Jens’ environmental bluff

image By Bård Wormdal, author of «The Satellite War» and NRK journalist


Five years has passed since a prime minister first set foot on Antarctic ground. Our own Jens Stoltenberg from Norway was flown in from South Africa on one of the Norwegian Air Force’s Hercules aircraft. At the Norwegian “research station” Troll he officially opened a facility for downloading of satellite data. In his speech he focused on the environment: “The satellite station is a milestone in environmental monitoring from a satellite.” “It is in line with Norwegian polar traditions to exploit Antarctica for this purpose.” Either Stoltenberg was bluffing or he didn’t know what he was talking about. In actual fact it wasn’t environmental monitoring, but American, military intelligence interests supporting soldiers at war in Afghanistan and other places that were the key driving force for establishment of the facility. Easy enough to substantiate just through a few searches on the Internet. This is serious because the Antarctic Treaty – which is the Constitution for Antarctica – has an absolute requirement that each and every activity on the continent shall without exception be of a non-military character. According to a stock exchange report issued in March 7 2005, the Norwegian ground station for satellites in Antarctica, Trollsat, was established as a direct result of a contract between the American satellite company, Orbimage, and a company that is primarily owned by the Norwegian State, Kongsberg Satellite Service. Orbimage had at that time entered into an agreement with American military intelligence to collaborate in building a new surveillance satellite with downloading of data in Antarctica and in Tromsø. The NGA intelligence service contributed with NOK 2 billion, the private company went in with NOK 1 billion. It is a simple matter to substantiate this from press releases and U.S. intelligence websites. It emerged that downloading of surveillance images for American intelligence would be the first regular activity at the Norwegian “research station” in Antarctica, of which the Norwegian Polar Institute has chief responsibility. How does this rhyme with good research ethics and proud Norwegian polar traditions? NGA, the U.S. military intelligence service, makes an assessment of the new satelliteGeoeye-1 after three months’ operation. NGA is beside itself with enthusiasm: “Military units in combat had expressed the need for access to certain available, non-classified stamped high quality images and image-based products in a format they could easily use and adapt [..] Geoeye[..] amount to a capacity that will meet this need and more.” The images, with resolution better than half a metre are reserved for the USA according to U.S. regulations. Jens Stoltenberg wrote the following in a personal greeting to the staff at the Norwegian base in Antarctica after his visit: “In 2008 I had the honor of opening Trollsat. The station is a milestone for efficient environmental monitoring from satellites, and provides better and quicker access to among other things important climate, environmental and weather data.” Is this about a prime minister who doesn’t know what he is writing about – or is this about a prime minister writing a deliberate lie? Against all odds the Antarctic Treaty was entered into during the Cold War in 1961. This is an agreement that took shape from a successful international research cooperation on Antarctica. It is for that reason understandable that a key feature of the agreement that each and any form of military activity is prohibited on the continent, as stated in the Treaty’s introduction: “Recognizing that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.” The following is the first article in the Treaty: “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only. There shall be prohibited, inter alia, any measure of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, as well as the testing of any type of weapon.” Digitalglobe is the other major American satellite company engaged in global surveillance. According to the annual accounts In 2010 78.2 percent of this company’s revenue came from military customers. Digitalglobe’s satellites also make use of Trollsat, and the American intelligence service is their biggest customer. Satellite owners from other countries have queued up to use Trollsat because Norway has the only satellite station in Antarctica that accepts customers from other countries. Canadian Radarsat 2, which has supplied intelligence data for NATO exercises in northern Norway and that sells data to the Norwegian Armed Forces, uses Trollsat. The same applies to South Korea’s first spy satellite, Kompsat 2. During the Libyan war the American satellite Geoeye-1 downloaded images of ports in Libya to Trollsat in Antarctica. The images showed where there were hits and other types of information that are important for warfare. The images were used by the Italian armed forces. Kongsberg Satellite Services is building new antennas, and new intelligence satellites that capture even better images will be making use of Trollsat in the years to come. Kongsberg Satellite Services regularly sends reports on Trollsat to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to one of the letters; “the establishment of TrollSat gives emphasis to Norway as a polar nation, and demonstrates Norway’s will to contribute to global environmental monitoring”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is nonetheless naturally aware of the problematic relationship between the military component of satellite activities and the Antarctic Treaty. Nonetheless, nothing has happened. In connection with the official opening of Trollsat Jens Stoltenberg sleeps in a tent which earns him a red nose from the cold. Later he writes to the staff at the Norwegian base in the in-house magazine “Nisse posten” (literally translated: “Pixie Post”) about a trip he will never forget: “The Norwegian polar activity is something I am extremely proud of. It is both important and right that Norway is present and visible on this enormous continent.” My question is whether Stoltenberg means Norwegian satellite activity in Antarctica is worthy of a polar and peaceful nation such as Norway. Norway is known elsewhere in the world as the country that hands out peace prizes and participates in peace processes. Some time back I wrote a chronicle and a longer debate contribution in the Norwegian tabloid VG on a similar problem in relation to Norwegian satellite activity on Svalbard. Even though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dozens of information staff there has not been any reply forthcoming from that quarter. Former personnel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintain this is a familiar tactic in certain difficult issues to neglect replying to criticism. This type of tactic works as long as other politicians or the population in general do not ask questions.

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