The case of closet surveillance by the American Embassy in Oslo seems to have been quietly dropped almost a year following the WikiLeaks revelations.
Since the announcement of the spying scandal nothing more appears to have happened.
Reports that the US embassy systematically spied on Norwegian citizens broke in November after the controversial website WikiLeaks published secret American diplomatic cables.
The round-the-clock surveillance operation by the group of up to 20 SDU (Surveillance Detection Unit) agents, consisting of former police, defence, and private security staff, started in the spring of 2000.
It was set up to monitor Norwegian citizens whom the US embassy alleged acted suspiciously. Surveillance took place from the sixth floor of the Handelsbygningen building, several hundred metres west of the embassy.
SDU personnel collected detailed information about individuals, including video footage. The information was passed on to US embassy staff, where it was disseminated and subsequently stored in the worldwide anti-terror SIMAS database.
Last year, Justice Minister Knut Storberget announced a public inquiry into the matter, after facing considerable pressure from politicians and diplomats alike.
Following the revelations, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Director Kristian Berg Harpviken said, “The matter could be extremely delicate for US-Norwegian relations if embassy documents refer to its surveillance operation."
Nevertheless, the US embassy was insistent that it followed all Norwegian laws in allowing the SDU to operate on Norwegian soil.
“We cooperate with authorities in the host country to do everything we can to protect our embassies [from terrorist attacks], including Norway” said Philip J. Crowley, assistant press secretary to the US State Department in Washington.
Shortly afterwards it emerged that the Americans may even have been armed and carrying concealed weapons around Norwegian streets, though Vegard Valter Hansen, senior adviser at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) believed this would have been “In high threat level situations or exceptional circumstances, providing the embassy and the host nation granted them permission.”
The US embassy denied that its Oslo personnel were routinely armed, however.
“They only have to keep an eye on things and observe, so why should they be armed?” asked Timothy Moore, spokesman for the US embassy in Oslo. “SDU members are just regular U.S. embassy employees [and] are paid the same way. Some of them work full-time, others part-time.”
Norwegian police had a difficult time investigating the matter, as none of those involved could be questioned before Washington revoked their oath of silence earlier this year.
US Oslo embassy spokesperson Patrick C. Geraghty told The Foreigner at the time that “After a thorough review of the international legal principles involved, the US government is pleased to advise that it will permit SDU members to provide information about their day-to-day activities and responsibilities.”
“We regret the delay in responding, but note that it was due to the complexity of the international legal issues involved. It required extensive consultation by legal experts within the U.S. Government.”
“We believe that we have found a way forward, serving the public interest while protecting the legal rights of the United States under the Vienna Convention.”
Although American embassy staff had reportedly informed Oslo police of their surveillance activities, the official enquiry found that no laws had been broken, meaning there was nothing that the Norwegian authorities could do about the scandal.
Norway’s Prosecuting Authority now says the matter has been dropped.