Frode Berg met Tuesday with members of the special parliamentary commission charged with controlling Norway’s secretive intelligence-gathering agencies. Some politicians think the head of the agency that recruited Berg to be a courier in Russia should be fired.
“I was able to speak out about what I felt a need to say,” Berg told reporters after the meeting with the Parliament’s commission, called the EOS utvalg. EOS stands for “Etterretning (intelligence), Overvåking (surveillance) and Sikkerhet (security), and the utvalg (commission) needs to monitor all three. Its primary assignment is to make sure Norway’s military intelligence agency E-tjenesten operated within the law in Berg’s case, and that Berg’s rights were not infringed.
E-tjenesten has been subject to much criticism in the wake of the Berg case, for allegedly sending Berg, a retired border inspector, unprepared and unaware of the danger he faced after agreeing to carry and post envelopes into Russia that contained cash and documents. Berg has said he merely had agreed to carry the envelopes as a favour for a friend in Kirkenes, who happened to work for E-tjenesten. On his fifth trip into Russia in December 2017, Berg was arrested, jailed, ultimately convicted of espionage and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
He was released in a spy swap two weeks ago and is now speaking out about his ordeal. Berg claims he was duped by an E-tjenesten agent in his hometown of Kirkenes in Northern Norway. The EOS commission called him in for the meeting to hear his story and ask questions, and Berg was clearly happy to oblige.
“I’m here to tell the truth as I experienced it,” Berg told newspaper Dagbladet on his way into the meeting. When the meeting was over, Berg seemed pleased with the result: “I feel like I was believed. I gave a quite detailed account, since there’s no reason to hold anything back from them.”
He said no further meetings were planned with EOS, the police or E-tjenesten itself, but he expected a debriefing a some point. E-tjenesten, as a matter of policy, won’t confirm or deny that Berg was working for them, but Berg is receiving plenty of follow-up assistance, medical and psychological care, all provided by the military that E-tjenesten serves.
‘Need to see who made mistakes’
Berg also had a meeting with E-tjenesten’s chief, Lt Gen Morten Haga Lunde, details of which were not revealed. Rune Rafaelsen, mayor of the Sør-Varanger region that includes Kirkenes, told newspaper Klassekampen over the weekend that he thinks Lunde should be fired.
“Operations like this (the one Berg was on) should go well, so we need to see who made mistakes here,” said Rafaelsen, angry over how E-tjenesten tries to recruit residents of Sør-Varanger. “And the top leader is Haga Lunde. We should shift out those who were responsible for their strategy.”
Rafaelsen worries that E-tjenesten’s methods, foiled by a trap set up by the Russians and into which Berg fell, were not only unsuccessful but they make residents nervous. He claims intelligence should be carried out in such a way “that no one notices what’s going on, and then feel insecure.”
Russia’s ‘full control’ in Sør-Varanger
The mayor is also deeply disturbed by Berg’s earlier comments that Russian intelligence “has full control” over what happens in Sør-Varanger. “If they knew about all the assignments he was on (which they reportedly did), it’s scary how the Russians are present.” Rafaelsen also claims that E-tjenesten put local people-to-people efforts for good relations between Norwegians and Russians in the border area around Kirkenes at risk. The mayor considers those efforts, and local border cooperation, as “Norway’s most important peace project.”
It remained unclear when Berg will finally travel home to Kirkenes. He’s attracted criticism himself, with some commentators claiming he’s “playing the innocent victim role” and that he must have been unusually naive not to realize what he’d gotten himself into. He worked for the border patrol to Russia for 26 years, knew that the man who asked him carry envelopes into Russia worked for E-tjenesten, and was very aware of Russia’s intelligence agency FSB.
Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized that Berg himself had a personal responsibility for his predicament in Russia and was convicted in a Russian court. The paper noted, however, that “now it’s time for the EOS commission to do its work, evaluate political risk and evaluate E-tjenesten’s methods.” No conclusions are expected for serveral months, and then they’re likely to be classified.