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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Former spy boss let off the hook

The Norwegian agency that investigates possible criminal offenses by on-duty police has dropped its case against Janne Kristiansen, the former head of state police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste). She had faced fines and a jail term for revealing that Norway has intelligence officers in Pakistan.

Janne Kristiansen had a relatively short and stormy tenure as head of police intelligence agency PST. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Kristiansen’s major mistake came during a public hearing at the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) in January and did cost the controversial PST boss her job. She resigned under pressure just hours after answering a Member of Parliament’s question that led her to confirm that PST has, through the military intelligence gathering unit known as E-tjenesten, “representation” in Pakistan as part of its anti-terror efforts.

That was legally viewed as a “possible violation” of confidentiality laws, Kristiansen lost her job and the investigatory agency known as Spesialenheten for politisaker launched a probe. Kristiansen denied she was guilty of a punishable offense, though, and investigators were unable to question anyone from the military intelligence unit because the Defense Ministry didn’t release them from their own oaths of confidentiality.

Kristiansen, age 59, thus goes free and the matter won’t be pursued, leading opposition politicians to criticize the Defense Ministry’s handling of the case. Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr of the Progress Party, a member of the parliament’s justice committee, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) it would only lead to speculation. “I think the government, both the defense minister and the prime minister, should have contributed to clearing this up,” Asmyhr told NRK.

Instead they seemed more inclined to drop the matter and let Kristiansen off the hook, perhaps viewing her forced resignation as punishment enough. She negotiated, however, a lucrative severance package that, according to newspaper VG, gives her three months of paid holiday plus six months off at full pay. When that break is over, she can also demand a job within the justice sector in the Oslo area at a salary not less than the NOK 1.2 million (USD 226,000) she was earning as PST boss, and she’ll be allowed to start her new job with six months of study leave, also at full pay.

Kristiansen had already been under fire on other matters, because of PST’s failure to act on tips about confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik early last year and because of controversial comments she made just after Breivik’s terrorist attacks on July 22. She hung on to her job, though, after apologizing in December for a “lack of clarity.”

Her blunder at the parliamentary hearing, made before a room full of politicians and journalists, was the proverbial last straw but nearly went unnoticed had it not been picked up by a veteran reporter for VG, Alf Bjarne Johnsen. He questioned Justice Minister Grete Faremo (Kristiansen’s boss) about whether Kristiansen hadn’t in fact revealed classified information and thus violated confidentiality oaths. Faremo, knowing VG would come with a story on the issue, confronted Kristiansen who had little choice but to resign on the spot.

There’s speculation that the incident provided the government with a reason to remove a PST chief who faced a lack of confidence in parliament and was becoming a political liability after just two years on the job. A formal search for her successor was launched this week.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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