A stash of historical documents has revealed that the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spied on Norwegian diplomats who were in the US during World War II, and over the following years. The FBI kept detailed records of messages to Norway’s exiled government in London, including trivialities like requests for pay raises, news of a birth and word of the safe arrival of a new consul general in San Francisco.
The documents date between 1942 and 1948, a period when Norway and the US were allies and friends, reported newspaper Aftenposten. Swiss journalist Martin Stoll gained access to the documents, four years after he first applied under the Freedom of Information Act.
Several of the papers came from the office of J Edgar Hoover, the controversial former chief of the FBI who led it for almost 50 years. They’re marked “Norwegian counterespionage activities,” and are added as attachments to intercepted telegrams. Two documents, dating from the 1960s, state that the folders on Norway are stored in the FBI’s “Special File Room.”
Some of the more serious files include a request in 1946 by a US Navy captain for help cracking Norwegian and Swedish codes. Another from 1948 showed four listening devices were connected to Norwegian diplomatic stations in the summer of 1946.
Aftenposten reported the telegrams did not contain sensitive information, but speculated there could be many more intercepted documents that have not yet been declassified, or further secret monitoring of other diplomats posted in the US.
Historian not surprised
Professor Tom Kristiansen at the Institute for Defense Studies (Institutt for Forsvarsstudier) said he had not heard of these specific cases, but it’s known that countries spy on each other during wartime. “Considering that Norway was an important seafaring nation and had a gigantic merchant fleet, it’s not terribly surprising that such things should happen in San Francisco,” he said. “The Communists were also very strong in the Norwegian Seamen’s Union.”
Kristiansen said it’s no surprise that the FBI, responsible for US internal security, monitored its allies. “It would be more surprising if they didn’t care about foreign representatives when the country was at war,” he explained. “It is a national security question. Preparedness increases in war, when you need to ensure that no harm is done via other countries’ delegations and consulates.”
President Franklin D Roosevelt took a special interest in Norway’s royal family during the war, arranging for Crown Princess Martha and the royal children to live in exile in the Washington area while Crown Prince Olav and King Haakon were in London, but the papers show he also ordered Hoover to monitor allied countries from 1940, before the US had entered World War II. They also revealed Swiss ambassadors were followed in Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, and that the Americans managed to crack Switzerland’s wartime encryption code, despite the fact the country was neutral. Finnish, Dutch, Italian and Swedish diplomats were also monitored.
In 1948 the documents were stored in a confidential file room, so they would be difficult to produce under Congress investigations. The room also contained details about spies in Communist countries, and powerful members of society who had “not normal” sex lives.
Both Norway’s Foreign Ministry (Utenriksdepartementet) and the FBI declined to comment. The US’ modern-day monitoring of its global allies sparked outrage last year, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked controversial surveillance documents about it, revealing its extent.