When Police Stalking Causes Institutionalised Incompetence: The Oslo Police and the 22 July Terrorist Attacks in Norway
by Reidar Visser
[Also available in Norwegian – norsk oversettelse her: https://policestalking.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/feilprioriteringene-for-utoya-tragedien-oslo-politiets-elitespanere-dro-pa-baertur-pa-tre-kontinenter/]
On 13 August, the independent inquiry into the tragic terror attacks in Norway on 22 July last year will present its official report. Unfortunately, the report is likely to focus on the trees rather than the wood. In particular, the independent commission will likely ignore some shocking facts about the priorities of the Oslo police during the 4 months immediately preceding the attacks, including the fact that the elite undercover unit of the Oslo police spent millions of Norwegian kroner harassing and mistreating a chronically ill photographer instead of following up tipoffs relating to the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.
The birth of a flawed police operation
In order to appreciate the budgetary constraints of the Oslo police and the necessity of making priorities, it can be useful to revisit comments to media made by a leading figure of the organised crime unit of the Oslo police in January 2011. In what amounted to a prophetic warning, Eirik Jensen told Aftenposten on 10 January 2011 that due to internal budget cuts, the undercover activities of the unit would be confined to “a limited number of criminal arenas” in 2011. Specifically he warned that the monitoring of potential terror suspects might become a casualty of the tight budgets. In that same article, the head of the organised crime unit confirmed the close links between the undercover unit of the Oslo police and Norwegian secret police (PST), with the latter often relying on the former. In a previous interview, police sources had confirmed that the Oslo police could do a maximum of 4 individually targeted around-the-clock undercover surveillance operations at one time (Aftenposten, 2 January 2011).
Whether those media headlines in early January 2011 actually helped improve the budgetary situation for the undercover work of the Oslo police is unknown. What is a fact, however, is that in the subsequent 4 months – the period leading up to the Oslo attacks and the Utøya tragedy on 22 July 2011 – the undercover priorities of the Oslo police shifted to something rather different from a terrorist threat. Instead of following up tipoffs relating to the perpetrator of the 22 July attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, the Oslo police had something they considered to be far more important on their mind: They were busy tailing a controversial photographer around the world, spending millions of taxpayer kroner and covering altogether 3 continents in what was basically a vindictive harassment operation with zero judicial value.
The target of the operations was a historian who had engaged in street photography for a contemporary fashion history project. Despite such photography being perfectly legal under Norwegian law and a recent ruling of the Oslo district court from 2009 specifically upholding the right of citizens to engage in photography (including mobile photography) in publicly accessible areas, the Oslo police disliked his activities. However, instead of ever warning the historian or entering any kind of dialogue with him to clear up any possible misunderstandings (this would likely have solved the problem at minimal cost), the police in February 2011 suddenly initiated a massive harassment campaign against him, apparently designed to put pressure on him to leave the country. Around the clock, the police tailed him using “conspicuous surveillance” methods. At daytime, they successfully infiltrated his workplace; at night they targeted him in his private apartment using sleep deprivation through constant noise from unmarked police cars outside.
Through the use of this kind of harassment and mistreatment between February and March 2011, the Oslo police succeeded in putting so much pressure on the historian that he left Norway on 22 March. He had concluded that the police operation was so obviously illegal that it would likely have to be confined to Norway. It is true that this kind of extra-judicial harassment operation is not altogether uncommon in Europe and North America, where it constitutes a variant of modern policing techniques that seriously threatens to undermine the most fundamental rule of law principles but which nevertheless has become quite common. What was somewhat unusual in this case, though, was that subsequent to achieving their assumed aim – expulsion – the Oslo police continued to trail the man abroad. Over the next year and a half, in a multi-million scandal of an international police operation, the Oslo police instigated continued harassment and human rights violations by the local police in altogether 9 other countries in order to continue their illegal and extra-judicial operation against the historian. Essentially, the Oslo police embarked on a punitive expedition whose inhumane character poses a stark contrast to one of the few existing legal verdicts relating to mobile photography in Norway. In an extreme case involving a gynecologist surreptitiously photographing more than 2,000 pictures of the genitals of a large number of unknowing female patients during consultations, a mere fine of 25,000 kroner (USD 4,000) was given in late 2010. In other words, in this case involving street photography, Norwegian police are not even trying to relate to the relevant signals from the Norwegian judiciary. They are making up the law entirely according to their own minds.
