Norway has spied on the Russian military for 70 years. Only with Frode Berg did it go seriously wrong.

Frode Berg, here photographed at the Norwegian-Russian border in Finnmark. Berg has recently been released from Russian prison following 23 months of being arrested and later convicted of espionage. Photo: Amund Trellevik

Frode Berg (63) is once again a free man after 23 months in Russian prison. The intelligence service target was Russian submarines, a field where Norway has contributed with valuable information for decades.

In 1955, Ingeborg Lygren was sent to Moscow as a secretary at the Norwegian embassy.

The 42-year old woman from Sandnes, near Stavanger, had been working as an interpreter at the Norwegian Border Commissioner of the Norwegian-Russian border in Kirkenes for the past year. Her knowledge of Russian and Polish were valuable for the Norwegian state. The relationship between Norway and the Soviet Union was tense and in Kirkenes, the Norwegian armed forces were in full swing building up its eastwards looking intelligence work.

Lygen was sent to the Soviet Union to serve both the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian intelligence services as well as the CIA. Her job was to act as link between the CIA and Russians who had been recruited as agents, pretty much the same task Berg had.

Lygren was to send letters arriving in Moscow via Norwegian courier mail and was also to manage dead post drops, a demanding and difficult job.

The information Lygren contributed to collecting made the CIA very satisfied at first. However, unlike Frode Berg, who was arrested two years ago by Russian counterintelligence when he was to send money via regular mail in Moscow, Lygren was arrested by her own upon returning to Norway.

The heads of the police intelligence services suspected her of spying for foreign powers following KGB defectors’ revealing of moles in western intelligence. The case was later dismissed. Even later, Gunvor Galtung Haavik was revealed to have been the real spy.

Ingeborg Lygren was sent to the Soviet Union to serve both the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian intelligence services as well as the CIA. She was later wrongfully accused of being a KGB spy. Facsimile: Aftenposten

The Frode Berg Case

5 December 2017: Former Norwegian Border Inspector Frode Berg is arrested by the Russian security service FSB during a visit to Moscow. Berg is charged with espionage following section 276 and is placed in Lefortovo prison, Moscow. The Norwegian denies guilt according to the charges, but later admits to having been a courier for the Norwegian military intelligence services.

Russian ex-policeman Aleksey Zyitnyuk, who allegedly has handed over documents to Berg, is in December 2018 sentenced to 13 years of prison in Russia.

2 April 2019 the Berg case is tried before Moscow City Court. The prosecutor claims Berg was gathering information about Russian nuclear submarines. On 16 April 2019, Berg is found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The verdict is not appealed and legally enforced on 29 April. Later, it comes out that Berg is convicted for having handed over 15,000 Europ to a Russian contact.

On 16 October, it is announced that Russia and Lithuania have agreed to exchange two Russians for two Lithuanians as well as an unnamed Norwegian convicted in Russia. Frode Berg is the only Norwegian serving time for espionage in Russia.

On 24 October, the Russian news agency Interfax reports that a Russian commission recommends president Vladimir Putin to grant Frode Berg clemency.

On 15 November, Lithuania announces that it has granted clemency to the two Russians Nikolay Filiptschenko and Sergey Moiseyenko, who were convicted for espionage.

On 16 November, Frode Berg returned to Norway late in the evening.

Source: NTB

Target: Severodvinsk, the nuclear submarine city

Both Frode Berg (63) and Lygren have their background from the Border Commission in Kirkenes. And the stories about the two people are as close as one gets to a parallel to the Berg spy case.

- Berg was both caught, investigated, convicted and extradited. I cannot recall similar cases in Norway, says writer and journalist Alf R. Jacobsen.

- There are no parallel stories in Norwegian history. Not that I know of, and I have a pretty good overview, says Ola Kaldager, Norwegian officer and former head of the secret military intelligence unit E14.

In the 1950s, Norwegian intelligence agents entered the Soviet Union on foot to gather information. Their equipment was binoculars and cameras, their target was potential troop concentrations on the other side of the border.

The methods of the Norwegian and allied intelligence services have changed since then, but the target remains the same: The Russian development of weapon systems, in particular missiles and new nuclear submarines built in the Russian “nuclear submarine capital” – the closed city of Severodvinsk, which lies north of Arkhangelsk.

Last Saturday night, Berg came back to Norway after almost two years in a Russian prison. The then-61 year-old retired border inspector was arrested on the streets of Moscow on 5 December 2017 and charged with espionage. In April he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The details of Berg’s mission are still not public. Perhaps they never will be. Berg has announced a press conference in Oslo Tuesday night. It is already known that Berg shall have acted as a courier for money to be transferred to specific Russians whose names are known. In exchange, the allied forces were to receive information about the construction of Russian nuclear submarines.

