On April 13th of this year, Norway did something that had never been done before on such a scale. 15 diplomats at the Russian Embassy in Dramnsveen were declared persona non grata in Norway. And they weren’t diplomats, and were actually working for Russian intelligence, according to PST and the State Department.
It was a severe blow to the Russian intelligence in Norway. But there are many indications that Russia has used the time well. According to PST, Norway as an intelligence target has become very important to Russia. That’s what the head of counterintelligence at PST, Inger Haugland, says.
– Russian intelligence is still active in Norway. Of course, the capacity they had at the Russian Embassy in Oslo was greatly reduced after 15 intelligence officers had to return home this spring. But we’re seeing signs that they’re trying to rebuild that capacity, Hoagland says in an interview with NRK.
We have implemented concrete measures to prevent them from replacing the staff they have at the embassy. I can’t go into detail on exactly what we’re doing, but it’s an important part of the PST’s mission to prevent and prevent Russian intelligence activity in Norway, says Hoagland.
On a tourist visa to Norway
Intelligence officers who have been sent out of Norway are part of a much longer list. Western countries have largely targeted Russian embassies as centers of espionage since Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine began on February 24 last year.
overview of it British newspaper The Daily Telegraph It shows that at least 705 Russian diplomats have been declared persona non grata since 2022. This is twice the number expelled in the past 20 years. This was a major blow to Russian intelligence, says the investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov to the newspaper.
But in Norway, PST is seeing clear signs that it is rebuilding. Not just by trying to get new intelligence officers into the embassy, says Inger Hoagland in PST.
– We also see Russians traveling, on behalf of the KGB, to Norway for short stays, without diplomatic cover, but with other types of cover. It may be under the guise of tourism or linked to a commercial activity.
– Have you actually seen this in recent months?
I won’t go into what we saw specifically, but it is a tactic that the KGB has used for a long time and is still being used.
Pacific: Still using civilian ships for intelligence
NRK revealed in April this year that at least 50 civilian Russian vessels such as fishing trawlers, cargo ships, research vessels and yachts may be used by Russian intelligence to spy against critical infrastructure in Norway.
Norway submitted port blocking Against the invitations of ships flying the Russian flag, with the exception of fishing vessels in the cities of Tromsø, Batsfjord and Kirkenes. When asked if Russia still uses civilian ships for intelligence purposes, PST answered in the affirmative.
Russian intelligence has used civilian ships for intelligence purposes for a long time, a method they still use, says Hoagland, who won’t elaborate further on what PST sees in concrete terms when it comes to Russian civilian ships.
– Many Norwegian sources have gotten cold feet
Tom Rosyth is a Principal Instructor of Intelligence at the Norwegian Defense Academy. This, he says, has so weakened Russian intelligence in Norway that several Russian diplomats have been declared persona non grata.
Embassies were where many intelligence operations were directed. Now they are losing ground on recruiting resources, Rosyth tells NRK.
– but Eventually, Rosyth says, the Russian services will adapt and use other methods to communicate with Norwegian sources and ensure intelligence continuity.
– Moscow now sees itself in a protracted conflict with Norway and the West, and is willing to take increased risks for potential immediate gain, and to prioritize long-term intelligence operations in order to gain support for decision-making during and at the war. afterwards.
Rosyth believes that Norway should assume that Russia will continue its traditional focus on physical acquisition through proxy networks, which will then use more sophisticated cover stories than diplomatic cover.
Rosyth says it has become very difficult for Russian intelligence to operate in Norway, since the 15 intelligence officers were declared persona non grata.
– It is likely that many Norwegian sources were intimidated or realized that they were useful aides to the Russian intelligence services, not diplomats. The deportation may have led to a crisis in intelligence gathering. Relationships that once depended on physical meetings are now over or in hibernation, says Rosyth.
More “illegal immigrants” in Norway?
In addition to the fact that a large number of intelligence officers were declared undesirable, Western countries also tried to expose and destroy the Russian network of so-called “illegal immigrants”, that is, illegal in Norwegian. There are sleeper agents who live ordinary lives and build themselves up under false identities, but quietly operate as Russian agents. Last year, six such agents were detected in the West.
One of them works in Norway, according to the PST. Slowly and steadily, PST believes that accused spy Mikhail Mikosin has built a credible identity as an academic with an interest in the Arctic and northern regions. Micushin himself claims his name is José Assis Gayamaría, that he is innocent, and that he is from Brazil.
Experts told The Daily Telegraph that Western intelligence agencies have begun detaining illegal immigrants because they are becoming more and more dangerous. They are now more dangerous, says expert Andrei Soldatov, because Russian intelligence is now in war mode. With few intelligence officers in the embassies, priority is given to illegal special operations agents, which can be anything from targeted assassinations to sabotage, says Soldatov.
When asked if the PST knew whether there were still illegal agents in Norway, the PST leader replied with the following:
Illegal immigration is a method used by Russian intelligence, and Norway is an important intelligence target for Russia. I don’t want to comment specifically on whether we’re aware of more illegal immigrants, but it’s clearly a way we should be aware of it, Inger Hoagland tells NRK.
Higher risk acceptance
PST says it is becoming increasingly difficult for Russian intelligence to operate in Norway. Whether because of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, or because of the repatriation of the 15 intelligence officers.
It’s a much more difficult operating environment for Russian intelligence, but we also believe that they now have a higher risk appetite than they did before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 of last year.
What does higher risk appetite mean?
– This means that they have more to gain and less to lose by conducting intelligence activities in Norway, and therefore they will be able to take greater risks than we have seen them do in the past. Among other things, there is a higher risk of being detected, says Inger Haugland, head of PST’s counterintelligence business.
NRK did not succeed in contacting the Russian Embassy in Oslo about this matter.
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