Human rights crimes at home and abroad
On 22 March, the historian travelled by air from Bergen to Schiphol in the Netherlands. He felt he was being followed by the Norwegian police aboard the plane and immediately after landing bought another ticket for London. As he boarded British Airways flight BA439 bound for Heathrow less than an hour later, a leading police officer of the Oslo police, a handsomely dressed, slim, slightly below average height man with full dark grey hair in his late 50s, stood waiting for him at the check-in counter and followed him aboard. Upon arrival at Heathrow, he was tailed to Hotel Renaissance in London’s Chancery Court area, where more leading officers of Oslo police and its organised crime unit arrived that same night. During the night, the officers kept the historian awake by endlessly running the motor of a car right beneath his hotel room, exactly as they had done in Oslo for more than a month. At daytime, the Norwegian officers were joined by the Metropolitan police and chased the man around the streets of London.
On 25 March, the historian decided to leave the UK. As he sat in the Sky Team lounge at Heathrow prior to departure preparing to leave on Continental’s flight CO111 to Newark in the United States, the same Norwegian officer in the 50s that had followed him from Schiphol to London three days earlier came and sat right by him again, reading a sports magazine. He was joined by two more leading officers of the Oslo police. One of them was a somewhat younger guy with slightly thin, dark hair who appeared to have been a leading operator in the car harassment patrols in Oslo the previous month. The third was a female with Nordic looks, blond hair in a pageboy, not looking very much like a street cop.
When CO111 touched down at Newark 10 hours later and the passengers disembarked, they were joined at immigration by a group of at least 10 people openly brandishing their Norwegian passports. The historian to a large extent recognised them as undercover police officers from Oslo. They had arrived from Oslo that same day, probably via the direct Continental flight from Oslo or the SAS flight via Copenhagen. The group was a mix of seasoned undercover police officers along with some very young recruits; the youngest police officer was in her early twenties.
After having cleared immigration, the group of police officers left Newark airport in a hired van. For the subsequent one and a half month, the same group – and a steady stream of replacements from Oslo – continued to spend the budget of the organised crime unit of the Oslo police by staying in five-star hotels, renting expensive SUVs and travelling on first class domestic air flights in the US as they continued their stalking operation of the controversial photographer around the clock. Back in Oslo, no attention was being paid by the police to the first tip-offs relating to the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.
During the course of the operation, some of the Norwegian police personnel changed. But the senior official of the Oslo police who had first followed the historian from Schiphol to London remained active throughout April and May: He was in Washington DC on 1 April, in Ottawa in Canada on 16 April, and in DC again at the Marriott Wardman Park on 19 April. Two other leading officers stood out as particularly active. One was a bearded senior official in his 50s who was at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City hotel in DC on 31 March, at the Intercontinental in Montreal in Canada on 7 April and again in DC on 17 April. The other was a 6 foot tall bald bouncer-type officer who stood out for his mild brown eyes in what was otherwise a very Viking-like appearance. On 26 April, he sat on the ninth row just behind the historian on United Airlines flight UA917 from Washington, DC to Seattle, where another big group of Oslo police officers joined him and spent the week from 26 April to 3 May. Apparently oblivious to the fact that they were now more than 7,000 kilometres from home and with the metre running very fast indeed, the members of the Oslo police still seemed to somehow believe in their slogan – “on the beat for a safer capital”.
By May, Oslo police must have spent more than a million Norwegian kroner on the operation, without achieving any other result than harming the Middle East research of the historian (which was solicited by both the CIA and the State Department even as the harassment campaign was going on). This, however, did not deter the Norwegians from pursuing him further, to ever more exotic locations. The historian had thought the madness would stop in the Middle East, but it didn’t. On 7 May 2011, as he boarded Qatar Airways flight QR52 from Dulles airport outside DC to Doha, he was followed by a mix of Norwegian and American offices, the latter probably FBI. In Doha, two of the three leading Norwegian officers who had been with him all the time even appeared inside an academic conference devoted to political change in the Middle East. Other Norwegians followed him to Jordan and the Amman Marriott in mid-May, where he recognized one of the youngest female officers who had landed in Newark two months earlier.
