Norway’s State Auditor General has issued criticism of the government in a report to Parliament about the new F-35 fighter jets, but the report is classified and therefore being handled as top secret.
Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen explained that both Defence Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen and the Auditor General’s office agreed to keep the report’s results top secret. Neither the seriousness of the criticism, nor the degree of confidentiality will be released.
“The audit of the fighter jets’ operating capabilities covers possible vulnerabilities in maintenance, logistics and refuelling functions, fighter jet bases and protection of our air space,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told the newspaper Klassekampen. According to Bakke-Jensen, such information is of “high value” for foreign intelligence-gathering operations, and that’s why the Auditor General’s report is classified and won’t be publicly shared.
According to Klassekampen, the secrecy was requested by Bakke-Jensen. The Auditor General’s office reportedly asked whether it could publicly issue a non-classified version of the report, but that was rejected by Bakke-Jensen on the grounds that no excerpts be taken out of the report.
Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss admitted that this is a digression from common parliamentary practice, but stressed that the defence ministry's evaluation is that the fighter jets operative capacity be classified.
A secret statement on the report will be delivered by Norway's defence minister and foreign minister, whereupon the committee will make a confidential recommendation to Parliament before Christmas. Even the debate on the criticism will be confidential, as will the minutes of the meeting.
Some Norwegian MPs haven't given up on whether the measures taken regarding the auditor general's criticism will be withheld from the public as well.
“I wish I could say more,” Freddy André Øvstegård of the Socialist Left Party told Klassekampen.
Norway has acquired 52 F-35 fighters as a replacement for its ageing F-16 fleet, which will be phased out starting from 2019. While the total cost has been estimated at NOK 85.1 billion (over $9.2 billion), the newspaper Bergens Tidende earlier this year alleged that it could reach as much as NOK 97 billion ($10.4 billion). The fighters won't become fully operational until 2025.