Parliament probes spy’s recruitment

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The Norwegian Parliament’s special commission charged with monitoring the country’s intelligence agencies has confirmed that it will investigate how convicted spy Frode Berg was recruited and whether any of his rights were violated. Berg finally landed back in Norway during the weekend, after nearly two years in a Russian jail.

A special commission that monitors Norway’s secret intelligence-gathering services for the Norwegian Parliament has decided to investigate how one of them recruited a retired border inspector in Kirkenes for courier assignments within Russia that went very wrong. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

The parliamentary commission, known as EOS-utvalget, will evaluate whether Norway’s military intelligence agency (E-tjenesten) has operated within the law. Neither E-tjenesten nor government officials will confirm or deny whether they had anything to do with Berg. The retired border inspector in Northern Norway has, however, repeatedly claimed that E-tjenesten recruited him for a series of courier assignments within Russia that ended up with his entrapment and arrest in Moscow in early December 2017, when was found to be carrying EUR 3,000 in cash.

Berg has made it clear while incarcerated that he felt betrayed by E-tjenesten, claiming those who recruited him let him down, while Berg’s family has claimed he was “cast to the wolves.” Berg has said he never fully understood the extent of what he became involved in or what he’d been asked to do, which involved carrying cash and documents into and out of Russia. During one memorable court appearance in Moscow, Berg bitterly claimed he’d been “duped” into being a courier.

‘Can understand’ Berg’s frustration
“We want to see whether individuals’ rights are violated, and whether E-tjenesten has conducted itself within the law,” the EOS commission’s leader, Svein Grønnern told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). EOS stands for Etterretnings-, Overvåkings- og Sikkerhetstjeneste (Intelligence, Surveillance and Security services) and it’s responsible for controlling Norway’s so-called “secret” services such as E-tjenesten. Its investigations and findings are reported to lawmakers in Parliament.

Grønnern said the EOS commission already has been examining the Frode Berg case, but won’t reveal what’s been uncovered so far. He noted, however, that Berg “has been clear (in his complaints) and that affects us to the degree that we have begun an examination.” He told NRK that commission members can understand Berg’s frustration, “when he had to spend so much time in prison. Beyond that we’ll have to come back with the various aspects of the case.”

Retired border inspector Frode Berg had to undergo many memorable appearances from inside a prisoner’s cage in a Russian courtroom. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Berg, now age 64, was ultimately released from a Moscow prison as part of a spy exchange involving both Russia and Lithuania.

After being taken over the border to Lithuania on Friday and initially staying with Norway’s ambassador to Lithuania, Berg and his Norwegian defense attorney Brynjulf Risnes were flown by private jet to Oslo Saturday night. Berg has since been reunited with his wife and daughter at an undisclosed location pending a meeting with the press later this week.

“Now we need to find some peace,” Berg’s wife Anita wrote in a text message to news bureau NTB on Sunday. “We have a lot to talk about.” It remained unclear whether Berg would undergo any sort of “debriefing” with either E-tjenesten or government officials. Some experts have said a debriefing was likely: “They would talk about why he has said what he’s said, with whom he’s spoken, how he has been treated and what he could reveal about conditions in Russia,” Professor Iver B Neuman, who specializes in Russian issues, told newspaper VG.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg made it clear at a press conference Friday evening that Berg himself “has the rights to his own story,” and presumably will be free to tell it. He also has the right to claim compensation from the state for his ordeal, but his attorney was downplaying that over the weekend, telling reporters that other issues were “more important” now.

E-tjenesten under pressure
The Berg case has already sparked criticism that E-tjenesten’s operation involving Berg in Russia was “amateurish” and unprofessional. Berg was known as a champion of friendly Russian-Norwegian relations in his hometown of Kirkenes. After the initial shock over how he could have involved himself with courier missions, questions have flown over how much he was told and whether he received any training.

Asked whether the Berg case should lead to public discussion of E-tjenesten’s methods, Grønnern said his commission “would go broadly into this case and review all aspects of it. It’s too early to discuss what can be relevant to discuss further.” He stressed that the commission only reports to Parliament, and then it’s up to its members whether to make the findings public.

“We have no opportunity to issue any instructions,” Grønnern said. “We can point things out, criticize and take up issues with Parliament, but then its members are responsible for taking things further.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund