Secret spying unit ‘no surprise’

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A leading foreign policy analyst says it should come as no surprise that Norway maintained a secret spying unit that operated in nine countries for 10 years. Two Oslo newspapers reported its existence over the weekend,  and key government officials claim they didn’t know about it.

Newspapers VG and Dagbladet both carried stories on the so-called E14 unit, otherwise known as Seksjon for spesiell innhenting. (Section for Special Gathering). As many as 140 Norwegian men and women worked in the unit, which was operative from 1995 until 2005.

Agents posed as students
It operated separately from the Defense Ministry and its own intelligence gathering units, although many of its staff were defense personnel. VG reported that it operated in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and its agents often posed as Norwegian students.

Most of the unit’s agents worked in other divisions of the Defense Ministry when they weren’t on duty in foreign countries. Their main assignment was to gather information about conditions in the countries where they were sent, so that Norway had its own intelligence on which to rely.

Helge Lurås, an adviser at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI who has worked in military intelligence himself, told newspaper Aftenposten that it was important to have such units. The fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s changed the character of threats and intelligence goals, Lurås said. It was important for Norway to gather its own intelligence where Norwegian interests were located and involved, and not least where Norwegian defense forces were placed.

“Much of the intelligence information was coming from American and British sources,” Lurås told Aftenposten. “There will always be a certain lack of confidence among the allied countries’ intelligences services, because each country has it own interests and can colour the intelligence to its own advantage. So it’s smart to have your own people to make your own evaluations.”

‘The little extra’
The E14 agents nurtured their own sources in the countries where they operated, Lurås said, “and that creates the little extra that can give unique analysis material.” He said the existence of the E14 unit shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the volatile situation in the 1990s.

“I have no reason to believe other than that it was controlled by the state Auditor General’s office and the Paliament’s intelligence committee,” Lurås told Aftenposten, referring to the so-called EØS utvalg, which monitors intelligence issues in the European Free Trade Area.

The leader of the committee from 1999 to 2006, Leif Mevik, says he didn’t know about the unit’s existence, nor did its leader since 2006, Helga Hernes. Nor did Marit Nybakk of the Labour Party, who led the Parliament’s defense committee from 2001 to 2005. Nybakk said, however, that there was political agreement among western countries to sharpen intelligence activities after the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001.

“This sort of operation has proven to be the right thing to do,” Nybakk told Aftenposten. “An incredible number of terrorist attacks have been stopped.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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