By late May 2011, as Anders Behring Breivik made his final preparations for the lethal 22 July attacks back in Norway, the expensive overseas photographer hunt of the Oslo police continued to tie up resources, personnel and the general priorities of the force for the fourth month running.
The last phase of large-scale Norwegian involvement in this absurd operation came in June–July 2011. After he had left Jordan, the historian was tailed by Norwegian officers to Middle East conferences in Como (Italy) and in Paris. On 3 June, as the historian sat on a café at Champs Elysees discussing the situation in the Middle East with representatives of the World Bank, a middle-aged, blond female Norwegian police officer with a small tattoo who had tailed him into a pharmacy in Oslo almost 4 months earlier sat on the next table, together with one of the main organised crime unit ringleaders in the operation.
Finally, due to health problems, the historian travelled to Netherlands in order to stay there for a longer period. On 22 July 2011, the historian was staying at the luxurious Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in the seaside resort of Noordwijk. Even at this point in the middle of the Norwegian summer holiday and as the terror bombs exploded back home in Norway, the Oslo police remained heavily involved in a strange stalking operation on Dutch soil.
How police stalking distracts the police themselves
It can be useful to juxtapose these two cases: The apparently limitless budget for trailing a controversial photographer versus the complete ignorance of various indications that Anders Behring Breivik was posing a threat (this included warnings from the Norwegian customs services that he was purchasing materials that could be used for explosives from Poland, as well as involvement in weapons transactions and the purchase of large quantities of chemical fertiliser). This highlights the real reasons behind the complete failure of the Oslo police in detecting and suppressing the lethal 22 July attacks, which have to do with priorities and oversight. It should be stressed in this respect that even though there is no specific indication that the two cases at any point were weighed against each other, this really is beside the point. The more important aspect is that, through their priorities, Oslo police got stuck in a useless project that produced no judicial results and had zero beneficial effects apart from the air miles collected by the numerous police officers who took part. They thereby collectively took their eyes away from the ball in the critical months leading up to the 22 July attacks. Too many high officials of the organised crime unit of the Oslo police spent too much time and money on this silly project for it to be inconsequential for the undercover capacity and priorities of the Norwegian police more generally.
Clearly, by the time the photographer left Norway in March 2011, a more rational police unit would have prided themselves at getting rid of what was perceived as a problem (however much it was perfectly legal) and left it at that by celebrating their little triumph of expelling him. If there was fear that the photographer should miraculously have any appetite left for undesirable street photography activity after four weeks of around-the-clock mistreatment, Oslo police could easily and cheaply have liaised with foreign police services to discreetly keep the man under watch just in case – this could have been done at a fraction of the cost of what became essentially a punitive stalking operation paid for by millions of taxpayer kroner. Remember that this is the same Norwegian police that at the time of the 22 July attacks could only afford to have 1 – one – helicopter in an operational condition!
Perhaps in light of these facts, it is easier to grasp why Oslo police has become so uncommunicative in the period after the 22 July attacks. So far, in Norwegian media discussions of the question of police preparedness, there has been too much focus on the immediate hours and days before the attacks, and not sufficient attention to the dramatic contrast between the warning issued by Eirik Jensen of the organised crime unit of the Oslo police on 10 January 2011 about a lack of resources and the remarkable, super expensive five-star travel spree engaged in by that same unit during the subsequent six months leading up to the attacks.
One of the big unknowns in this affair is to what extent top police officials in Norway at any point gave the go-aheads that in theory would be required before this kind of waste of taxpayer money was allowed to go ahead. For example, the boss of the organised crime unit, Einar Aas, has previously said publicly that his subunits are largely autonomous. Does that mean his approval was not needed? Lawyers interviewed in relation to the case suggest that, in theory, an operation on this scale would have to be approved by both the chief of the Oslo police as well as the director of the Norwegian police. The police chief of Oslo at the time was Anstein Gjengedal. The police director was Ingelin Killengreen, who had her last working day on 31 March (a week after the stalking operation had gone international) and was then replaced by an acting director, Vidar Refvik, who served until the new director of police, Øystein Mæland, began on 20 June 2011. Did they know and approve? Finally, it is not known for sure whether there was any involvement of the international desk of the prestigious Kripos (the equivalent of a CID in the Norwegian police). This would have been the standard procedure in any case involving international assistance.
