Negligent security still hushed up

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Norwegian politicians have refused to address security concerns for years, at all levels of government, and still seem reluctant to clamp down with serious measures. Meanwhile, the police deny any wrongdoing in their response to the terrorist attacks of July 22, and it looks like the government’s badly damaged high-rise will be torn down.

Streets were cordoned off around the government complex in Oslo right after the attacks in July, but by then it was too late. PHOTO: Views and News

As the endless aftermath of the attacks continues to unfold, Norwegian media remain dominated by reports of poor security around public institutions. Newspaper Aftenposten has been running a series of articles that show what the paper calls “alarming holes” in how officials have tackled security issues over the past decade.

Despite professional evaluations that urged, for example, street closures around government ministries and the Parliament, nothing was done. Several major security lapses have been reported every year before a right-wing extremist bombed government headquarters in July, but no steps were taken that would have prevented him or others from being able to drive right up to the front entrance of the government high-rise in a vehicle full of explosives.

Hardly any government ministers have participated in security drills, insecure entrances to ministries weren’t closed, outdated and poorly functioning security cameras weren’t replaced, guards on duty were spread thin and could barely make out the pictures on their old surveillance screens. Police evaluations as long ago as 2004 urged that Grubbegaten, one of the streets running between several ministries downtown, be closed. In that case, it was city officials, not state, who dragged their feet. Only now, seven years years later and after the bombing, will the street be blocked off.

The high-rise that housed the Office of the Prime Minister and the Justice Ministry may be torn down. PHOTO: Views and News

Meanwhile, many top politicians still stress a desire to keep Oslo and Norwegian society as open and accessible as possible. City officials still don’t want the government area to be closed off, despite the tragedy of July 22. “It’s easy to have clear hindsight, but there’s no doubt: No one has put a priority on security, nor has anyone trained for it,” Pål Arnesen of the public employees’ union YS Stat told Aftenposten. “There’s been a general attitude that a serious terrorist attack wouldn’t happen here.”

Sylvia Peters, an employees’ representative for the Justice Ministry, which was severely damaged in the bombing and suffered casualties, said the lack of security measures show “a fundamental lack of professionalism.”

What’s worse, claim some commentators, is that government officials remain reluctant to take security issues seriously, and they’ve tried to hush up criticism. One attorney told Aftenposten that ministry employees have been threatened with “social sanctions” if they criticize workplace security. They also fear it will damage their careers. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s call for “even more openness” after the attacks doesn’t seem to apply to state workers, or there are fears among top officials that tougher security measures will themselves hurt the openness they want.

Those in charge of security, including cabinet minister Rigmor Aasrud, contend security is being addressed, even though the Justice Ministry experienced a break-in shortly after moving into its temporary quarters in Nydalen. Right now, Aasrud is waiting for a formal recommendation on what should happen to the buildings damaged by the bomb. Newspaper VG reported on Friday that the high-rise centerpiece that housed the Justice Ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister will probably be torn down to make way for a more modern and more secure government headquarters. Aasrud wouldn’t comment, referring to the recommendation due in early January.

The police, meanwhile, have cleared themselves of any wrongdoing after the attacks. In a controversial internal report delivered late last week, the police claim they did the best they could under the circumstances and that their emergency response to the attacks was in line with procedures. They claimed they got to the island of Utøya, where the terrorist carried out a massacre, as quickly as possible and don’t see how they could have done anything different. A state commission will offer its own report and conclusions on the response later next year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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