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Friday, April 19, 2024

Ex-Labour leaders deny halting book

Former leaders of Norway’s Labour Party, including current Council of Europe leader Thorbjørn Jagland, flatly deny a report in newspaper Dagbladet over the weekend that they tried to halt publication of a book in the UK that allegedly exposed two more Norwegian spies for the Soviet Union. Both of the alleged spies reportedly had ties to Labour and Norway’s Foreign Ministry at the time.

Thorbjørn Jagland, who now heads both the Council of Europe and the Norwegian Nobel Committee, denies trying to halt publication of a book that allegedly identified two Norwegian spies for the Soviet Union - both of whom were tied to Labour and the foreign ministry. PHOTO: Council of Europe

The book, which covered a broad spectrum of alleged spying operations in the Nordic areas, never was published, and Dagbladet reported that Labour officials played a role in making sure it wasn’t. That’s because the book, according to Dagbladet, revealed that former Labour Party politician and diplomat Arne Treholt, convicted in the mid-1980s of spying for the Soviets, wasn’t the only one dealing with the KGB.

Dagbladet’s anonymous sources claimed that two other “central persons” in Labour and the Foreign Ministry were named in the book as KGB spies. The book reportedly was written by Soviet defector Vasili Mitrokhin, who died in 2004, and British author Christopher Andrew.

In 2001, according to Dagbladet, Norway’s police intelligence unit then called POT was alerted by British intelligence service MI6 that the revealing book was in the works. Labour, which held government power at the time, was also alerted and allegedly mobilized an effort to get the British to halt the book’s publication in the UK.

Martin Kolberg, who was Labour's party secretary in 2001, says he never heard about the book and that Labour would never have tried to halt such a book's publication. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Jagland led Labour at the time and also served as foreign minister while Jens Stoltenberg was prime minister. Both Jagland and Martin Kolberg, Labour’s powerful party secretary at the time, deny not only that they made attempts to halt an English book that revealed Norwegian spies but also any knowledge of the book.

“I have never heard of the book and therefore never tried to stop such a book,” Jagland told news bureau NTB after Dagbladet’s story came out on Sunday. He said he was aware that two persons working in Norway’s foreign ministry were mentioned in Mitrokhin’s archive, but both were cleared by the ministry’s top administrator at the time, Bjarne Lindstrøm.

“He (Lindstrøm) looked into this and determined there was no reason to pursue the matter,” Jagland told NTB. Hanne Harlem, who was Labour’s justice minister in 2001, also told NTB that she has no memory of either the spy allegations or a book that was allegedly halted.

Kolberg, meanwhile, called it “completely unthinkable” that Labour would try to halt a book in the UK. He told reporters that it’s never been documented that other Labour politicians than Treholt were agents or spies and noted that Labour “never held its hand over Treholt” when he was arrested and convicted. Kolberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he thinks Dagbladet’s sources should “come forward” to handle further questions.

Per Sefland, who headed the intelligence unit POT from 1997 to 2004, told newspaper Aftenposten that he remembers “rumours” that he was writing a book, “but I can’t remember we were warned about it by MI6.”

Opposition politicians in parliament were quick to demand more information from Labour, which currently heads Norway’s left-center coalition government. Ivar Kristiansen of the Conservative Party called Dagbladet’s allegations so “suggestive” that both Justice Minister Knut Storberget and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre should address them in Parliament. Other politicians from the Progress Party and the Liberal Party said they were anxious to see how the government would respond.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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