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Thursday, May 23, 2024

PST arrests young Malaysian for spying

Norway’s police intelligence agency PST has charged a 25-year-old Malaysian citizen with spying on the Office of the Prime Minister, the defense ministry and other government offices in Oslo. He allegedly drove around or parked near them in a rental car, and tried to tap into their electronic communications.

Norway’s defense ministry was among the government offices believed to be a target of alleged spying from the rental car of a young man with a Malaysian passport. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no

“We face quite an extensive investigation and have just begun,” state prosecutor Thomas Fredrik Blom told Norwegian Broadasting (NRK) on Sunday, shortly after a local court ordered the 25-year-old held in custody for at least four weeks while the investigation continues. The defendant will be kept in isolation for the first two weeks.

“We’re not quite sure what we’re up against,” Blom told NRK. “We’re in a critical and preliminary phase of the investigation.” He added that there’s a “real and high” danger of tampering with evidence, so much so that isolating the defendant was deemed necessary.

NRK reported that court papers reveal how police think the young man would want to communicate with others involved in the alleged espionage. Police therefore need “to secure several technical items without the man interfering” with the investigation.

“There’s such danger of tampering with evidence that we’re being very careful with what we can reveal right now,” Blom said.

PST’s headquarters in Oslo PHOTO: PST

SENT SIGNALS: PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) said the man was arrested Friday night, after his rental car’s movements were picked up by surveillance cameras mounted outside the government offices he’s believed to have targeted. His car was photographed repeatedly within a certain time period and he’s charged with signaletterretning from the vehicle. That’s the Norwegian term used for trying to tap into electronic signals including mobile phone conversations, text messages, email surveillance or electronic signals from weapons and tracking devices.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday that the most common form of such spying involves mobile phone surveillance with the help of false base stations and so-called ISMI-catchers. The man’s car landed on PST’s own watch list and he reportedly was under PST surveillance himself before being arrested.

He’s claimed to be a student but lacks ties to any Norwegian educational institutions. PST said he had not been in Norway very long and there were concerns he’d try to flee and return to Malaysia, especially since Norway has no extradition treaty with Malaysia.

Norwegian investigators think others were involved in the alleged espionage. It remained unclear who the defendant may have been working with or for. Both PST and Norway’s military intelligence agency Etterretningstjenesten (E-tjenesten) have repeatedly warned, long before Russia invaded Ukraine, that both Russia and China represent the biggest security threats to Norway and that both carry out extensive espionage in Norway. Iran and North Korea have also been targeted as countries posing “a considerable espionage threat” against Norway. PST officials stressed that they do not believe authorities in Malaysia are behind the man’s alleged spying, suggesting he held a passport of convenience.

Ola Kaldager, a former leader of Norwegian intelligence group E14, told NRK on Monday that there are “considerable” espionage operations going on all over Europe at present and “on both sides” of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Russians, he said, want to follow, for example, the extent of Norway’s support for Ukraine and how long it can last. He noted that “a young guy” like the defendant now in custody normally wouldn’t arouse supicions, “but if he’s not trained and can’t do his job, it can quickly go wrong.”

The defendant has denied any punitive liability but has so far refused to answer PST’s questions. His defense attorney, Aase Karine Sigmond, told NRK that her client was simply too shook up after what he described as a “dramatic” arrest. “He was so afraid and upset after his arrest, and after he was denied access to documentation in the case, that he wasn’t able to explain himself,” Sigmond told NRK. “We’ll attempt a new round of questioning after he’s been transferred to prison.”

Blom of PST claimed the arrest itself was not dramatic. Details of where and how it occurred were withheld, apart from the time of his apprehension: 9:10pm on Friday. Norway’s national security agency NSM (Nasjonal sikkerhetsmyndighet) confirmed to NRK that they’re supporting PST in its case against its latest suspected spy.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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