Norwegian and US intelligence services have collaborated on hacking Russian networks in order to retrieve information on Russia's political leadership and energy policy, as proceeds from the formerly classified documents by the National Security Agency (NSA) published by The Intercept.
Previously, only a small part of the three-page document was available, but now the document has been made available in its entirety.
It was in September 2011 that Norway's Intelligence Service (NIS) first informed the NSA that they were running espionage programs in computer networks, whereupon an agreement on data-sharing was reached. The NSA would then expand and strengthen cooperation with Norway, focusing on targets in the Russian political leadership and Russia's management of natural and energy resources.
An annual planning meeting between the NSA and the NIS was held on March 7, 2013. Some of the topics discussed were Norway's access to data cables, data processing and external data storage, as well as obtaining information from commercial satellites.
From 2013-2018, the NIS invested about $100 million in new technical equipment for monitoring, as advised by the NSA. In the NSA document, the NIS's "signal intelligence capabilities against principally Russian targets" were stressed as its particular forte.
Researcher Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs (NUPI) argued that Norway's spying efforts could potentially be used for future attacks.
"It is clear that if you map other states' data networks, it may be possibly done for the sake of attacks on these networks," Reichborn-Kjennerrud told national broadcaster NRK. "However, based on what we know about Norway's information gathering, it is unclear whether this is done with this purpose or, for example, to expose Russian plans or other things," he added.
While the NUPI researcher argued this type of espionage could be useful for Norway, he also expressed fears that it may in fact increase political tensions. Reichborn-Kjennerrud also argued that the parliamentary EOS Committee that is responsible for the secret services' actions has in fact insufficient capacity to control the spying efforts.
"Intelligence in itself is not illegal. So if Americans were to spy on Norwegians, it would have been fully possible. Norwegian citizens can be thus spied upon. Whether the Americans choose to share the information with the Norwegian intelligence, we don't know," he argued.
According to Reichborn-Kjennerrud, the EOS Committee has insufficient capacity to see that all activity is under its control.
"I believe the biggest issue with the EOS Committee is that they have very little knowledge of these new technical things. The control function must be upgraded to become much more advanced technically," Reichborn-Kjennerud argued.
Eldbjørg Løwer, the chairman of the EOS Committee said that he couldn't comment on the methodology used by the NIS in detail, but assured the public that the committee was fully familiar with the methods used.