Foreign spies pressure state workers

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Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) has resorted to issuing a public warning over how agents for foreign countries keep trying to extract sensitive, often classified, information from state employees. Their attempts can involve skillful nurturing of contacts, extortion or outright bribes, and they’re active in the private sector as well.

PST, which released its annual evaluation of threats to national security on Monday, referred to the threat of espionage as second only to that coming from Islamic and other extremists. PST officials are not only aware of the spying that goes on in Norway, but now think it’s reached levels serious enough to alert the public in general.

Threat from eastern Europe and Asia
PST boss Marie Benedicte Bjørnland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on its national nightly newscast Dagsrevy on Monday that the spying mostly is carried out by countries in Asia and in eastern Europe, often those that once were part of the Soviet Union. PST analysts and Bjørnland singled out Iran as being particularly active, allegedly in efforts to further its nuclear program. China also has been referred to earlier as keen on obtaining access to information particularly regarding the northern areas.

The foreign agents’ main goal, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday, is to recruit Norwegian employees who can gain access to classified documents regarding police records, informants and emergency preparedness.

PST officials have, according to Aftenposten, revealed concrete examples of such recruiting and they believe recruiting attempts will occur again. State workers in the Justice Ministry are among the primary targets.

Jon Fitje, head of the analysis division at PST, said there are several ways the foreign agents can put pressure on state workers, either by offering payment in cash or material goods, by nurturing Norwegians seen as willing to help another country, or through pure extortion if the foreign agents have incriminating personal information about the Norwegian worker.

“The common factor among these persons is that their loyalty doesn’t lie with Norwegian authorities,” Fitje told Aftenposten.

More than 1,000 state workers in Norway have been denied security clearance either because of ties to “foreign states” or because of their personal history, according to figures obtained by Aftenposten from the national security agency NSM.

Industrial espionage, too
In addition to the pressure put on state employees, foreign agents also target Norwegian companies not least in the defense and energy industries. Industrial espionage is a constant threat, Fitje said, and commercial enterprises are warned to be on guard.

“Foreign companies can portray themselves as purely commercial enterprises that want to cooperate with Norwegian firms,” Fitje said. “In reality they work for foreign intelligence agencies. We are worried that the information they want is meant to strengthen another country’s defenses.”

It’s earlier been reported that agents for some countries also target or harass their own citizens living in Norway, often those who have been granted asylum. Employees at Norway’s immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) have also been warned to be on guard.

NRK reported that espionage attempts have resulted in the deportation of some foreign nationals, or spies posing as diplomats being declared “unwanted” in Norway and sent out of the country.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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