The embattled chief of Norway’s military intelligence agency E-tjenesten, Gen Lt Morten Haga Lunde, clearly felt compelled to utter some sort of response as questions fly over the competence of the agency and its agents. He issued a rare press release, to acknowledge a Parliamentary probe into the criticism and complaints of released spy Frode Berg.
Lunde stated that his unit, based at Lutvann on the fringe of Oslo’s eastern forest known as Østmarka, was “confident” that the Parliament’s own commission that monitors Norway’s secret intelligence services (EOS utvalget) would “thoroughly examine the Frode Berg case.”
He added that he must now await the conclusions of the probe and was thus unable to comment further.
Neither he, his staff nor other government officials will confirm or deny that Berg, a retired border inspector in Kirkenes, was actually working for E-tjenesten when he made five trips to Russia carrying envelopes on behalf of a “friend” who was working for E-tjenesten. On his last trip, to Moscow in December 2017, Berg was arrested, charged with espionage and ultimately sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Berg was finally released last week as part of a spy swap involving both Russia and Lithuania. Berg has since spoken publicly about how he felt misled by his “friend” in Kirkenes, how he was given no training or prepared in any way for the dangers faced, and how he languished in a Moscow jail for 711 days. Berg said he was both “disappointed and bitter,” while also relating how the Russians had “full control” over the Varanger area in and around Kirkenes in Norway’s far north.
Public criticism has been strong and swift as well, with calls going out that E-tjenesten must not abuse its power. “It’s clear that they also must not operate as amateurs either,” newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) editorialized on Thursday. After Berg’s press conference on Tuesday night, E-tjenesten was branded as having set off a “scandal of huge proportions”. Several Members of Parliament said they were “deeply shaken” by what Berg has said.
It’s unclear how long the EOS probe will take, or whether its results will be publicly revealed. Berg himself said that he’d had a “good meeting” with Lunde on Monday, and that the two could “square up.” He received no apology. Compensation claims for his ordeal are pending.