Norway has long been a close ally of the USA. Outside of the EU, but inside NATO, it provided bases and consistent support for the USA during the Cold War, unsurprisingly seeing neighbouring USSR as a serious threat to its interests. Yet… those days would seem to be long gone, at least as far as the US is concerned, if a story recently revealed is to be believed.
According to the Dagbladet newspaper, Norway’s TV2 News reported that 15-20 Norwegians, including ex-police, had been recruited by the US Embassy over 10 years to form a secret group, the Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) that would apparently monitor terrorist threats in Norway. The group operated from a building near the embassy, and collected information on hundreds of Norwegian citizens, whose details were added to a database called SIMAS (Security Incident Management Analysis System).
This was all done apparently without the Norwegian government’s consent, although according to the report, the US Embassy has admitted carrying out the program. The question is – is this standard US practice, or simple a ‘rogue’ embassy group of bored spooks getting above themselves? The answer is that it is almost undoubtedly the former. SIMAS is the US diplomatic service’s global database. According to a Privacy Impact Assessment (!) submitted by the State Department on the system:
“Security Incident Management and Analysis System (SIMAS) is a worldwide Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) web-based application, which serves as a repository for all suspicious activity and crime reporting from U.S. Diplomatic Missions abroad (all U.S. embassies and consulates). Department of State personnel, including Diplomatic Security personnel, regional security officers, and cleared foreign nationals, enter Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) into SIMAS as a central repository for all physical security incidents overseas. SIMAS Reports typically contain a detailed narrative description of the suspicious activity prompting the report, available suspicious person(s) and vehicle descriptors, and other identification data as may be available (e.g. photographs). Reports also indicate date, time and location of suspicious activity, and may include amplifying comments from relevant Bureau offices.”
The data entered into the system on individuals include:
“Citizenship Status and Information (source-documents)
- DSP-11 (Passport Application)
- OF-156 (VISA application)
Biometric Information (source-observation and photography)
- Eye Color
- Skin Tone
- Hair Color
- Hair Style
- Age or Estimated Age
- Body Type (Build)
- Scars, Marks, & Tattoos
Other (source-personal interview by authorities)
- Telephone Number
- Father’s Name
- Mother’s Name”
It is supposed to be limited to “suspicious or potentially threatening incidents gathered from observations in the vicinity of a post” in order to protect the embassy, however it seems that far more was going on in the case uncovered in Norway, and it would not be surprising if the SDU was operating as a cover for a range of other intelligence activities.
Update: the Norwegian government is now complaining to the US government about this, saying that it breaks Norwegian privacy laws. But, but… they did a PIA! Surely everything is okay now? Oh, and the US claim that “Norwegian authorities had been informed in advance about the surveillance activities.” Hey, this means someone is lying to us! Surely not… 😉