UPDATED: Jonas Gahr Støre, who served as Norway’s foreign minister for seven years in the former left-center government, says it would be be “naive” to believe that Norwegian politicians like himself have avoided being spied on by the US and other countries. Both Støre and new Prime Minister Erna Solberg, though, call such spying “completely unacceptable” and Solberg is demanding some answers from Washington.
As the US’ surveillance programs continued to scandalize Europe over the weekend, and set off a major diplomatic crisis between the US and its European allies, Støre told newspaper Dagsavisen that Norwegian leaders must expect they’ve been targets of surveillance as well. As a wealthy country rich in oil and other natural resources that shares a border with Russia, is a member of NATO but in the unique position of being outside the EU, Norway has long been seen as being of great strategic importance and interest despite its small population.
“There’s all reason to react to (the alleged spying),” Støre, of the Labour Party, told Dagsavisen. “This is all about unacceptable violations of the law and it’s just not right that allies spy on one another.”
Solberg reacts too
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party, who recently replaced Støre’s boss, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, joined Støre in condemning such surveillance. “I don’t think that allies or friends should spy on each other,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. “Surveillance and trying to prevent terrorism are an important part of what we do in the world, but not between friends.”
On Monday, Solberg said she has asked staff at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington DC to take up the issue with their US counterparts, and demand answers as to whether Norwegian leaders have been under US surveillance.
“We have no information on whether we’ve been under surveillance, but we are interested in finding out,” Solberg said at a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who was in Oslo to attend a meeting of the Nordic Council.
News that the US’ controversial National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel for more than 10 years, and has monitored tens of millions of mobile phones and data communication all over Europe, has set off what the BBC has called “the worst diplomatic crisis in modern time.” Merkel and a growing list of other European leaders are furious that their phone conversations and e-mail, for example, have been subject to surveillance according to the latest documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Now it’s more clear than ever why the US reacted so strongly itself to public release of the classified information, and tried so hard to rein in Snowden who now has been granted asylum in Russia. The US government seems to have been caught red-handed spying on its own allies, and US ambassadors are being called in by government leaders to explain themselves and be rebuked. Reports in German media that US President Barack Obama knew about the spying but told Merkel he didn’t have further enraged both Merkel herself and her EU colleagues.
Unsure of the extent in Norway
Neither Støre, Stoltenberg, Solberg or new Foreign Minister Børge Brende know what sort of surveillance they may have been or are under themselves. Støre stressed that intelligence gathering and surveillance have been going on for decades, “but what’s special now is that the development of new technology has opened up unknown possibilities,” he told Dagsavisen.
Støre said the entire scandal shows that “we must be prepared that what we say on the phone or write in an e-mail is of such a character that it would be okay if it landed on the front page of a newspaper. The most important thing we can do to fight this is to take clear precautions.” Stoltenberg told NRK over the weekend that he’s always been careful about what he says on a mobile phone, because someone else may be listening.
Brende said the new government is following the surveillance scandal closely “and we’re already looking more closely at whether Norwegian politicians or other authorities have been affected.”
Støre, meanwhile, thinks the spying will continue despite the current outrage. “I don’t have many illusions that it’s possible to regulate the surveillance,” Støre said. “Those conducting the surveillance operate in their own sphere out of consideration for their own nation’s interests and security. Historially speaking they seem quite immune to international law.”