Norway’s defense chief Morten Haga Lunde sees three major threats in what he calls the “digital room:” attempts to influence public opinion, spy and carry out sabotage. He defended, meanwhile, Norway’s own intelligence gathering and denied civilians are under any surveillance.
Lunde handed over his latest threat evaluation to the government on Monday, compiled by the military intelligence unit he heads called E-tjenesten. At the same he faced the press for the first time since Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported over the weekend on a previously secret “listening post” at the old Eggemoen military camp outside Hønefoss.
Questions and concerns have swirled since over the legality of the operation, since it involves monitoring satellites and electronic communication that can include Norwegian civilians’ mobile phones and online activity.
“We are not storing information on Norwegians in Norway,” Lunde told NRK. “We have authority … that gives us the possibility to collect megadata and operate within what we call ‘communications intelligence,’ but we don’t follow anyone on Norwegian soil.”
That “authority” has been questioned by several legal experts since NRK aired its report. Lunde remained firm: “If there was anything illegal going on at Eggemoen, I would have stopped it.” The parliamentary commission that monitors military intelligence gathering in Norway, the so-called EOS-utvalg, remains unconvinced, and plans are underway to beef up Norwegian laws in an effort to protect privacy.
Lunde was clearly more keen to talk on Monday about security threats facing Norway in the new “Focus 2018” report. The non-classified report warns that “various players” try to compromise and infiltrate Norwegian agencies and authorities. The goal is to gather information on traditinal political and military targets, along with carrying out industrial espionage, Haga said.
He described a recent attack against the computer network at Norway’s national health agency for the populous southeastern portion of the country, Helse Sørøst, as a “concrete example” of a digital offensive against a specific target. That attack “showed clearly that spying against Norway is not confined to traditional politiand military targets.”
Lunde also stressed that after IS was defeated in Syria and Iraq, the organization has lost its abiity to recruit foreign fighters for a major offensive. IS loyalists can still, however, inspire followers to carry out terrorist attacks iin Europe. He estimates that there still are around 40 IS fighters with ties to Norway left in the Middle East.