‘Security so poor’ it ‘had to be hidden’

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UPDATED: Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has gained access to a State Auditor General’s report on national security that was intended to be made public, but which the Norwegian government has withheld on the grounds it would further endanger it. The report shows that efforts to improve Norway’s national security following terrorist attacks in 2011 have failed so utterly that neither police nor defense officials are capable of protecting vital buildings or facilities that may be goals of a terrorist attack in Norway.

The Norwegian military conducts anti-terror exercises but security in Norway remains inadequate, according to a new report. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

DN also reported Friday that in a letter to the State Auditor General’s office (Riksrevisjonen) in January, the top administrative leader of the defense ministry, Erik Lund-Isaksen, contended that the auditor’s report could not be made public. Lund-Isaksen admitted that the weaknesses within Norway’s state police and military were so serious that if they became known, that would itself endanger national security. Lund-Isaksen cited “weaknesses within the military’s work to secure and protect key objects that could have a bearing on defense capability and military response in the event of armed conflict.” He also cited “weaknesses and deficiencies in the cooperation between police and defense officials that can put civilian objects at risk of not being able to maintain their operations and functionality,” and “deficiencies” within the military’s establishment of permanent fundamental protection for its own vital operations.

DN reported that the leaked document, which has been the subject of political debate over whether it should have been classified as “confidential,” identifies the following weaknesses regarding Norwegian authorities’ ability to protect critical operations in the event of terrorism, espionage, sabotage and crises including armed attack:

*** The state Police Directorate has not yet identified which public and civilian operations should be protected with the help of security forces.

*** The state Police Directorate has not yet managed to tell either local police districts, the military or civil defense forces which public operations or property should have highest priority.

*** The military lacks adequate procedures for identifying which key civilian operations should be secured.

*** Securing of “objects” deemed worthy of special protection is currently not in accordance with regulations.

*** Permanent securing of important public buildings is not in accordance with demands in the law.

DN reported that the full and more detailed State Auditor’s Report, which also remains classified, is believed to offer insight into how the government has failed to follow up the so-called “July 22 Report” compiled by the Gjørv Commission that was appointed by Norway’s former left-center government led by the Labour Party’s Jens Stoltenberg, who now heads NATO. Stoltenberg’s government was also strongly criticized by the commission over the lack of security and preparedness in Norway prior to a right-wing Norwegian terrorist’s attacks on the government on July 22, 2011.

The commission clearly noted the flaws in Norway’s national security when its report was released in August 2012, but now it appears few of them have been corrected, either during the remaining term of Stoltenberg’s left-center government or the minority conservative coalition government that replaced it in 2013. After a week in which British citizens praised and thanked their own officials responsible emergency response to the latest terrorist attack in London on Wednesday, many Norwegian officials are alarmed that their fellow citizens can’t share the same degree of confidence in their own.

Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has received the most criticism for failing to follow up on national security improvements and then keeping a report on the deficiencies secret. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, her Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen of the Progress Party all admitted in Parliament this week to deficiencies in public security systems. Solberg claimed, however, that her government was not aware that the deficiencies were as serious as they are until it received the State Auditor General’s report last year. Solberg indicated she’d been under the impression that the State Police Directorate was on track in addressing the deficiences identified by the Gjørv Commission, and working with the military.

Solberg and Søreide insisted, however, on keeping not only the State Auditor General’s report secret but also a summary of the report as well that was written without concrete detail with the intention that it be made public. Solberg’s government wanted it withheld, without going into detail as to why. State Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss himself said he couldn’t understand why even the summary should be withheld. He refused to rewrite it to suit the government’s criteria for declassification, contending that would weaken its impact.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, testifying before the Parliament’s disciplinary committee at this week’s hearing on the State Auditor General’s report on Norway’s lack of adequate security. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Several members of the Parliament’s disciplinary committee, which summoned Solberg and her ministers this week to question them about both the alleged deficiencies and their withholding of the report on them, confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday night that DN‘s citations from the still-classified summary report were correct. There was disagreement, however, regarding whether they give a correct, comprehensive impression of the report.

Others were more upset the report had been leaked. “It’s extremely serious that a document stamped as classified has been leaked,” Hans Fredrik Grøvan, a Member of Parliament for the Christian Democrats who sits on the disciplinary committee, told NRK. “We have clear laws and regulations for how such documents should be handled, and this is a violation of those laws.” Amund Djuve, editor-in-chief of DN, said he allowed his newspaper’s publication of the summary because it had been written by state auditors for public consumption and contains no information on concrete “objects” at risk or how many there may be. Djuve claimed the criticism contained in the report is so serious that it was important it be made known.

MPs Per Olaf Lundteigen of the Center Party and Abid Raja of the Liberal Party, both members of the disciplinary committee, think the government must be called back in for another hearing. They called the weaknesses in national security and defense “extremely serious” and complained that the government secrecy meant that the public hasn’t been officially told just how serious. Vital public infrastructure including oil and gas facilities and hydroelectric power resources, which they called “the backbone” of Norway’s national economy, are at risk for terror, sabotage or attack, they said.

Neither Grøvan, Lundteigen nor Raja would comment on the contents of the document itself. Nor would Søreide of the Conservative Party and her defense colleagues comment on it now either, claiming they already had answered questions as to why the report had been classified. Søreide and former Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party were both harshly criticized after it became known that police and defense officials still aren’t cooperating well enough to make sure public property is secured, that there’s a risk they won’t be able to secure vital public property and operations in the event of an emergency, and that the lack of cooperation was “extremely serious.” That’s the strongest expression that an be used by the State Auditor General, and can mean that the alleged failure of the police and military to do their jobs can pose a risk to life and health.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund