It was pure coincidence that I started to nurture an interest in military intelligence some 17 years ago. A colleague, Inge Sellevåg, in Bergens Tidende, a Norwegian daily broadsheet, saw a brief article in another Norwegian daily newspaper, Aftenposten, reporting that the Norwegian Defence Forces were to have a radar installation in Vardø that was to investigate space debris, a claim he was eager to investigate the truthfulness of. After some investigation Sellevåg needed a journalist working for the main Norwegian TV broadcaster NRK to present his material to the nation. That journalist was to be the undersigned.
I have gained some insight into a section of our society that exists for the most part in the shadows, but that is a key factor in Norway’s foreign and security policies. Historians such as Olav Riste and Arnfinn Moland have voiced the opinion that the military intelligence service was Norway’s most important area during the cold war. They have not however discussed in any depth what the military effort was or the degree to which is served Norwegian – or just American – interests. That the then head of the CIA George W. Bush visited Kirkenes in all secrecy in 1976274 or that high-ranking American military guests have long been – and still are – taken by helicopter to the listening stations in Finnmark275 says something about the importance of and not least the sensitiveness of having a close cooperation with the USA on the borders of the world’s largest country. Not only this, but in an area of Norway subject to self-imposed military restrictions designed to avoid provoking the Russian Bear to the east.
The then Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen once said in connection with the nation’s cooperation with the USA on intelligence gathering in the north that the USA saw Norway as a vassal state, i.e. a country of limited independence.276
This is a perspective that is seldom aired in the public domain – or at least not by key Norwegian politicians. What is however an undisputable fact is that the shortest route between the two major powers; the USA and Russia, is via the North Pole, and that Norway shares a national boundary with Russia. Both the USA and Russia are currently modernising their nuclear arsenals. From Northern Norway it is an easy task to monitor the major concentration and stock piles of weapons in North-West Russia.
The cloak of secrecy surrounding the service has been and remains extreme. The question is whether there has been an excess of secrecy. It was not until the nineteen-seventies that there was public awareness that such a service actually existed. At that point in time the service employed in the region of 1 000 staff. The USA was funding investments and the majority of employees were paid from American funds. We know that the USA is still footing many of the costs, but how much of the total is the US actually funding? This we do not know, as is the case with many other unanswered questions. Does this pose a problem for our democracy?
The military intelligence service prefers an existence in the shadow-lands, but public opinion and some politicians have pressured the service to a degree of openness. It is of course the nature of the game that any intelligence service must have secrets, but the veil of secrecy must be a tool to ensure that the organisation achieves its aims, not to close the door on public debate. The intelligence service must be a tool under the control of our elected politicians. Both our elected politicians and the public at large need sufficient information in order to appraise and judge the service. This book is the first serious investigation of the Norwegian military intelligence service that has no relationships or associations with the Norwegian Defence Forces. Others have attempted to do the same before, but the intelligence service has steadfastly refused access to the service’s well-stocked historical archives. This has been a key factor in bringing important research to an abrupt stop.277 Since October 2013 I have attempted to engage in dialogue with the service in many different ways, but thus far without achieving any particularly fruitful results. A proposal for cooperation where the Defence Forces were given the opportunity to remove information that was sensitive enough to do harm to the service was rejected out of hand by Kjell Grandhagen, the head of the intelligence service. Grandhagen was of the opinion that there was no need for another book on the subject. My proposal that we could meet to discuss the practicalities around insight with a basis in the Freedom of Information Act was rejected without any grounds being stated.
In June 2014 I requested insight into approximately 500 documents that were used as sources of information for the book by Olav Riste and Arnfinn Moland “Strengt hemmelig” – “Strictly Secret”. At the time of writing, June of the following year, I have still not received the documents despite the fact that in March 2015 the Ministry of Defence reversed the decision of the intelligence service to refuse insight after the matter had been dealt with by the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Norwegian Parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Security Services in Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament. Strictly Secret contains a great deal of very interesting information that is documented in the aforementioned 500 documents. I have drawn on the information contained in the book and have therefore been forced to refer to documents that I have not had the opportunity to read first hand. I have had to rely on that the information quoted from the source material in Strictly Secret is correct. In our open and democratic Norway, should it not be a requirement that the Norwegian Defence Forces inform the general public of what they are doing along our border with Russia?
