Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget reacted strongly on Tuesday to critical remarks about Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts made by the US ambassador to Norway and revealed in documents made available by WikiLeaks.
The documents, reported by newspaper VG and its website VG Nett on Tuesday, draw more unwanted and potentially embarrassing attention to the US Embassy in Oslo and its operations. The embassy already has been at the center of a controversy during recent weeks over surveillance it has conducted without the consent of a succession of Norwegian governments. Earlier WikiLeaks documents have suggested embassy staff pressured the Norwegians into choosing its US-made fighter jet and have disliked efforts to boost a Nordic defense cooperation.
PST ‘in over its head’
Now it’s emerged that US Ambassador Barry White has harshly criticized Norway’s anti-terror operations, specifically the work done by the special police intelligence unit PST (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste).
White claimed in a report sent from the embassy in Oslo to Washington last November that PST was “in over its head” and simply couldn’t keep up with demands of an investigation into three terror suspects who were arrested last summer. White, according to the documents reviewed by VG, believed PST’s investigation proceeded much too slowly and that PST didn’t even manage, despite offers of American assistance, to provide timely translations of conversations among the suspects that had been obtained through PST’s secret but court-approved surveillance of them.
White’s critical report, sent just days after he’d arrived in Norway himself, is in sharp contrast to positive remarks he made about the PST in an interview with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend. There he claimed that PST was doing a good job, at least in providing him with personal security at all times. VG reported that neither White nor embassy officials would comment on the vastly different assessment made in the documents revealed by WikiLeaks, which no foreigners were supposed to see.
Storberget defends PST
Justice Minister Knut Storberget was clearly disturbed by White’s criticism, noting that PST received international accolades for its work that led to the arrests of the three terror suspects, two of whom remain in Norwegian custody. “I think there’s all reason to praise PST,” said Storberget, not criticize them.
Storberget also went on national radio Tuesday morning to denounce the American criticism, claiming that Norway is doing a good job with its anti-terrorism efforts. He noted that the US “has another tradition” for fighting terrorism, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he’s not sure it’s any more successful.
VG also reported, however that the Americans were also upset that PST refused to put a fourth terror suspect under surveillance and turned down offers of help from 24 British agents to do so.
Pact on information exchange
Meanwhile, VG also reported that other documents provided by WikiLeaks revealed that PST did secretly go along with a request from the US to exchange the names of Norwegian terror suspects with the Americans. The agreement reportedly came after hard and lengthy pressure from US officials charged with obtaining anti-terror agreements with countries like Norway that are approved for the US’ visa waiver program.
The alleged pressure was reportedly directed especially at former PST boss Jørn Holme and Terje Moland Pedersen, a state secretary in the justice ministry from the Labour Party. Holme, now Norway’s director of historic preservation (Riksantikvar), mostly declines to comment on his time as PST boss but denied he’d felt pressured by the Americans. Pedersen told VG he has had many meetings with “embassy folks” and didn’t feel any “discomfort” during them.
The agreement — to release the names of both Norwegian and foreign citizens believed to be tied to terrorist activity — is revealed in a report sent from the US Embassy in Oslo to Washington in October of last year. PST stressed, however, that only a few names would be shared, because membership in a terrorist organization is not illegal under Norwegian law.
In return, reports VG, PST would gain access to the US’ Terrorist Screening Database, a global list with names of possible terrorists. The US was keen for Norway to use the database, because US officials felt Norwegian control over asylum seekers and suspected war criminals was too weak. The Americans also reportedly had become increasingly dissatisfied with Norway’s willingness to fight terrorism.
It’s not clear, however, whether the pact to which PST seemingly reluctantly agreed will ultimately be approved by Norwegian authorities. Officials at Norway’s foreign ministry told VG it still hadn’t been formally authorized.