Military suspected of bugging prime minister's office

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Norwegian media outlets were full of reports on Thursday that a military intelligence unit has been illegally monitoring Internet activity within the prime minister’s office, and perhaps other government ministries as well. A special state police unit has been asked to investigate, by the military itself.

TV2 reports that the defense intelligence unit FOST (Forsvarets sikkerhetstjeneste) is under investigation by state police unit Kripos for allegedly engaging in illegal surveillance of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and staff working within the Office of the Prime Minister (Statsministerens kontor, SMK) and other ministries within the government he leads.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and newspaper Aftenposten report that FOST is suspected of tapping into data transmission lines to check which Internet sites are being viewed by personnel within the various government ministries.

FOST is an internal means, under the command of top military brass, of monitoring whether the Defense Ministry is carrying out surveillance in line with instructions. The surveillance is supposed to be limited to ensure security within the ministry and its military operations, not those of politicians and other ministries. Any surveillance of Internet activity within other government ministries would thus appear to violate instructions.

A military spokesman claims it was top military officials themselves who asked police to investigate the questionable surveillance of other ministries. Major Christian Øverli told Aftenposten that “we can’t investigate ourselves” and that the military thus “needed external help.”

Øverli claimed the military has “no reason to believe” the surveillance has in fact been illegal, but added that “I don’t wish to comment on why we took the initiative” to an investigation.

The special police unit Kripos referred inquiries to state prosecutors, who confirmed that investigators had raided a division of FOST at Jørstadmoen near Lillehammer. Various computer files and equipment were seized, but no one has been charged, said prosecutor Petter Mandt.

It remained unclear why FOST would have monitored data transmissions within the prime minister’s office or other government offices. State Secretary Torbjørn Giæver Eriksen of the Labour Party that Stoltenberg leads said it was important to let the police probe move forward. He otherwise didn’t want to comment until the investigation was completed.