The most important and serious question is whether this cloak of secrecy has resulted in a lack of political control over key and vital security related matters. An open debate in the Storting may prove to be difficult, but such matters can and should be discussed in closed meetings with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. This has not always been the case, even with agreements with other nations.278 Even more serious is the fact that vital matters of interest have not been dealt with by the government. One example of this is that there are no signs whatsoever that the satellite downloading station at Fauske, Fauske II, has been dealt with by the then Security Committee. The task allocated to the station, to eavesdrop on and download data from Soviet satellites could easily have become a source of major conflict between the Soviet Union and Norway. It was comparable to that the Russian Northern Fleet had tapped into the fibre cable between Svalbard and Andøya to steal military and civil satellite data from the Svalsat ground station, without prior approval from the Kremlin.279 There is also reason to ask if the politicians had full and sufficient information about the matters they did deal with. Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen did not for example appear to be particularly well-informed when the Government Security Committee was to take a position on 20th May 1958 on the request submitted by the USA for more equipment and an increase in staff at the listening station in East Finnmark. This was important to the USA as it would make the planning of bombing missions easier, something that Gerhardsen was totally opposed to. Gerhardsen said:
“in principle one should adopt a positive position where Norway, due to its geographical location, can contribute to our joint defence efforts with services encompassing such obviously defensive measures”. Gerhardsen and the Security Committee then gave full approval to the plans.
The Lund Commission refers to that “the intelligence service was willing to go to great lengths to support the USA including in areas that – if found out – could result in foreign policy problems for Norway”. Key researchers have also raised the question of whether it is high time to revisit and revise all the activities of the intelligence service. The service came into being in London during the Nazi occupation of Norway, and was to a high degree developed by resistance members after the end of WWII. The situation today is that the service is one of very few in Europe that is led by a general. There are two links in the chain between the intelligence chief and the Prime Minister – the Chief of Defence and the Minister of Defence . Prime Minister Per Borten said that he met the chief of the intelligence service for the first time by pure chance during a court hearing in Bergen. They had a lot to talk about, but this was the only time they met. Contact between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Intelligence Service has improved, but is it good enough? Take Canada for example, where it is the Prime Minister who is the direct Chief of the Intelligence Service.280
The shadows surrounding the service have increased the degree of difficulty in writing of developments during recent decades. What is however clear is that the close mutual cooperation between the USA and Norway has continued up to the present day, despite suffering a setback in the autumn of 1992. The US Congress expressed a strong wish to cut some of the transfers of funds to Norwegian intelligence. The reasoning was that the cold war was over. The US Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and the CIA opposed the move, but to no avail. Congress adopted a proposal to reduce the transfer of funds to Norway. The cutbacks affected roughly half of the Norwegian intelligence service employees. A number of employees were offered redundancy packages and left, but after only a few years there was again a need to increase staffing and many rejoined the service. Funds continued to be transferred from the USA, as did the cooperation on
the exchange of information and new technology.281 Unlike other countries, Norway maintained and developed its intelligence expertise after the end of the cold war.282
The organisation is currently in a period of vigorous growth. The official Norwegian budget increased during the period 2006 to 2015 from MNOK 690 to a massive BNOK 1.2283 This is almost a doubling of the budget in less than ten years. In 2010 the number of employees was 829,284 which is equal to the number employed during the cold war – and this despite the fact that many of the tasks are now automated. The American intelligence service NSA assesses the Norwegian intelligence service to be one of the two most important foreign cooperating partners in technical intelligence surveillance.285 This speaks volumes about the scope of intelligence gathering. The recent increase in tension between east and west has resulted in that there are a number of influential individuals in the Norwegian Parliament that would like to see a strengthening of the service in the north.286
I have concentrated in the work on this book on what for me are three most important questions: What is the real worth of our intelligence service in the defence of Norway? To what degree do the activities of the Norwegian intelligence service serve Norwegian and American interests? And last but not least: To what degree is the intelligence service under public and democratic control?
I firmly believe that these three questions should and must be the subject of public debate. There can be no doubt that our intelligence service can be of great value in for example the efforts to combat terror. I nonetheless feel that the debate should commence with whether it is in accordance with the Norwegian self-image as a self-pronounced nation of peace, and with the task of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, to for example be host to an American tool for space warfare – the Vardø radar – on Norwegian soil. Or indeed to steal Russian satellite data at Fauske on behalf of foreign interests. The debate could also commence with whether it is good Norwegian policy to buy goodwill in the USA by stationing the next generation Marjata close to the Russian border in 2016. I am however highly sceptical to that our public arena and our democracy will prove to be capable of conducting an unambiguous and honest debate on these matters – and this, in my opinion, reveals a serious and fundamental weakness in Norwegian society.