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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Military whistle blowers feel ignored

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has unveiled more than 70 cases of how officers in Norwegian defense forces have been the target of serious complaints, but they often avoid any consequences. Those brave enough to blow the whistle on everything from harassment to breaking the law can feel ignored, or that punishments don’t fit the crimes, and Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen is now promising a thorough review.

Norwegian Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen now says he’s “not satisfied” with how offenses brought up by whistle blowers and reported in the media have been handled. “Therefore we’ll go through them again,” he stated on the defense department’s own website. PHOTO: Forsvaret

At least 17 of the complaints involve people in Kristoffersen’s own top leadership circles. He admitted to NRK on its national newscast Dagsrevyen that the revelations have already hurt the Norwegian military’s reputation.

“We’ll be going through all the cases now, and taking another look at those that have come forth in the media,” Kristoffersen told NRK. “The most serious ones clearly show completely unacceptable behaviour.”

That includes one case in which an officer secretly filmed a female colleague while she was showering and another in which a drunken naval officer got into a fight at a bar and then assaulted a police officer. He was arrested and jailed, but was allowed to simply return to duty on board a naval vessel right after his release. He also ordered the vessel’s crew not to reveal the reason why the vessel was late in joining ongoing fleet exercises.

In another case reported by NRK, a female officer in Northern Norway spoke openly on camera about how one of her superiors had been at a party she hosted, drank alcohol and later ran off the road while driving under the influence. He pressured both her and other colleagues to lie to any police who may question them about the incident, in an attempt to cover up his drinking and actual whereabouts. She refused and then lived through two years of job insecurity since he was her boss.

The officer, who had the rank of major, ended up being convicted both for drunk driving and for trying to pressure subordinates, and sentenced to jail. His appeals failed and he served his time in jail. He was nonetheless initially allowed to return to his important position at the military base in Bardufoss. He was later transferred to another base but ultimately allowed to retain his rank and security clearance. She was transferred, too, and has since felt compelled to leave Bardufoss.

See NRK’s full account of her ordeal here (external link, in Norwegian).

Some point to an ukultur (rotten culture) within the military, in which high-ranking officers feel entitled to break rules and then demand back-up for that from subordinates, who often are subjected to entirely different norms. NRK’s revelations come at a particularly sensitive time, when the integrity of Norwegian defense forces is especially important given the high-profile roles they’re playing as part of NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine. The military and defense needs have otherwise been receiving more support than they have in many years.

Jens Jahren, leader of the Norwegian defense forces’ organization for junior- and non-commissioned officers (Befalets Fellesorganisasjon), notes a disturbing trend: “We see that the consequences (of bad behaviour) come very fast when complaints are filed against those with lower ranks,” Jahren told NRK, “but we see that there aren’t many consequences when the complaints are against those with higher ranks.”

Jahren suspects effects of the sense of fraternity among high-ranking officers. They’re trained to back each other up, and it may be hard not to, even when support is unwarranted.

Complaints rising
NRK reported that between 100 and 300 complaints have been reported annually by military whistle blowers in Norway in recent years. There’s been an increase in the number of cases registered through various channels of receipt. Now the resolution of those cases will get fresh attention, with Kristoffersen saying that the defense department will review what actions were taken and whether they were in line with the offenses committed.

Kristoffersen, a highly respected four-star general with a record of active duty in Afghanistan and other areas of high conflict, stressed that there are “many highly competent people” in the military “who do a good job every day to secure our defense. These are the same people who will head into battle if needed, and then we can’t have inner enemies, in which some individuals ruin things for everyone else.”

He’s worried that the increase in whistle-blowing cases indicates how many people haven’t dared to question authority directly. “That’s why we have these complaints channels that go beyond what we call the ‘chain of command,’ or needing to deal with your immediate superior,” he said. That’s how he’s hoped serious offenses can be revealed.

Kristoffersen promised “a major overhaul” of how things have been handled within the defense sector. “It’s my responsibility to clean up here,” he told NRK. Berglund



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