Former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who’s now secretary general of NATO, and his former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre both took their government-issued mobile telephones with them on at least one trip to Russia. Both thus broke government security regulations long before Støre, now leader of the opposition Labour Party, recently blasted the current conservative government after one of its ministers did the same.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) secured confirmation from the foreign ministry on Friday that Støre had his phone with him when he visited Russia in 2011.
Stoltenberg’s communications adviser, Stein Hernes, also confirmed that Stoltenberg had his phone with him on a trip to Russia a year earlier. Stoltenberg used the phone, which contained email, for a conversation during the day trip to Murmansk to sign an historic agreement on Norway’s and Russia’s border in the Barents Sea. Stoltenberg’s use of the phone “was not in line with regulations at the time, and he’s sorry about that,” Hernes told DN.
Russia, along with China and Iran, are considered high-risk countries for cyber attacks and espionage. Mobile phones are often targeted, and that’s why government officials’ phones with all the content and contacts they can contain, are considered especially vulnerable.
The foreign ministry first developed the rules in 2010, when phones started carrying more and more data. The ministry made it clear that mobile phones should not be taken into countries where the threat of espionage is high.
Støre nonetheless told DN that “there was another type of attention on use of mobile phones at that time, nor were there any routines to turn in phones after the new regulations came in 2010.” He said the emphasis was on being careful, but added that “I of course should have followed the rules.”
The need to follow rules is also what Støre expressed in no uncertain terms at last week’s political gathering in Arendal, when he blasted Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government coalition after it became known that her fisheries minister, Per Sandberg from the Progress Party, had taken his government smart phone to Iran when he spent his summer holiday there along with his new Iranian-born partner. Sandberg also deliberately did not tell either his ministry nor Solberg’s office that he was traveling to Iran before he left, also in violation of government regulations.
Støre went beyond simply criticizing Sandberg, claiming that Sandberg’s violations raised questions about how seriously Solberg’s government took security. Solberg herself faces a parliamentary hearing on Monday over criticism of her government’s failure to improve security and preparedness at home, too.
Now Støre has been caught making one of the same mistakes as Sandberg did. Sandberg declined to comment beyond saying it would be “dangerous” to say what he thought about Støre’s and Stoltenberg’s violations. Sandberg was forced to resign his positions both as minister and as deputy leader of the Progress Party, also because his highly positive comments about Iran and his new relationship with a former Iranian asylum seeker who now travels back to Iran was difficult for many in his party to accept.
Prime Minister Solberg said Friday afternoon that DN‘s revelations on Friday “should give Jonas Gahr Støre and Labour Party representatives something to think about.” She has already called for a full review of how mobile phone risks and regulations are viewed and followed, and said she has asked all ministries to make them clear and practice them consistently.