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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Embassies must clear security plans

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Wednesday that embassies located in Oslo have been told to inform local authorities about any extraordinary security measures they intend to install. Neither Støre nor Justice Minister Knut Storberget nor his predecessor, Odd Einar Dørum, were aware of a surveillance program at the US Embassy that has upset politicians and citizens alike.

Storberget was questioned about his knowledge of the US Embassy’s controversial Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) during a special hearing on the issue conducted by the justice committee of the Parliament on Wednesday.

“I didn’t know about the term SDU, and didn’t know either that they had a location outside of the embassy,” Storberget said in response to a question from committee leader Per Sandberg of the Progress Party. Storberget said he was aware that some former employees of the Norwegian police had been hired by the embassy to carry  out some “security assignments” at the embassy, but that was before he became justice minister.

Committee member Hans Frode Asmyhr complained that Storberget was being too vague in saying he didn’t know about “the term SDU,” to which Storberget replied that “I can’t answer any clearer than that I didn’t know about it.”

Norwegian TV2 reported on the US Embassy’s surveillance program last fall, setting off a storm of criticism both over the surveillance itself and over the government’s apparent lack of knowledge of it. Støre told NRK on Wednesday that embassies since have been told that they should inform Norwegian authorities about any special security needs or operations they have.

Storberget said the police must evaluate various security needs or programs at local embassies. “There must be a reason for them, and there must be limits on how systematic and invasive the measures are,” Storberget said. “It’s up to the police to decide.”

Those involved won’t talk
The US Embassy’s surveillance program, and the Norwegians working for it, remains under investigation by police in Østfold County, because the Oslo Police District risked running into conflicts of interest or being involved themselves. News bureau NTB reported this week that police in Østfold still haven’t been able to question the Norwegians working for the so-called SDU, because they signed confidentiality statements. US authorities reportedly claim the confidentiality statements prevent them from answering questions about their work.

Storberget said he couldn’t comment on any pending consequences for the embassy until the investigation was completed. He earlier has said, though, that the SDU was never approved by Norwegian authorities, neither by the Foreign Ministry, the Oslo Police District, the special police intelligence unit PST or the state police directorate, suggesting that the Americans have overstepped their bounds.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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