08:16 GMT02 March 2021
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    In February, Norway identified Russia as the foremost threat to its security, along with terrorism. Earlier this week, however, it was announced that some Norwegian intelligence officers will be moved away from the Russian border. How exactly this is going to stop alleged Russian plans "hacking" the Norwegian election is unclear.

    In a major personnel shake-up in eastern Finnmark County, up to 20 intelligence positions will be moved from Sør-Varanger, along the country's Arctic coastal Russian border to Vadsø. Sør-Varanger Mayor Rune Rafaelsen said the move was deeply unfortunate for overall security and the employees.

    "I find it regrettable that Norway is weakening its national presence in Sør-Varanger, which is the only [Norwegian] municipality bordering Russia. Having military intelligence here is very important for the whole of Norway and for the municipality in particular," Rafaelsen told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    Until now, the Norwegian Armed Forces have had an intelligence-gathering station in Varanger, tasked with monitoring border activity, as well as a support element in Høybuktmoen and a collection unit in Viksjøfjell. Vadsø, however, where part of the personnel will be moved, has since 1999 hosted the American radar array Globus II. In March 2016, it became known that the US was poised to build another intelligence radar in the same area.

    Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde, Chief of the Norwegian Military Intelligence Service (E-Tjensten), stressed that it was not a matter of reducing Norway's intelligence capability, but rather geographical changes in the region, yet refrained from commenting on the reasons for the decision.

    "Modernization and improved efficiency is a continuous process for the Intelligence Service," Morten Haga Lunde told the Kirkenes-based Arctic news outlet the Barents Observer.

    E-Tjensten is tasked with collecting, processing and analyzing information concerning Norwegian interests in relation to foreign states, organizations and individuals in order to provide the Norwegian authorities with a solid basis for decisions in matters concerning foreign, security and defense policy. The Chief of E-Tjensten is directly subordinate to the Chief of Defense.

    Norwegian surveillance vessel Marjata
    In February, an annual threat assessment issued by E-Tjensten found that Russia could possibly influence the upcoming parliamentary elections in autumn. Additionally, increased political tensions between the West and Russian were found to increase the chance of the digital space used for exerting pressure and launching threats.

    Haga Lunde also stressed the necessity of establishing "digital border control," citing the threat of Russia's meddling.

    "Based on Russia's capacity and activities towards the Western countries we must assume that Russia can directly or indirectly influence political processes in other countries. This is particularly relevant in 2017 with a series of national elections in Europe," Haga Lunde told Norwegian news outlet Digi.

    Of late, the rhetoric between Norway and Russia has intensified. Russia's ambassador to Norway called the relations between the two countries "unsustainable," whereas Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) expert Iver Neumann claimed them to be a fallback to the times of the Cold War.

    Incidentally a former E-Tjensten employee ventured that increased Norwegian military activity in Finnmark had prompted more Russian intelligence activities, characterizing the border county of Finnmark as a "temperature gauge" for the relations with the vast neighbor in the east.


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