Norway-Pakistan ties ‘unharmed’ by intel gaffe

Oslo and Islamabad insisted on Thursday that their relationship remains strong despite the resignation of the Norwegian domestic intelligence chief after she appeared to reveal that Norway has secret agents in Pakistan.

Norway-Pakistan ties 'unharmed' by intel gaffe
FM Grete Faremo (Photo: Fredrik Varfjell/Scanpix)

The head of Norway's Police Security Service (PST), Janne Kristiansen, widely criticised after the July 22nd attacks last year, informed the justice ministry on Wednesday night of her decision to give up her post.

Amid heightened tensions between Pakistan and the West, her remarks sparked a diplomatic dance in Islamabad and Oslo, with Norwegian and Pakistani ambassadors rushing to meet officials of their host countries and exchange information.

"PST chief Janne Kristiansen has informed me that she is resigning from her post effective immediately," Justice Minister Grete Faremo told reporters.

"The reason is that a possible breach of her duty to maintain confidentiality has been observed through the revelation of classified information," she added, describing the facts of the case as "extremely serious."

The minister was referring to Kristiansen's appearance on Wednesday before a parliamentary committee during which she revealed that Norway's military intelligence, the E Service, had agents in Pakistan.

The E Service "would have to answer themselves (but) they are represented in countries that you have in mind," she said in answer to a question from a parliamentarian on Norway's contacts with Pakistan.

Her comments come as Western powers, led by the United States, expressed suspicions about the Pakistani services clandestinely supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, where NATO-member Norway has around 400 troops stationed.

Both Norwegian and Pakistani authorities were quick to stress that Kristiansen's gaffe would not harm relations.

The meetings with the ambassadors of both countries "confirmed that the bilateral relations were good, that the remarks yesterday (Wednesday) have not changed that and that there are no unresolved questions," Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen told reporters on Thursday.

Pakistan's ambassador to Norway, Ishtiaq Andrabi, agreed, insisting: "I can't see anything out of the ordinary."

"It will not harm the relationship," he told reporters after his meeting at the foreign ministry, stressing that the two countries cooperate closely in a
number of areas, including on counter-terrorism.

A special unit of the Norwegian police has launched an investigation to determine if Kristiansen's comments breached her duty to maintain confidentiality, unit chief Jan Egil Presthus told AFP.

Kristiansen had been criticised for her comments defending the PST's failure to detect and stop Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to the July 22nd twin attacks that killed 77, many of them teens.

"Even (former) East Germany's Stasi (secret service) would not have been able to detect this person," she said of Behring Breivik three days after the attacks.

But it subsequently turned out that the intelligence services had ignored or underestimated information that might have drawn attention to Behring Breivik.

Kristiansen had to apologise for her remarks but resisted calls from the opposition parties at the time to resign.

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Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security

The threats facing Norway have changed due to political and technological developments. But terrorism and espionage continues to be some of the biggest threats to national security, according to the annual threat assessment.

Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security
Photo: engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Police Security Service (PST), the Norwegian Intelligence Service (E-tjenesten) and the Norwegian National Security Authority (NSM) on Monday jointly presented their annual assessments of the biggest threats facing state and public security in Norway.

This was the 11th annual joint presentation of the threat assessment. The joint assessment is highly influential in determining Norwegian policy on a range of issues, such as foreign policy, cyber security and terrorism prevention.

“These three jointly form part of the foundation for those who reach decisions that impacts on our security,” said Norway’s Foreign Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen at the press conference in Oslo Monday.

The assessment identified geopolitical tensions, cyber-attacks and terrorism as the biggest immediate threats to Norway’s security.

“We have witnessed rapid technological change,” said the head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Nils Andreas Stensønes. “As a consequence, states and non-state actors have increased their room for manoeuvre. This has to also be considered alongside growing great-power rivalry. These are the driving forces behind the threats Norway is facing at the commencement of 2021.”

Terror a significant danger

The threat assessments identify terrorism as a significant public danger in Norway, particularly by violent radical Islamic terror. The threat from the extreme far-right, however, has also increased, and far-right propaganda is gaining traction.

The terrorist threat level in Norway, however, is still considered to be “moderate”.

“This entails that there are groups in Norway that support using violence as a means to threaten Norway and Norwegian society,” said Head of the Police Security Service, Hans Sverre Sjøvold.

“These are groups that we are aware of, and that we will confront with preventive measures,” Sjøvold said.

The assessments, however, also point out that growing discontent with restrictions introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic may fuel opposition and potentially lead to terrorist attacks.

Great power rivalry

Norway is a Nato member and close ally to the United States. Yet its position close to Russia and proximity to the Arctic region means the country must balance precariously between its strategic alliances and maintaining friendly neighbourly relations.

“We can see that the great power rivalry continues with unabated strength,” said Bakke-Jensen.

He emphasised that while Russia is of particular concern, China has become an important global actor. Increasingly the country is attempting to promote its foreign and domestic interest on the global stage, openly and in secret.

But as of yet, outright war remains an unlikely scenario. A growing concern is espionage and operations to influence public opinion, such as psychological operations.

“The Norwegian armed force’s defence and foreign policy, the arctic region, Svalbard, the health sector, the energy sector and advanced technology is of great interest to foreign intelligence services,” said Stensønes.

Cyber security

The assessments also point out that cyber-attacks are also one of the main threats facing Norway. The country has this year experienced several attacks, including one against parliament in August last year.

“The cyber-attack against parliament in the fall of 2020 is one of several severe occurrences in recent time that illustrates the threat actors’ capacity and will to assault Norwegian organisation,” the NSM-report states.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has blamed Russia for the attack, allegations that the Russian government denies.

Interlinked threats

Bakke-Jensen also stressed that these threats are complex and interlinked.

“We today face threats that expands across sectors,” Bakke-Jensen said. “State security and public security are increasingly more closely connected.”

He said that this is partly a consequence from Norway being an open and liberal democracy where citizens have a high degree of freedom and face relatively few constraints on rights and behaviours.

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