A book revealing Norway’s deep involvement in international espionage during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s has started a debate about secrecy in one of the world’s most open societies.
The book, “Our Secret Preparations,” details how Norway used sailors in its huge merchant fleet as agents and reveals Norway’s role in elaborate operations to spy on Communist states at the request of U.S. and British intelligence.
Defense authorities have said that the author, a former officer in Norwegian intelligence, may be prosecuted for breaching a lifelong vow of silence about his job.
“I did not show the manuscript to (head of the armed forces) Vigleik Eide, because he would have had it banned,” author Christian Christensen told a news conference to launch the book in Oslo recently.
Christensen, a 66-year-old former major in intelligence, based his book chiefly on interviews with Alf Martens Meyer, who led most Norwegian spy operations in the 1950s and 1960s.
Meyer, now 80 and living in retirement in Spain, was a navy captain in intelligence. His responsibilities, in what was then a very small setup, was to organize sensitive assignments.
The book has brought embarrassing allegations that officers involved knowingly broke with government security policy and that they kept successive administrations ignorant of certain sensitive missions.
Christensen, writing about the years between 1948 and 1968 when superpower tensions were high, gives key details of a number of alleged episodes in his book:
- Seamen serving with Norway’s merchant fleet, one of the largest in the world, were employed as spies against North Korea, China and other Communist countries. Britain and the United States requested such a spy network, code-named Delfinus.
- Norway, strategically positioned on NATO’s northern flank, trained Finns as agents and infiltrated them into the Soviet Union across the borders of Norway and neutral Finland--Norwegian authorities gave permission for the top secret U.S. U2 spy plane to be based in northern Norway, but were not told that it conducted missions inside the Soviet Union.
Martens Meyer knew this, but did not report it to the government. When a U2 crashed in the Soviet Union in 1960, sparking an international furor, the news deeply embarrassed the Norwegian government.
Responding to the book, newspapers have alleged that the use of civilians for spying and conducting operations outside the boundaries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a clear breach of Norwegian policy and that governments were kept in the dark about what was going on.
“The revelations are embarrassing,” wrote Verdens Gang, Norway’s biggest-selling newspaper, in a recent editorial that called for a government inquiry into the affair.
“For years, things went on that were in clear conflict with Norwegian security policy. Is this still the case?”
Defense Minister Johan Joergen Holst has said that current intelligence operations are within the law and national policy, but has declined to comment on the contents of the book.
Decision on Prosecution
“The head of the armed forces will decide if there should be a prosecution when we have studied the book carefully,” said Col. Gullow Gjeseth, spokesman for Norway’s Defense Command.
“What interests us the most is whether any damage has been done to national security,” he added. “It would be very sad if any intelligence officer decided that he could break his oath of silence when he leaves the service.”
But the authorities have not tried to stop distribution of the book.
Christensen has no regrets.
“No one should have to keep quiet for ever. If Martens Meyer and I had not done this, it would have been lost as an important part of Norwegian history,” he said.
No Security Damage
“I cannot think that the state will put pressure on us. We have not damaged national security.”
Christensen said he assumed that most of the secret documents linked with the operations had been destroyed. He also said he used many other sources in Norwegian intelligence to check Martens Meyer’s information.
Responding to suggestions that Norway’s “Cold War” spying activities were wrong because they broke with declared national policy, Christensen said:
“People thought differently then. There was a great fear of the Soviets and a firm belief that the U.S. would help us in a time of crisis.”
He defended Martens Meyer’s decision not to inform the government of the truth about the U2 flights.