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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Secrecy can stymie Storting’s probe

As more examination of the poor response to last year’s terrorist attacks gets underway in Parliament (Storting) this week, critics are lashing out at a move to keep secret what several top government officials actually told a commission investigating the response. The secrecy, they claim, is totally at odds with the government’s own call for more openness.

The Parliament (Stortinget) will launch its own probe of the response to last year's terrorist attacks on Tuesday, and many MPs are unhappy that the accounts of several top government officials are being kept secret. PHOTO: Views and News

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday that the director general of Norway’s National Archives (riksarkivar), Ivar Fonnes, has decided to withhold the top officials’ remarks to the commission from the public record. Fonnes claims they weren’t intended to be made public, that they could be “misleading” and taken out of context, and that their release could discourage other public officials from being open with investigatory commissions in the future.

That means the accounts of former Justice Minister Knut Storberget, former state Police Director Ingelin Killengreen and current Police Director Øystein Mæland, the former head of police intelligence unit PST Janne Kristiansen, the government minister still in charge of administrative issues Rigmor Aasrud and top government adviser Nina Frisaks will all be kept secret.

Kristiansen was forced to quit after several blunders she made after the attacks, and calls have been going out for the resignations of Aasrud and Killengreen as well. Killengreen was in charge for more than a decade of the police system that’s now been shown to be severely flawed, and now she works for Aasrud.

As head of the Justice Ministry, which has authority over the police, Storberget had to describe conditions within the police before the attacks on July 22 last year. Kristiansen, who reported to Storberget, had to answer for PST’s failure to pick up tips about convicted terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Killengreen was grilled by the commission on what she did – or didn’t do – to secure the government  complex during her tenure as state police chief. And her current boss, Aasrud, had to answer why it took Aasrud’s ministry seven years to block off the street leading through the government complex. That allowed Breivik to drive his explosives-laden van right up to the front entrance of Justice Ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister and set off his deadly blast.

Now none of what these top officials actually told the commission will be made public, and both media officials and opposition politicians are crying foul. The head of the national editors’ association calls the national archives boss’ decision an “abuse of the law,” while the leaders of all the opposition parties in Parliament claim it flies in the face of the government’s own calls for more openness.

“This doesn’t exactly harmonize with the ‘more openness and more democracy’ mantra that most of us supported,” Siv Jensen of the Progress Party told Aftenposten. Erna Solberg, head of the Conservative Party, agreed.

“Now that the commission’s report itself has been made public and is up for examination in Parliament, it’s completely natural that the accounts of the most central authorities be made public in their entirety,” Solberg told Aftenposten. This is important for the Parliament’s ongoing examination.”

That gets underway on Tuesday, when Stortinget’s control and disciplinary committee will hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss how the Parliament will dig into and act on the commission’s report and criticism over the lack of terror preparedness. The committee is headed by Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party, the only party that’s never held government power and now has an opportunity to challenge all those who have. The committee intends to call in both members of the current government and earlier governments, as it probes itself what went wrong before and after last year’s attacks.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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