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Norway accepts the US’ response to surveillance and spying ‘scandal’

While EU officials say they’re “shocked” by  reports of US spying on private persons and themselves, and question the US’ treatment of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, Norway’s government reportedly accepted an explanation it received from US authorities and hasn’t joined the criticism so far. That’s prompted other objections within Norway, however, from politicians and some high-profile attorneys.

“Something isn’t right here,” attorney John Christian Elden told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday.  Elden, who has claimed the US spied on his client email, doesn’t understand why Norwegian government officials aren’t protesting. So are even some politicians from within the left-center government coalition.

“I think the reaction would have been different if a whistle-blower from China had released information about Chinese surveillance of the West,” Snorre Valen of the Socialist Left party (SV) told newspaper Dagsavisen.

EU President Martin Schultz, meanwhile, said he was “shocked” by the latest reports in Der Spiegel, based on documents revealed by the fugitive Snowden, that the US has spied on EU offices in Brussels and Washington DC. Schultz was demanding an explanation himself into reports that the US had tapped telephones, monitored e-mail and broken into the EU’s internal data network.

Whistle blower or traitor?
US officials are calling Snowden a “traitor” who “damaged his country” by releasing sensitive information about how the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors communications of private citizens and, reportedly, foreign officials as well. Valen and others view Snowden as a whistle-blower and, now, a political refugee. Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre) later said that the surveillance scandal in the US is “a serious threat against privacy,” and that the Norwegian government should react.

Their view isn’t shared by many of their colleagues in the Norwegian Parliament. Only a few parties chose to even comment on the Snowden case, with the Conservatives, for example, merely saying that it’s up to the Americans to evaluate his actions in accordance with US law. Other parties questioned by Dagsavisen declined comment, calling it a “difficult” case.

The Norwegian government did ask for clarification earlier this month from the US on the Snowden case and had a meeting with US authorities in Washington, reported newspaper Aftenposten. Pål Lønseth, a state secretary for the Labour Party in the justice ministry, told Aftenposten that the US “hasn’t given us information that gives us reason to claim the US has done anything worthy of criticism.”

That was before news broke that the US allegedly has spied on the EU as well. The surveillance of private persons that has occurred, the Norwegians were told, “was within the confines of US law and only occurs when there are suspicions about persons who may pose a threat to the US.” That seemed to satisfy the Norwegians, at least at that point.

‘You should be worried…’
Meanwhile, another American whistle blower who was acquitted by a US court that ruled the NSA had no grounds for having “made his life hell” after he’d cooperated with a federal investigation into its activities, warned that the NSA has agreements with various countries that can lead them to carry out surveillance on foreign soil as well as in the US.

Thomas Drake, a former top official in both the NSA and other US government intelligence services, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that “I can assure you that the NSA has some sort of agreement or third-party agreement with Norway. You should be worried that our (American) authorities can be spying on you without you being aware of it.”

Drake urged Norwegian media to question Norwegian authorities about what they’re doing to safeguard personal information and communications in Norway. “Ask them if they have any agreements with the NSA,” Drake told DN. “Initially it was only the rest of the world that the NSA was subjecting to surveillance. The fact that millions of Americans have been subject to the same practice is at the heart of the new NSA scandal. NSA’s traditional assignment was to collect foreign intelligence, so you’re fair game.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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