Official US espionage documents from its Oslo embassy could damage US-Norwegian relations following publication by WikiLeaks.
The organization announces 763 documents about matters such as terrorism, the North Sea, foreign aid, energy and weapons will be disclosed shortly.
Amongst the files are 42 documents marked “intelligence”. Some of them may provide insight about the controversial Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU), stoking the fire over US spying practices in Norway.
“The matter could be extremely delicate for US-Norwegian relations if embassy documents refer to its surveillance operation," Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Director Kristian Berg Harpviken tells Klassekampen.
In advance of the impending release, The Guardian has published a database with dates and subjects. There are no details, but Klassekampen claims they point towards correspondence between 2006 and 2010.
The SDU commenced its systematic spying operations in 2000, registering sensitive details about Norwegian citizens for ten years in the US’ worldwide anti-terror SIMAS database.
Norwegian authorities have not yet decided whether the American Embassy broke any laws, but Jon Wessel-Aas, board member of the International Commission of Jurists, highlights the US is legally accountable if its operation was similar to those conducted in other countries.
“They have contravened Norwegian if they have tried to obtain secret Norwegian documents, as well as everything from DNA to email passwords to people under Norwegian jurisdiction. They have also far exceeded diplomatic immunity,” he says.
Mr Wessel-Aas also alleges US authorities were aware they were operating in a grey zone.
“The leaks confirm the impression the US has deliberately blurred the line between diplomacy and intelligence. This is a clear violation of international conventions. Diplomats should not be CIA agents," he says.
The recent controversial incident is not the first time this has happened in US espionage history, according to Mr Berg Harpviken.
“There is a long tradition in American intelligence for stretching the limits a little in relation to what the rest of the world community regards as acceptable,” he says.
Indeed, WikiLeaks’ publication of documents last weekend reveal American espionage has reached such a level, that it was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself who had ordered spying on UN management, The Guardian reports.
Surprise and disguise
Jan Egeland, Director at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), tells Klassekampen he was surprised by the disclosures.
“I experienced the worst period in terms of America's relationship with the United Nations. The Bush administration never forgot that (then UN Secretary General) Annan and the UN did not support the Iraq war. It surprises and disappoints me that this happened under the current administration that I have sympathy for.”
He believes this was the “collective paranoia” that resulted after the 9/11 attacks in New York.
After a meeting with British counterpart William Hague on Monday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre tried to tone down the gravity of the information released by WikiLeaks, claiming they were purely evidence diplomats were doing their job.
“If we rewind: Diplomats’ role is to observe, make up their minds and write home. It's not necessarily the truth, for it could be that the diplomat makes an error analysis. But it is their impression that they report back,” he told Dagbladet.
However, Kristian Berg-Harpviken believes America still has a problem in relation to the upcoming new WikiLeaks release.
“The US is dependent upon alliances and friendly relationships with its close allies. These types of disclosures affect the trust between countries and could lead to the USA having to follow its goals via pressure and use of force, instead of via diplomacy,” he tells Klassekampen.
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