Janne Kristiansen, embattled chief of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST, resigned on the spot during the night, after making a major blunder at a public hearing on Wednesday: Kristiansen revealed classified information that Norway has intelligence agents working in Pakistan.
The intelligence gathering efforts in Pakistan, tied to anti-terrorism efforts, likely come as no surprise, but Kristiansen’s public declaration that they even exist is viewed as a violation of the vow of confidentiality that PST officials and staff are expected to uphold. No one is supposed to comment on intelligence gathering operations, either in or out of the country, not least because it can put the lives of those involved in danger.
Kristiansen, however, told a parliamentary committee investigating the response to last year’s terrorist attacks that “we have, via (the military intelligence gathering unit known) E-tjenesten in foreign service … representation in these countries you’re talking about,” which, given the committee’s questioning at the time, meant she was referring to Pakistan. Kristiansen earlier had said PST cooperated with the security and intelligence agencies in around 60 countries but had no “official cooperation” with Pakistan, and added that E-tjenesten “has representation, and we have a close cooperation with E-tjenesten.” She also said PST cooperated with a police liaison in Islamabad.
That was a serious mistake for an intelligence chief to make. Not only did she reveal information about overseas intelligence operations, but she spoke on behalf of the military unit more formally called Etterrettningstjeneste (Norwegian Intelligence Service, NIS), charged with carrying out top secret operations. Moreover, it’s tied to the Ministry of Defense, while the PST unit Kristiansen has headed for the past few years is under the Ministry of Justice. So political commentators on Thursday morning also noted that Kristiansen crossed ministerial lines.
One intelligence expert told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was “rather shocking” for Kristiansen to speak as she did. “An individual in that position should know better,” he said, adding that her remarks “certainly could place people in danger.” He said Norwegian officials now must “assess the damage done, and how extensive it is.”
Justice Minister Grete Faremo issued a brief press release shortly after midnight that gave few details of the incident, but stated that Kristiansen herself “had informed the justice minister that she was resigning her position” because “it’s been ascertained a possible violation of confidentiality through release of classified information.”
Faremo said she accepted the resignation and that Roger Berg, deputy leader of PST, was taking over as acting PST chief. The statement did go on to say that Kristiansen’s “possible violation” of confidentiality laws occurred “in connection with the hearing in Stortinget’s (the Parliament’s) special committee for the 22nd of July” when “Kristiansen formulated herself in a manner that can be considered a violation.”
“I want to stress that no violation of law has been established, but that this involves a possible violation,” Faremo stated in the press release. “I have nevertheless chosen to accept Kristiansen’s desire to resign.”
Kristiansen had been under pressure for months because of massive criticism over her response to the July 22 attacks and PST’s failure to act on tips about the confessed terrorist before he struck. She had claimed as last as last month that she had no intention of resigning, but had apologized for what she called “a lack of clarity” in comments she made about the attacks.
Several politicians including Progress Party leader Siv Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday morning that their confidence in Kristiansen already was “extremely thin.” Her oral blunder at the hearing on Wednesday tipped the balance, and if Kristiansen hadn’t resigned herself, they likely would have demanded she be fired.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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