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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ex-informant sparks new PST probe

Claims broadcast nationwide this week by a man who worked as an informant for Norway’s police intelligence unit PST have set off a new probe into whether PST has engaged in illegal surveillance. The investigation is being carried out by the parliamentary commission charged with monitoring the activities of Norway’s secret intelligence-gathering services.

The commission (called EOS-utvalget) released a statement that it had decided to conduct the probe into the former PST informant’s claims at its own initiative. Several Members of Parliament and other top politicians already had expressed concerns over the claims, and Justice Minister Grete Faremo said she wanted  some answers as well. She indicated that PST itself asked for the probe.

Long and troubled history
PST and its intelligence-gathering methods have stirred controversy for years, especially in the 1990s after the government-appointed Lund Commission revealed illegal surveillance by PST. That led to the forced resignation of Faremo, who also was justice minister at the time in an earlier government, and now it can seem as if history is repeating itself.

Faremo says she doesn’t think PST has done anything illegal this time, but she wants more information and told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday that she “can well understand that questions have arisen around the secret intelligence service.”

The questions came after former PST informant Christian Høibø went public on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s Brennpunkt program earlier this week and described how he infiltrated extremist organizations and reported back to PST. Høibo’s tactics and activist roles in the organizations already have set off debate, with questions also raised over his credibility. PST, meanwhile, was the target of stinging criticism by another government-appointed commission just last year, when it was described as an introverted organization with the wrong focus.

Suspicions of illegal surveillance
The new investigation of PST mostly concerns Høibø’s claims that he, among other things, took copies of some of the membership and subscription lists of organizations he infiltrated, and delivered the lists to PST. That raised concerns among several politicians including Audun Lysbakken, leader of Norway’s Socialist Left Party (SV), that PST sought such information and registered it. PST is not allowed to register persons solely on the basis of political alliance or membership in a political organization.

PST officials, who confirmed that Høibø worked for them, already have denied that PST has registered membership or subscription lists to, for example, the organization Internasjonale Solsialister (IS), as Høibø claimed. “We have gone through the entire case and haven’t found any membership lists,” Martin Bernsen, information chief for PST, told Dagsavisen. He said PST was more interested in people known for violence or who had contact with terrorist organizations than in IS members in general.

Eldbjørg Løwer, a former defense minister who now heads the parliament’s EOS commission investigating PST, told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday that “we feel a responsibility to find out the facts in this case. We’re getting involved because it has attracted so much attention, and because there are so many claims of political surveillance.”

She said commission members, who are appointed by the parliament, will question PST leaders and employees, and also go through archives and registers at PST. Faremo told several media outlets that PST itself had contacted the commission and asked it to investigate.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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