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Norway's Spy Boss Gives 'Least Untruthful' Answer About Sharing Phone Call Info With NSA, Before Correcting Himself

from the faster-turnaround-this-time,-though dept

More information has surfaced on the NSA’s worldwide phone metadata collections. A leaked document provided to Norwegian paper Dagbladet shows that metadata on over 33 million Norwegian calls was collected in a single month.

As we’ve seen elsewhere, the first response has been outrage.

“Friends should not monitor each other,” Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg told Norwegian broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. “It is legitimate to engage in intelligence, but it should be targeted and suspect based.”

“It is unacceptable for allies to engage in intelligence against each other’s political leadership,” added justice minister Anders Anundsen…

According to Dagbladet, Norwegian phone companies NetCom and Telenor both deny giving the NSA access to their systems.

Torstein Olsen, head of Norway’s telecoms regulator, said that it was illegal for anyone apart from telecommunications companies to collect such data.

“If Dagbladet’s information is correct that 33 million mobile phone calls in Norway were registered by someone other than the telecommunication companies, that would be a crime under Norwegian law,” he said.

This is in line with the responses offered by other US allies who have been made aware of the NSA’s efforts via Snowden’s leaks. The ODNI hasn’t even bothered offering a denial, perhaps suggesting it would rather deal with its domestic issues than fight the intelligence brushfires around the world. This lack of response may also be due to the fact that the NSA didn’t collect this metadata directly.

What is interesting about this is the Norwegian intelligence response. The head of the NIS (Norwegian intelligence) made two seemingly contradictory statements in under 24 hours.

The head of NIS, Norway’s intelligence service, Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen, told Dagbladet that his agency had not collaborated with US to collect the data, and had been unaware that it was being collected.

That’s according to The Local. Reuters’ coverage of the response to this new leak quotes the intelligence head as saying this when addressing a press conference.

“This is data collection by Norwegian intelligence to support Norwegian military operations in conflict areas abroad, or connected to the fight against terrorism, also abroad,” Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen, head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, told a news conference.

“This was not data collection from Norway against Norway, but Norwegian data collection that is shared with the Americans.”

Grandhagen’s “deniability” seems to hinge on being asked the right question in the right way. The first answer, given shortly after the leak, may have simply been the “least untruthful.” In some ways, the answer is true. The NIS does not collaborate with the NSA to collect the data. It collects the data itself and then shares it with the NSA. Grandhagen can honestly say he was unaware the NSA was collecting this data, because the NSA wasn’t. The NIS was. Playing to the edges of the wording.

The second answer seems to have been composed with a little more thought and is targeted more at dispelling domestic spying rumors than pretending it never happened.

So, like other countries (France, Italy), these metadata collections are supposedly collections of calls into or out of the country, rather than solely domestic end-to-end calls. Supposedly. We’ve seen that the NSA’s collections in the US gather plenty of metadata on solely domestic communications. Just as spokespersons are quick to assure offended countries that “everyone spies on other countries,” those thinking more skeptically will be quick to respond with “and everyone says they’re not spying on their own citizens, but they are.”

33 million calls from one country in one month — no matter who’s doing the collecting and who’s on the “share” list — is a massive amount of data. If the NSA is being supplied with the metadata on hundreds of millions of phone calls from around the world every month, in addition to the hundreds of millions it collects domestically every 90 days, there’s no way it can credibly claim to have a handle on all this data.

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Comments on “Norway's Spy Boss Gives 'Least Untruthful' Answer About Sharing Phone Call Info With NSA, Before Correcting Himself”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“It is unacceptable for allies to engage in intelligence against each other’s political leadership,” added justice minister Anders Anundsen…

The gathering of ‘political’ intelligence has always been one of the major objectives of spy agencies. When heads of state are due meet, they expect their spy agencies to give them a heads up of what the others are thinking so that they can prepare for the meeting. Also any bits of information that could provide leverage are very welcome.

Jerrymiah (profile) says:

Norway data collection

If the NIS collected the data, it’s because they were asked by the NSA. I have absolutely no trust in the present leadership of the NSA being that most of them are actual or retired military generals nor in the american administration. Obama (the doctator) has ordered his generals to bully the rest of the world. It’s really time to put an end to this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just to add to the pile of information: According to non-english sources the information is a sneakpeak from an upcoming book by Glenn Greenwald. The book will launch in a special edition in Norway in march.

According to the article on Reuters, Greenwald himself points to it in a tweet, the norwegian secret service suggest that the 33 million phone records are from their foreign service database. If true, the data would be collected from Norway and more specifically NIS, but the informations are gathered outside of Norway (Like NSA there is a strict non-domestic clause on NIS, which would make that type of domestic data-gathering the responsibility of PST, where Grandhagen legitimately can claim no responsibility, whatsoever! In this case it seems Grandhagen claims extensive cooperation between NSA and NIS and it even seems he is specifically confirming that the data Greenwald has access to seems to match those shared data.).

The other possibility is that USA is getting infamous “metadata” and that would ultimately have to be through norwegian ISPs (through secret gathering – which is illegal and why should USA bother to do that with a low threat country and ally like Norway?, cooperating ISPs – the ISPs deny that vehemently or with the help of PST – I highly doubt PST have an interest in wasting time on collecting non-targeted metadata, not to mention the political dynamite it would be!).

I don’t know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is.

Both Norway’s NIS and the Sweden’s FRA claim that their mass surveillance is to protect the troops serving in…Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is roughly 6000 kilometers from Scandinavia. Apparently the Taliban’s are using servers and mobile phone networks in Scandinavia to coordinate their actions. That’s the excuse. No, really. Try not to split your sides laughing.

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