists in Denmark and the EU.

“Kivimäki would never have received a five-month prison sentence for espionage, had he passed on a list of names of promising students who could be recruited to work for France, the US, the UK or Israel, and if he had passed on information about the director of the Danish Centre for Military Studies to French, American or British diplomats,” he said.

Professor Stein Tønnesson, of the department of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University in Sweden, said: “It would be a travesty if researchers should limit their contact with diplomats in consequence of the recent trial in Denmark.

“Such contact is in many ways essential. We need some guidelines for how to handle such contacts. One rule of thumb is to have only the kind of contact that one can tell others openly about.”

Kivimäki told Danish TV2 that the court ”had entered the paranoid world of the intelligence community, where everyone is a terrorist or a spy”.

He said that the verdict was unexpected and unfair, “because these guys [that he met] were diplomats, and I have seen no evidence that they were spies”.

He said that he had much more frequent meetings with Danish, Finnish, Dutch and European Commission diplomats, conveying the same information to them.

Asked by TV2 if he now knows where the line is drawn on what contact scientists can have with diplomats, Kivimäki said that since he is a Finn, he would not enter into a Danish discussion.

His rector had made an appeal that these rules should be made public, but there was a problem in directing such an appeal at the intelligence services, he said, since “it is not the intelligence services that shall interpret what the laws are, it is the court, and the intelligence services should follow those rules”.

Kivimäki was referring to a letter sent by Copenhagen University’s Rector Ralf Hemmingsen to Jakob Scharf, director of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, PET, before the verdict was issued, asking for clarification of the rules.

The case has also raised concern over the implications for students whose names were passed to the Russian diplomats.

According to University Post, in his letter to Scharf, Hemmingsen also sought reassurances that the students’ chances of landing a government job in future would not be put at risk if their teacher had used their names in “his eventual spy ring” without their knowledge.

In his reply, Scharf sought to allay such fears.

But a PET pamphlet he sent to accompany his reply, Espionage in Denmark - Information and prevention, raised further questions about the risk of academics being accused of spying for carrying out their normal work.

It noted that indications of espionage could include “contact at congresses, exhibitions, seminars etc. by persons with a limited knowledge of the relevant theme”.