Intelligence data is our most important export article, besides fish, oil and gas.
Alf R. Jacobsen, writer and journalist
Severodvinsk celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May this year. The closed- off city is the place where Russia builds its new nuclear submarines and with that, it has become an area of priority for western intelligence services. Photo: Severodvinsk city administration

Norwegian export article

Alf R. Jacobsen is very familiar with the Norwegian armed forces and cold war history. He does not want to comment on the Berg case specifically, however, he says that generally speaking, Norwegian intelligence services have supplied information about Russian conditions to our allies for decades.

In Finnmark, the military station in Vadsø as well as the Globus radar in Vardø are two facilities contributing with signal intelligence into NATO.

- Few would disagree that the Norwegian intelligence services have a high professional level, in particular when it comes to technics. Enormous amounts of information about Soviet and Russian weapon systems have been gathered. The key here is the Russian navy, simply because new weapon systems are tested in the eastern parts of the Barents Sea. Norway has monitored the development of weapons from the early post-WW2 phase until today, and we have delivered results, Jacobsen says.

Norwegian intelligence data make sure Norway’s back is covered by the USA when it comes to defending the country, Jacobsen says.

- Intelligence data is our most important export article, next to fish, oil and gas. However, that has been a secret. The information we have gathered has been so significant that we have received a spot under the protective umbrella of the US nuclear weapons. That is a return favor for our supplying a constant stream of data from Northern Norway and the High North to our allies, Jacobsen says.

Shoveling snow before the Lenin statue in Severodvinsk. Photo: Sergey Yakovlyev,
The fact that this case receives such widespread attention is the amateurish aspect that lies in having a professional intelligence service pick a man like Frode Berg to do this kind of assignment.  
Ola Kaldager, former intelligence officer

Berg: - Blinking red lights

Ola Kaldager, who has led a most clandestine intelligence unit of the Norwegian defense argues that the assignment Frode Berg did is “the most amateurish operation in spy history”.

- The fact that this case to receive such widespread attention, in my opinion, is the amateurish aspect that lies in having a professional intelligence service pick a man like Frode Berg to do this kind of assignment. Red lights would be blinking once he approaches the border. When this becomes public knowledge, it is of course rather remarkable, Kaldager says.

- Are there similar cases in which these issues have been resolved between Norway and Russia, outside the limelight and with no information reaching the headlines?

- I have no idea about that. However, we should not forget that this case suited Russia perfectly well timewise. Russia had been caught with her pants down in Great Britain with the Skripal case. This [case] gave Russia an opportunity to point back at the West and say that Russia is not the only country doing this. It is a game, all of this.

- Who fared better in the game, now that Berg is back in Norway?

- Russia fares well from it. They have been watching Berg since 2015. That goes a long way in proving that this is a controlled operation from the Russians, a so-called setup. Russia has let Berg go on for a while to see who he talked to, what his modus operandi is. That is how you learn from the enemy and his M.O., his approach.

- That means there is probably reason to believe that the Russian intelligence services have been watching Berg back in Kirkenes too?

- Obviously. It would be rather remarkable if Russia has not done so, Kaldager says.

Frode Berg, here photographed outside the Norwegian Border Commission in Kirkenes. Berg worked here until 2014. Photo: Martin Gramnæs, Sør-Varanger Avis.

Both Frode Berg and Ingeborg Lygren have background from the Border Commission in Kirkenes. Kirkenes was through the Cold War one out of several places along the east-west border that saw a high level of intelligence activity, Kaldager says.

- Austria, Turkey and Berlin are all places with high level intelligence. Kirkenes too. This was where the West met the eastern bloc. Wien was famous for its being a spy nest. Even if signal intelligence is far more important today, the east-west border areas are nevertheless still seeing a high level of activity with spies, Kaldager says.

Established in London in 1942

- Ever since the Norwegian intelligence services were created in London in 1942, Norwegian agents have conducted risky and spectacular operations behind enemy lines all over the world. The efforts made by intelligence agents during the German occupation of Norway was an important part of the resistance movement, Jacobsen says and continues:

- What makes the Frode Berg case unique is that there are no similar cases in Norwegian history.

- We have conducted hundreds of such operations, often very successfully. The intelligence services have been doing this since the late 1940s. We do not know whether all of them have been successful, but here we are witnessing an operation that has failed spectacularly, says Jacobsen.


This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.