FECL 43 (April/May 1996):

JUDICIAL INQUIRY INTO NORWEGIAN SECRET SURVEILLANCE

From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, the Norwegian State Security illegally registered and spied on citizens not suspected of any crime. The recent revelation of the gigantic surveillance operation has caused public alarm in a country proud of its democratic system of government.

On 1 February 1994, the Norwegian parliament appointed a commission, chaired by Supreme Court judge Ketil Lund, enquire into public allegations concerning illegal surveillance of Norwegian citizens. The background was years of allegations of illegal surveillance activities undertaken by the Norwegian surveillance police, responsible for internal security, as well as by the military intelligence agencies. The commission concluded its 1185 page report on 28 March.

While the report acquits the military of most allegations, the criticism of the Norwegian Surveillance Police is crushing. The report documents in detail a wide range of blatantly illegal and/or entirely unacceptable surveillance activities on the part of the Surveillance Police between the late 1940s and the late 1940s.

 

Police registered 11 year old "marxists"

Between the late 1940s and the late 1960s, Norwegian communists were exposed to extensive electronic bugging of rooms, which was and is illegal in Norway. They were also exposed to widespread illegal telephone tapping. Their headquarters and meetings were tapped, and a large number of individuals were registered.

During the 1970s and 1980s, a new Marxist-Leninist group, which founded the "Workers' Communist Party" in 1973, was exposed to similar surveillance activities including party headquarters, their summer camps, etc. In the summer camps, children as young as 11 were registered by the Police.

Informers were extensively and systematically used in schools to register pupils down to 9th grade. Also the Socialist People's Party was spied upon, just as a large number of non-governmental organisations with links to the parties in question.

 

Involvement of the Norwegian Labour Party

During a major part of the period, close contacts, cooperation and collusion existed between the Surveillance Police and the Norwegian Labour party. Central members of the Labour Party organised surveillance measures and large amounts of information were exchanged.

The Labour Party, it should be pointed out, has been in power in Norway during a large part of the period in question. There have also been triangular relationships between the Surveillance Police, the Labour Party and various industries (of no importance to Norway's defence), in order to avoid the employment of suspected communists.

The commission concludes that "the participation of the Surveillance Police in the extensive cooperation concerning exchange of information, to a considerable extent obtained by illegal bugging of rooms, is a serious case of illegal state administrative activity, altogether perhaps the most serious case ever revealed in this country".

 

Dubious role of the Courts

The report also deals with the role of the courts. In Norway, telephone tapping requires a court order. The courts are heavily criticised for their way of handling police requests for telephone tapping. In Oslo, for example, the judge, after receiving a request, simply walked over to the police headquarters and signed a pre-written document permitting telephone tapping. Permissions were routinely renewed without any scrutiny of the development of the investigation, new evidence, and so on. Other control mechanisms, such as the Control Commission, are also reprimanded. In numerous instances, individuals had their telephones tapped, and extensive surplus information about general organisational activities was stored. This is illegal in Norway.

 

Norwegian "Stasi scandal"?

After receiving the report, the parliament decided to make it public. The disclosure has caused great public alarm and debate. Leaders of almost all party groups have expressed strong disapproval of the large-scale snooping activities revealed by the report. Today's leaders of the Labour Party have joined in the general condemnation, but have attempted to condone or portray the illegal and unacceptable activities in the light of the "historical circumstances" and the Cold War, after World War II. The commission points out that this defence can hardly be mustered for the extensive surveillance in the 1960s, when the traditional communists had been reduced to an insignificant political group in Norway. Likewise, it has been pointed out that the Cold War can hardly be pressed into service as a defence in relation to the Marxist-Leninists in the 1970s and 1980s, who developed a strongly anti-Soviet standpoint. Finally, it has been emphasised that regardless of external threats, blatantly illegal catch-all surveillance is unacceptable.

 

Victims might be granted access to their files

The Labour Party Prime Minister, Ms Gro Harlem Brundtland, has refused to express her regrets on the part of the State to the victims of illegal surveillance, pending a reaction of Parliament. The leaders of all of the opposition parties, including the Conservatives, have criticised her stands.

The snooping activities of Norwegian security bodies are now being compared with the scandal of the Stasi files in the former German Democratic Republic, and the demand has been voiced that the large number of people who have been registered should be granted access to their personal files.

Parliament is currently examining the report with a view to decide on further action. The possibility of impeachment will no doubt be considered.

Thomas Mathiesen (Oslo)