Silence disrupts surveillance probe

A police investigation into controversial surveillance carried out by the US Embassy in Oslo has been stymied by the investigators’ inability to question the Norwegians hired by the Americans to conduct the surveillance. The US ambassador, meanwhile, claims the surveillance hasn’t been secret and should continue.

TV2, which broke the news about the surveillance that’s been going on for 10 years without the knowledge of Norwegian government ministers, reported that the Norwegians involved allegedly want to answer questions but are unable to do so because they all signed confidentiality agreements. That prevents them from talking about their work to investigators.

Police Inspector Tom Erik Guttulsrød told TV2 that his team has reported the problem to the Foreign Ministry, which in turn has “sent a note” to the US Embassy asking that the Norwegians be released from their confidentiality agreements. The embassy hadn’t responded as of Sunday.

If those who conducted the surveillance aren’t allowed to talk, the leader of the Parliament’s justice committee said Police Director Ingelin Killengreen, leaders of the police intelligence unit PST and other police officials likely will be called in for questioning at an open hearing. MP Per Sandberg of the Progress Party also stressed that he thinks the Norwegians involved must also answer questions posed by the Parliament.

Ambassador: ‘Standard procedure’
Meanwhile, US Ambassador Barry White remains reluctant to talk about the surveillance program but told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend that the embassy “engaged a small group of people to observe the embassy area in Oslo,” and claimed the surveillance was merely “standard procedure,” part of an effort to protect embassy personnel and visitors.

“It’s not secret, it’s not spying,” he told DN, but there was no explanation as to why no government ministers over the past decade have been aware of the surveillance, which under Norwegian law is supposed to be tightly restricted and controlled. Nor would White answer whether surveillance was also being conducted in the neighbourhood around his large residence in Oslo’s Frogner area.

He claimed, as have other US officials, that the Americans thought they had permission to conduct their surveillance. “We feel that we’ve coordinated with the police in Norway, they know what we’re doing,” White told DN. Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget made it clear recently that no permission has ever been granted, at least not at the government level.

White said he hopes the “surveillance scandal,” as it’s been called, will “fade away.” He also said he sees “no reason” that surveillance “of our own embassy” can’t continue.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Forum if you’d like to comment on this story.