Norway’s major secrets are being administered here, right in the centre of Oslo. A number of the most important state institutions are situated within a radius of one kilometer: The Prime minister’s office, the Ministry of defence, Stortinget (parliament) and the central bank, Norges Bank. Ministers, state secretaries, members of parliament, state officials, business executives and other essential staff engaged in protecting the nation’s security, our military and our oil wealth – totalling more than 6000 billion kroner (NOK) - are working within this area.
But passers-by are hardly aware of the following fact: In several locations someone has installed secret transmitters which most probably behave like fake mobile base stations. These so called IMSI-catchers can monitor all mobile activity in the vicinity.
The people who run this surveillance equipment may in principle monitor every person moving in and out of the parliament building, the goverment offices or other institutions in the area. They can also select certain persons for eavesdropping and collecting data from their smartphones.
The fake base stations revealed during the monitoring have been in a so called «identification mode». The transmitters were switched on and were able to register all mobile phones within its reach.
The way this equipment functions indicates that very advanced systems are involved, with price tags between 500 000 kroner (approximately 85 000 dollars) and 2 million kroner (330 000 dollars). This kind of equipment cannot be legally sold to private persons in NATO member countries.
Jahn-Helge Flesvik, who is manager of the security company Aeger Group, participated in Aftenposten’s mapping. He too has experience from the intelligence community.
He has no doubt whatsoever about the conclusion:
- Only organisations with strong resources are able to employ the kind of technical equipment involved here.
The big question is who operates the fake base stations in the centre of Oslo. And how long have they been in use?
Only the police, the Police Security Service (PST) and the National Security Authority (NSM) have the autority, according to the Criminal Procedure Act and the Police Law, to utilize such equipment. But no Norwegian official contacted by Aftenposten says the equipment belongs to them. Aftenposten has no reason to believe that the Norwegian government stands behind the transmitters.
- What I can say, is that the PST only to a very limited extent employs equipment that utilizes so called mobile regulated zones. And when we do, it will be part of precautionary measures or the investigation of a criminal offense. This is always done on a legal basis, after a court order, says Signe Kathrine Aaling, police attorney at the Police Security Service.
Few people wish to speculate whether private companies, foreign intelligence or criminals have the resources to uphold such a large-scale espionage activity in Oslo’s mobile network.
- What we see is a gathering of intelligence on Norwegian soil. Very few institutions in this country are authorized to use this kind of equipment, says Kyrre Sletsjøe in CEPIA Technology.
The Ministry of justice did not want to make an immediate comment on the matter. But only the morning after receiving the results of Aftenposten’s investigations, did staff members from the National Security Authority appear on the streets of Oslo city, trying to trace the illegal base stations.
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