As Norway’s initial mourning period comes to a close, Norwegian media have begun criticizing various police agencies for their response to the Oslo bombing and Utøya shootings. New details are also emerging about boat problems, the lack of availability of a helicopter and issues encountered in the post-crisis command structure.
Police had already been criticized for their response time to the Utøya attacks, not least in foreign media that weren’t subject to the local sensitivities of Norwegian media. Now the allegedly slow response time is also under fire in Norway: Authorities first received a message on the shootings at 17:24 on 22 July, arriving at the designated quay at 18:09 and arresting defendant Anders Behring Breivik at 18:24, one hour and 19 minutes after the shooting began. Norway’s police intelligence chief has also been attacked for “lacking humility.”
Took ‘long route’
It has emerged that the police boat took a 3.64 kilometers route to Utøya, some 3 kilometers longer than the shortest crossing point (675 meters). As previously reported, the small rubber dinghy available to local police began to take in water shortly after setting off, and the police unit required the help of two privately-owned speedboats to make it to the island. Oslo police chief of staff Johan Fredriksen told Norwergian Broadcasting (NRK) that the unit set off from the more distant quay because it was suggested by the local police district in line with “normal practice.”
The head of the local police district around Utøya, Sissel Hammer, had previously told newspaper Dagsavisen that the stopping and switching of boats alone had cost the mission 10 minutes. Chief of staff Fredriksen described comments that a quicker route could have been taken as “speculation” when speaking to NRK, adding that “the optimal solution is seldom available and we must chose from what it possible.” He has referred such issues to the forthcoming commission into the handling of the terrorist attacks, which was announced by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg shortly after the events. However, he described the police as “improvising in a very good way” when the original boat broke down.
The fact that the one police helicopter was not used to access Utøya has also been under the spotlight. Chief of staff Fredriksen told broadcaster TV2 that the police are “very much in doubt” that the use of a helicopter would have made any difference. Nonetheless, some of newspaper Dagsavisen‘s police sources say they have been prohibited from going on the record about their criticisms.
Police terror drills, carried out annually, have usually given the police helicopter, equipped with snipers, a central role in similar scenarios to those that actually took place at Utøya. On 22 July, the police were apparently unclear whether they could use the helicopter, with Fredriksen telling TV2 that at the time “it was ‘the health track’ that had the responsibility for this helicopter, and not the police.” Helicopter crew personnel reportedly began asking the police leadership if they were needed from just 15 minutes after the bombing in Oslo, but were told they were not. Only 33 minutes after Breivik was arrested on Utøya were they called into service, TV2 claims. It has previously been reported that many trained helicopter personnel were on leave during the attacks.
Oslo police have further admitted that aspects of their response systems did not work as planned during the attacks. The Utrykningsenheten (UEH), which consists of officers in ordinary service that have special crisis competencies, was not fully mobilized because its members did not receive messages from central command, with only those officers already in service immediately available. An overload of the police’s systems after the attack began meant that extra officers had to be phoned manually. This is blamed for the fact that the parliament buildings were not secured until one hour after the bomb went off in the government quarter, although chief of staff Fredriksen stated to NRK that “cutting edge” national emergency response units are based in the capital and were used during the attacks, meaning the UEH would have had a different role. Some UEH were already on duty in Oslo and utilized where necessary, Fredriksen confirmed.
Current police routines require each chief of police to communicate with other police districts or the army if they require assistance during a crisis. One former senior intelligence officer, Bernand Duncan Lyng, has suggested that a national police chief is appointed to manage future crises. Ståle Ulriksen of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs also called for a command center with “the army, the police and other departments represented” when speaking to TV2. It has emerged that many of the command problems, particularly regarding inter-departmental communication, had been pointed out in previous terror drills going back to 2006. Chief of staff Fredriksen told NRK that the issue of information transfer “has been a challenge around the world with larger incidents” and “will be so in the future.”
Intelligence chief ‘lacks humility’
The Norwegian police intelligence unit (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, PST) has also been criticized for its work around the attacks. PST leader Janne Kristiansen had told newspaper Dagbladet just three days after the attacks that the general safety and security situation in Norway was good despite the terrorist events. A “lone wolf” like Breivik is what “security services fear most,” Kristiansen added. She also claimed in further media appearances claimed that the attacks could not have been stopped “even in the old East Germany.”
The leader of the Norwegian Bar Association’s public security committee, Arild Humlen, commented to Dagsavisen that it is “completely obvious that there is a weakness” in PST’s monitoring of far right extremism, adding that he “could not comprehend or understand” why better surveillance had not been in place. In particular, he highlighted Breivik’s ability to buy large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizers as “remarkable” and something that “shows that the PST leader does not have control of this area.” Kristiansen had previously told NRK that the organization could not legally place Breivik’s name on their watch list just because he had bought large amounts of fertilizer, stressing that they “had absolutely nothing on Breivik” because he had “lived unbelievably law-abidingly.” Terror researchers at both the Swedish Defense Research Agency and its Norwegian equivalent that spoke to NRK supported the PST’s view that the attacks were difficult to predict. Humlen was nonetheless unimpressed, stating that the organization should be more self-critical in the aftermath of the attacks.
Author and journalist Frank Rossavik also attacked Kristiansen for her media statements about Breivik and how the PST could not have stopped the situation, stating that “she is a good candidate for the Norwegian record for lacking humility.”
Prime Minister Stoltenberg and Minister of Justice Knut Storberget have told Dagsavisen that they plan to appoint the commission that will review the response to the Oslo bombing and Utøya shootings this week. Storberget stressed that it was too early and that there was not enough information yet to draw conclusions, saying “I am therefore surprised that a number of so-called experts are so definitively clear in their opinions.”
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