Norwegian Intelligence Service: Foreign Intelligence Activity Against Norway Remains Significant Threat

Presenting the 2021 Threat Assessment. From the left; Chief of Intelligence Services Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, Chief of the Police Security Service Hans Sverre Sjøvold, and Chief of the National Security Agency Kjetil Nilsen. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Norwegian Armed Forces).

Chief of Norwegian Intelligence Service pointed to Russian and Chinese intelligence activity towards Norwegian interests, as well as increased military activity and tensions in the High North, when presenting the Norwegian Intelligence Service's threat assessment for 2021.

On Monday, the Norwegian Intelligence Services, the Police Security Services (PST) and the National Security Authority (NSM) presented the open sections of their threat and risk assessments. It is the first time that these three services present their respective threat and risk assessments together.

Director of the Norwegian Intelligence Services Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, pointed to three trends in the threat situation Norway is facing in 2021.

“First of all, the threat from intelligence and influence activities will continue. Secondly, the military activity in the High North is increasing, and thereby also tension. Thirdly, the terror threat against Europe has not disappeared”, Stensønes said during the press conference.

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and Director of Intelligence Service Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes at the press conference with the FOKUS 2021 report. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Norwegian Armed Forces)

Intelligence threats

The Intelligence Service, NSM and PST stressed that espionage and digital intelligence activities are some of the most serious threats Norway is facing.

“For the past six months, we have had two reminders about the gravity of the intelligence threat. The network attack exploiting software from SolarWinds has hit authority bodies and private companies all over the world. There is extensive compromising. Another network operation hit Stortinget [the Norwegian parliament], our most important democratic institution, says Vice Admiral Stensønes.

“Foreign intelligence and influence activity remains a significant threat against Norway and Norwegian interests, the Intelligence Services’ report reads.

According to the Service, the largest intelligence threats come from Russia and China:

“The expertise and room for maneuver of the Russian and Chinese intelligence and security services have increased in recent years”, Stensønes stressed.

“Norwegian defense, foreign and security policy, the High North, Svalbard, the health sector, the energy sector and high-tech are all areas of major interest for foreign intelligence.”

At the press conference, PST Chief Hans SVerre Sjøvold also said that digital espionage and network operations will constitute the largest part of Russian and Chinese intelligence activity against Norway this year.

“In recent year, intelligence services have repeatedly broken into the networks of Norwegian authorities as well as private companies”, he continued.

“The fact that we have parliamentary elections this year makes digital espionage and network operations quite a challenge.”

The Russian Defense has gone from being almost only dimensioned for large-scale war to becoming a very flexible power apparatus.  
Norwegian Chief of Intelligence Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes.

Russian military power

“We see great power rivalry continuing unabatedly. We can tell also from our neighborhood. Russia is a dimensioning factor for Norwegian security. China increasingly constitutes a challenge for Norwegian security interests.”

These were the words of Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen during his introduction at the press conference.

Chief of Intelligence Stensønes emphasize increased Russian activity in the High North.

“During the past decade, we have seen far more active use of Russian military power, from maritime presence in the High North and the Norwegian Sea to sharp operations in the Ukraine, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. With that, tension has increased, also in Norway’s neighborhood. Russian authorities increase pace of their developing military bases in the north. They spend large resources on developing new, advanced weapon systems. The increased weapon testing in the High North will continue. And the risk of serious accidents will last.”

Stensønes adds that some of the most advanced weapon systems of the world were developed to exploit vulnerability in western defense and infrastructure. He says Russia is about to develop its anti-satellite weapons further.

“Similarly, Russia is developing offensive capacities against underwater installations. More than 97 percent of all internet traffic goes through subsea cables. Such tools would have a seriously destabilizing effect were they to be put into use.”

“The Russian Defense has gone from being almost only dimensioned for large-scale war to becoming a very flexible power apparatus. Increased military activity and increased tensions should be seen in relation to how armament control, just like international cooperation generally, has been weakened. This applies even if the USA and Russia now have agreed to prolong the new Start agreement with five years”, Stensønes says.

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