The head of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) said on Wednesday that investigators may not be able to determine whether former government minister Per Sandberg’s mobile phone was compromised when he opted to take it with him on trips to China and Iran. Benedicte Bjørnland said Sandberg was “careless” in connection with his much-disputed holiday in Iran last month.
“But as far as I know, this wasn’t a telephone that has contained classified information,” Bjørnland told news bureau NTB while in Arendal on Wednesday to speak about digital threats to Norway and the Nordic countries. She thus doesn’t think that Sandberg’s negligence could greatly harm “fundamental national interests.”
She told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that the political and media uproar over Sandberg’s violations of security procedures, which led to his resignation as fisheries minister on Monday, “illustrates a vulnerability and lack of consciousness among politicians, but can also have a preventative effect. This can lead to government and opposition politicians thinking twice before they travel abroad to a country where we do not have security cooperation.”
PST’s examination of Sandberg’s phone has become a matter of great interest to opposition politicians who want to know whether Sandberg’s carelessness has damaged national security. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has deferred to PST, which is now responsible for examining Sandberg’s phone. Bjørnland said they may never know. That’s because Sandberg took the phone to countries “with extremely resourceful security and intelligence services with extremely sophisticated technical capacity,” Bjørnland told NTB. “We can’t take it for granted that we will be able to see signs of that on the phone.”
She said that sensitive information such as contact lists and names can have fallen into the wrong hands. “But foreign powers are hunting for that type of information all the time, continually,” Bjørnland said, noting that Norwegian politicians are also targets of foreign espionage in Norway.
She wouldn’t comment on PST’s reported investigation of the newly separated Sandberg’s traveling companion in Iran and partner Bahareh Letnes, but confirmed that PST has carried out what she called a “security conversation” with Sandberg.
Bjørnland said PST was still in possession of Sandberg’s phone. She didn’t know when the examination of it would be completed.”We’ll spend time on it, since the case has received so much attention, and then destroy the phone when we’re finished,” she said.