Shamed Storting ‘improves routines’

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Leaders of Norway’s Parliament (Storting), faced with a barrage of criticism from MPs and employees for failing to provide enough information about a bomb threat on Wednesday, said Thursday that they’re “immediately” introducing new routines to improve communication. Security measures, of the lack thereof, also remain a major concern.

The special parliamentary hearings into what went wrong on July 22 last year are the most comprehensive to be held in Norway for more than a decade. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Norway’ Parliament building, known as the “Storting,” is located in the heart of Oslo and surrounded by streets that remain open to traffic. Officials continue to wrestle with the challenge of improving security while also hanging on to Norwegian traditions of openness and accessibility. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The bipartisan uproar began Wednesday morning when top politicians and others working inside the historic building arrived for work to find all surrounding streets cordoned off and the Parliament surrounded by heavily armed police. Many had been listening to the radio and checking news sites and thus were aware that the parliament was the target of a bomb threat, but none of them had received any messages or information from the parliament’s own leaders or administrators.

“Have we learned nothing since July 22 (2011),” complained Arve Kambe, a Member of Parliament (MP) from Rogaland for the Conservative Party, referring to the terrorist attacks on Norway’s government nearly 19 months ago. “It’s almost unbelievable what poor information we’ve had. It’s not right that representatives to the country’s national assembly have to read NRK.no and VG Nett (two major websites in Norway)  to update themselves, or even just be oriented about the situation.”

It wasn’t just opposition politicians like Kambe who were upset. MPs from nearly all parties were critical, disturbed or incredulous over the lack of official information, nearly 12 hours after the emergency had begun during the night. Dag Terje Andersen, the president of the Storting and thus one of Norway’s highest-ranking officials, hails from the ruling Labour Party, which has been assailed with criticism over poor security in Norway since the July 22 terrorist bombings and working feverishly since to improve it. Andersen, though, was unhappy himself on Wednesday and agreed that the information flow was severely deficient.

Ida Børresen, the generally respected state official who took over as director of the Parliament last year, apologized for the lack of communication on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s national nightly newcast. “Information from the Storting’s administration to (its elected) representatives and employees on the night’s bomb threat was not good enough,” Børresen also admitted to newspaper Aftenposten. “I’m sorry about that.”

Storting officials will now install a new system for sending SMS (text) messages and e-mails to the MPs and to employees. Andersen said it was clear that simply putting messages out on the Parliament’s website wasn’t sufficient. “We’ll set up a whole new warning system with the help of SMS and e-mail,” Øyvind Korsberg, first vice-president of the Storting, told NRK on Thursday.

Norway's Parliament (Stortinget) has been undergoing construction to improve security this summer. PHOTO: Views and News

Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget) did undergo construction to improve security last summer, but the streets running by it remain open to traffic. This is the view behind the building, from Akersgata. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Concerns remained high that the parliament building itself is not secure enough, with the main street (Akersgata) running by it still open to traffic and many alleged “security holes” where intruders can enter the building. Several MPs told Aftenposten on Thursday that they think measures to boost security have been moving much too slowly.

“I view the security situation as quite unsatisfactory,” Hans Frode Asmyhr, an MP for the opposition Progress Party, told Aftenposten. “The Storting is an old-fashioned and stiff organization that needs to think differently.”

Again, it wasn’t only opposition politicians criticizing the Labour-led government ultimately responsible for security. “Akersgata should have been closed long ago, also the upper portion of Karl Johans Gate (which runs between the Storting and the Grand Hotel),” said Jan Bøhler, a high-profile MP for Labour and member of the parliament’s justice committee. “I know there is a process underway, but this is taking much too much time.”

MPs also point to the Storting’s underground garage as a weak point. “We know of people who have said they were visiting someone at the Storting and parked in the garage without being checked more closely,” André Oktay Dahl, an MP for the Conservative Party told Aftenposten. “We’ve also seen that the gate to the garage is standing open. I don’t want to hang out individual employees working in the security division and within the framework they have. It’s the presidency of the parliament that has to address this.”

Anyone entering the parliamentary complex from the garage must tap in a security code to get inside, but a vehicle laden with explosives and parked in the garage could do great damage, Aftenposten reported.

Børresen said the Storting has received help and advice from national security authorities, the police intelligence unit PST and the Oslo Police District to evaluate risk. The work has been going on for around a year, with results and proposals for improvements due soon, she said.

Meanwhile, she said, the building’s windows already have been strengthened and other measures were put in place last summer. She said talks are continuing with city officials over whether Akersgata can be closed.

“We want good security, at the same time, the Storting shall be an open and accessible building,” Børresen told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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