Debate over how Norway’s police intelligence unit PST does its job has fired up again, after Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired a program in which a former PST informant who infiltrated extremist organizations told his story on national TV. The program included chilling tape recordings of the informant’s meetings with both PST officials and, for example, one right-wing extremist who talked about a desire to execute Norway’s foreign minister at the time, Jonas Gahr Støre.
NRK’s Brennpunkt program, known for its investigations over the years, aired lengthy interviews with the former PST informant, Christian Høibø, who clearly wanted to go public himself about how he’s spent the past 10 years of his life. The time revolved largely around his work for PST, which included not just infiltrating mostly left-wing organizations but also taking a major role in their demonstrations and political activities, allegedly to enhance his credibility as a member of radical groups like Oslo-based Blitz.
PST officials, in an unusual move, confirmed Høibø’s role for PST both on the NRK program and to other Norwegian media. Tore Risberget, operations chief in PST, told newspaper Dagbladet that Høibø “has been important for us, not least in connection with major demonstrations. He has given us good information.”
Since Høibø had taped several of his meetings with his PST contacts, PST likely had little choice but to confirm his role. Some of the taped conversations were aired on Brennpunkt’s program, including one in which Høibø had tipped off PST, which in turn informed Oslo Police, that a group of demonstrators downtown were heading for the British Embassy on Oslo’s fashionable west side. The police were thus able to be in place when the demonstrators arrived, leading Høibø and his PST contact to joke that the British Embassy owed them a big “thank-you” on that occasion.
Høibø, originally from the small mountain town of Bø in Telemark, took part in demonstrations and the illegal occupation of an abandoned house, and even appeared as a spokesman for some of the most extreme left-wing organizations in Norway. The program noted that Høibø played his roles well: Høibø clearly had an interest in performing for an audience, since he also took part in reality programs on Norwegian TV during the years when he was providing information to PST.
His activist role is what was causing much of the critical reaction among elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum in Norway on Wednesday, with several saying he went too far. Hallgeir Langeland, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Socialist Left party (SV), told NRK that he thinks PST “crossed the line” in what it allowed or even encouraged Høibø to do, while others also called for clearer rules regarding what PST can expect of its informers and infiltrators. Concerns rose over whether Høibø’s activities amounted to illegal surveillance by PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjenete).
The program also seemed to back Langeland’s earlier criticism of PST, that it has concentrated far too much on gathering intelligence about left-wing organizations, and hasn’t paid enough attention to the threat from right-wing extremists. PST has been harshly criticized, for example, over its failure to pick up tips about the right-wing extremist who bombed Norway’s government headquarters on July 22, 2011 and massacred young members of the Labour Party. That’s led to massive criticism against the government as well, since the Justice Ministry and, ultimately, the prime minister, is responsible for PST.
Execution threats against ministers
Perhaps the most chilling part of the Brennpunkt program was the taped replay of a meeting Høibø had with another right-wing extremist several months before the July 22 attacks, in which the extremist spoke of wanting to execute then-Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. The man from Kristiansand also spoke of a desire to find out where government ministers might one day be having a festive dinner, like a julebord (Christmas party), for example, so that he and his followers could attack it.
Høibø claimed he passed all that on to PST and warned his PST contacts repeatedly about the kinds of threats being made in extreme right-wing circles, both in person and through social media. Høibø didn’t think PST took them seriously, continuing instead to concentrate their efforts on left-wing groups. Police reportedly merely questioned the man from Kristiansand.
Høibø, age 32, now faces possible reprisals from the organizations he infiltrated but claimed he had no regrets about going public. He said he couldn’t face “another 10 years” of working for PST but also seemed disappointed when PST, in a meeting as late as December, only offered him some wine and NOK 1,500 in cash as “a gift” for his most recent efforts. Høibø reportedly was never on PST’s payroll, but the agency covered expenses.
Høibø also wasn’t pleased to hear late last year that PST had hired a former journalist “with a master’s degree” who could now help them with investigations of various organizations. Høibø ended up severing his ties with PST, and speaking with NRK’s Brennpunkt.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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