There is also the question of how parts of Norwegian society at large got involved as in the madness of the Oslo police in this case. Tragically, members of the Labour party – the political party that was the main victim in the 22 July events – were among the volunteers that assisted the organised crime unit in harassing the historian as he was working on Middle East related research in Oslo in February and March 2011. Similarly, Norwegian lawyers, journalists and other members of the liberal professions were at various junctures enlisted by the police to put pressure on the historian. More generally speaking, over the five past years, the ruling Norwegian Labour party has emerged as one of the most zealous and uncritical supporters of dirty police techniques, including police stalking. This tendency got even more marked after a fatal, gang-related shooting incident at the glitzy Aker Brygge in 2006, after which point the organised crime unit of the Oslo police was generally given a free hand as regards budgets and few questions were asked regarding methods. The justice minister at the time of this operation and the 22 July bombings, Knut Storberget, has even appeared side by side with stalking expert Eirik Jensen at public conferences. Yet another individual close to the Labour party, former UN advisor Jan Egeland, gave Norwegian police a very public stamp approval in autumn 2011 shortly before leaving his job as head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and moving on to the lofty Human Rights Watch. According to Egeland, Norwegian police working abroad are “first class” (Norsk Politi no. 2, June 2011).
More broadly speaking, the case also reveals some of the fundamental weaknesses of Norway’s general national security architecture. Instead of having sufficient undercover capacity attached to the prestigious Kripos and PST (secret service), currently Norwegian national security remains hostage to capricious officers in the organised crime unit of the Oslo police sometimes described by the police themselves as semi-criminals (“stained, striped and Quislings”, Aftenposten, 15 January 2012). These officers are euphemistically referred to as undercover agents, but in some cases are nothing more than destructive, uneducated thugs that understand human rights and basic principles of due process no better than an average Syrian shabiha. Drunk on hypermodern technology, these officers are not enforcing the law; they are enforcing their own, kindergarten-level judicial fantasies. And they get paid overtime by Norway’s oh-so-pristine government to wake people up at night and wreak havoc in the most primitive ways imaginable. The irony of the case is of course that Norway generally has a clean and honest police constabulary, perhaps among the best in the world. Sadly, though, the undercover component of the Norwegian police comes across as exceptional in its ignorance, barbarism and lack of respect for human life. To add insult to injury, these most anti-democratic and judicially illiterate circles of the Oslo police were given the task of leading the investigation into the atrocities of 22 July. Of course, rather than being given the job of leading the investigation into Anders Behring Breivik, units like the organised crime unit of the Oslo police should themselves be approached as a serious problem. Everyone knows that Anders Behring Breivik is a dangerous threat to Norwegian democracy. A far greater but underestimated threat against Norway as a liberal rule-of-law society are the government-sponsored thugs in the organised crime unit who commit human rights crimes in the name of the rechtsstaat with impunity.
It is also part of the story that one and a half year later, it seems Oslo police did not learn their lesson from the affair. Norwegian extra-territorial police involvement continued on Dutch soil after the 22 July bombs, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Throughout 2011, Oslo police kept trying to manipulate and interfere with the e-mail correspondence of the historian and people he was in touch with on a professional basis. When a wave of rapes hit Oslo in autumn 2011 and the resource problems of the Oslo police once more became very pronounced, the Oslo police opted to stay involved in their expensive overseas harassment operation. When the historian finally left the Netherlands in July 2012 after months of unbearable sleep deprivation verging on physical torture, Norwegian and other European police officers followed after him to 3 different countries (including Taiwan, with which neither Norway nor the Netherlands has diplomatic relations). They continue to mistreat him overseas until this day.
Police work is first and foremost about making priorities. There is an infinite universe of societal problems which may or may not deserve police attention. In doing their work, one of the key tasks of the police is to differentiate between, on the one hand, things like photography, and, on the other hand, things like bombs.
Said differently, this case really is the exam of policing 101. You have limited resources. You have person A, who takes perfectly legal pictures for an academic project, and who never bothers anyone for more than a few seconds of their life. You have person B, who prepares to bomb and shoot as many innocent civilians as possible, preferably with some high-ranking politicians included for good measure.
The Oslo police chose to go after person A with a maximum of resources and ignored person B. That’s a fail.