The leak of top secret documents by US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has resulted in “very few changes” to the way the US’s National Security Agency and its partners operate, Norway’s top spy has declared.
Kjell Grandhagen, the outgoing head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, itself the subject of phone monitoring revelations in files Snowden released, downplayed the impact of the leaks.
“My main observation is that the Snowden leaks have resulted in very few fundamental changes to how intelligence services work,” he said in a speech to the Oslo Military Society. "Some changes to legislation and duties have taken place, but in the main business continues as before.”
He pointed out that in many countries intelligence budgets had actually increased in the years following Snowden’s revelations in mid-2013.
“The reason it is continuing is that the authorities who are making decisions in different countries want it to continue,” he said.
The NSA documents released by Snowden contained evidence of NIS’s close cooperation with the NSA.
”Norway – Last 30 days", one of the documents leaked, showed that between December 12th 2012 and January 8th 2013, 33,186,042 calls were registered by NIS.
Grandhagen claimed that reporters had misinterpreted the document, which he said referred to calls collected in Afghanistan rather than Norwegian domestic calls.
In his speech, however, Grandhagen argued that the nature of terrorism today necessitated the collection of data on calls and internet use of ordinary people.
“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Of course NIS should be allowed to use any methods it needs to hunt down terrorists, but there are lots of types of monitoring we do not want’,” he said.
“To those people, I say, ‘It is very easy to keep track of the terrorists we already know the identity of, but this is not today's challenge.”
Grandhagen then referred to the “Let’s collect the whole haystack” strategy attributed to former NSA chief, General Keith Alexander.
“The challenge revolves around the large number of potential terrorists we know nothing about whatsoever,” he said. “Then we do not have a photo or a phone number to base anything on. So when you talk about looking for the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’, we are looking not even for a needle, but for a straw with about the same colour and length as the other straw stalks. That is today's challenge”.