The US Embassy told Oslo’s police chief about its then-new surveillance program when it was being launched 10 years ago, reports newspaper Aftenposten. That may explain why the embassy thinks it had at least tacit approval for surveillance that’s highly controversial and believed to be illegal.
Aftenposten reported Thursday that a “centrally placed source” claims the police chief was given an orientation in 2000 into its Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) in Oslo, one of many being set up around the world at the time in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks on embassies and US ambassadors’ residences.
It’s unclear, however, which police chief was allegedly informed. Ingelin Killengreen was police chief during the first half of 2000 but took over as state police director in September of that year. Killengreen said last week that she was unaware of the embassy’s surveillance program.
She was replaced by Anstein Gjengedal, previously head of white collar crime unit Økokrim. Neither Gjengedal nor Killengreen would comment on Aftenposten’s report, pending an investigation into the surveillance controversy that’s being prepared for Justice Minister Knut Storberget. He’s under pressure to in turn address the Norwegian Parliament on the matter, possibly next week.
US officials have claimed their surveillance programs are conducted “in cooperation” with host governments. In Norway, however, civilian surveillance is a highly sensitive subject and strictly controlled, with only the country’s own intelligence agency Police sikkerhetstjeneste (PST) legally allowed to carry it out. PST officials have said they were also unaware of the surveillance, as have a long list of Norway’s top government ministers, past and present.
Questions have thus arisen over who offered the “cooperation” that the Americans claim they’ve had. Concerns are now rising that former Norwegian police and military experts who’ve been working for the embassy secured cooperation from former colleagues, and their systematic surveillance simply evolved over the years.
Aftenposten also reported that officers within the Oslo Police District were warned on several occasions about the surveillance that apparently was becoming more widespread and blatant, after, for example, retired police were spotted taking photos at demonstrations in Oslo. There were concerns, according to Aftenposten, that the surveillance would spark “considerable reaction” if it became publicly known.
That’s what happened when TV2 aired the first reports of the SDU’s activities last week, and politicians have been upset ever since.
Meanwhile, as many as 19 other embassies in Oslo are believed to also be conducting surveillance or other intelligence gathering operations of their own in Norway, with some of those carrying it out posing as diplomats, journalists or businesspeople. PST itself has documented the activity in a report issued earlier this year, noting that it’s monitoring the activity because of concerns it’s illegal.