THE WATCHERS: The headquarters of the Norwegian intelligence service at Lutvann outside Oslo. Photo: Lars Aamodt/ NTB Scanpix
THE WATCHERS: The headquarters of the Norwegian intelligence service at Lutvann outside Oslo. Photo: Lars Aamodt/ NTB ScanpixVis mer

National insecurity

Today Dagbladet is disclosing new information showing how closely the Norwegian intelligence service is associated with the US National Security Agency (NSA). The core of Dagbladet's disclosure is the NSA's own, recent evaluation of the Norwegian intelligence service.

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The evaluation shows close collaboration. In some areas it is so close that a word like integration comes to mind. There is thus good reason to ask who is running and controlling the elaborate Norwegian collaboration with the NSA? Does Norway have full political control of this collaboration?

There is no doubt that Norway's close proximity to Russia and the Russian military power in Norway's backyard make it necessary for our intelligence service to pay close attention. However, the NSA evaluation's descriptions of the intelligence service's extent and methods are in stark contrast to the picture Norwegian politicians present when describing our relationship with Russia as stable and good.

Before publishing this we have had an extensive, and in our opinion wise, dialogue with the leaders of the intelligence service. Dagbladet will exercise caution in disclosing methods, locations — as well as capacity. We do not wish to harm national security, complicate operations in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, or disclose too much of the important work done by the Norwegian intelligence service. However, failing to make the public aware of the overall picture evident from the NSA evaluation would be to fail our social mission.

Following the ongoing Snowden revelations, we need a debate on the surveillance taking place all over the world, and of which Norway is also a part.

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We now know a lot about the extent of the global electronic surveillance managed and coordinated by the NSA. According to Snowden documents, which have been reproduced in publications like the Washington Post, the US intelligence organisation is collecting location information from several hundred mobile phones every day.

When Dagbladet wrote on Tuesday, 19 November that the NSA monitored 33 million Norwegian mobile conversations in 30 days, the Norwegian Chief of Intelligence, Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen, came to the NSA's rescue. He stated categorically that Dagbladet was wrong. Grandhagen then and there took ownership of the surveillance of which Dagbladet wrote. He recognized the figures to which we were referring. They were his. What we presented were figures showing the Norwegian intelligence service monitoring conflict areas in other parts of the world. The extent and capacity attracted attention, because it is difficult to believe that the figures are only associated with Afghanistan.

When the Chief of Intelligence so loudly took ownership of the case, it was impossible for Dagbladet to claim otherwise. At the same time Grandhagen deftly added that, of course, he could not know what other countries were doing against Norway. However, the first impression from Grandhagen's press conference was that Norway — again — appeared as an innocent, white spot on the map.

In order to emphasize the denial of Dagbladet?s story, Grandhagen went unusually far in exposing the Norwegian intelligence service's surveillance capacity. Several commentators where surprised at the candour. The second impression after the press conference was that Norway is an intelligence super-power with a capacity far beyond what we and many others believed possible.

Grandhagen's words are intact. Dagbladet has followed the tracks from the Chief of Intelligence's press conference, and is thus publishing information which in our opinion has great public interest and deserves to be debated.

The Snowden revelations are rolling from country to country. The overall revelations are so massive that they move the boundaries for the debate on surveillance and privacy. And it is about time. Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, says that privacy is a human right which cannot be safeguarded by national legislations or agreement between individual countries. The only viable way is to prepare internationally binding regulations applying to everyone. It is worth listening to these views.

Because information collected for a worthy purpose can be used with completely different and less than honourable intentions in a given situation.

The massive surveillance weakens our ability to build a society based on openness, trust and security. Things could go very wrong when public opinion more or less takes it for granted that one is being monitored, and does not really mind. One is content, thinking «as long as we do nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear». We recognize the logic from countries with which we do not wish to compare ourselves. However, knowing that «someone» out there is paying attention affects our society and our civil rights, unfortunately. We are talking about an extent of surveillance that eliminates all privacy. The internet was supposed to liberate us and promote democracy. Instead it has become a tool for controlling individuals.

We have seen interviews where old Stasi officers dreamingly ponder what they could have achieved with NSA technology. Instead they had to settle for index cards. It is adversely disciplining when we accept a life where we restrain ourselves when it comes to forming opinions. We are left with the harmless and indifferent.

We are talking about national insecurity.

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