Scandinavian protests over U.S. embassy security just politics, ex-counterterrorism official says
Fred Burton, a former top State Department security official, has suggested that the recent howls of outrage from Norwegian and other Scandinavian officials about U.S. embassy security measures were misdirected.
“It’s been my experience when you see these kinds of media flaps over events such as this, there’s probably a high degree of politics behind-the-scenes or turf issues, meaning the national [security] services know what the U.S. embassy is doing but perhaps a local prosecutor doesn’t."
Thus "the root cause" of the furor, said Burton, a former deputy chief of the Diplomatic Security Service's counterterrorism division, was likely "turf or politics."
Norwegian officials have reacted with claims of “shock” and “scandal” following an Oslo television report that the American embassy had conducted “secret surveillance of hundreds of Norwegians over the past 10 years.”
TV-2, the country's largest commercial station, alleged on Nov. 4 that the embassy's “Surveillance Detection Unit” had as many as 20 persons, "including retired Norwegian police and former military and intelligence experts," working for it.
The surveillance allegedly included “taking pictures of street demonstrations and of people deemed security risks,” according to the Associated Press.
A Conservative Party member of the Norwegian parliament’s justice committee called the report “frightening.” The government announced it was opening an investigation.
Similar reports and expressions of outrage have arisen in Sweden and Iceland, which also announced they were opening probes of U.S. embassy security measures.
Denmark stopped short of launching its own investigation, saying it was making inquiries with the U.S. government first.
According to Burton, American embassies began taking more proactive surveillance measures after the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
“[T]he mission became one of looking for the pre-operational terrorist behavior before the terrorists were allowed to strike,” he said in a videotape presentation for Stratfor, the global intelligence firm where he is vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security.
“The surveillance detection teams take place with the full knowledge and consent of the host government,” he maintained. In fact, he added, U.S. embassies work in tandem with local security officials.
“Remember, it is the host government’s responsibility to protect that resident diplomatic official or building, in this case the U.S. Embassy,” he said.
“The embassy surveillance detection teams are placed in and around the U.S. embassy looking for suspicious behavior with a laser-like focus on terrorist, pre-operational surveillance. And their whole desire is to look at that behavior early enough in the attack cycle so the local authorities can be brought into the loop to investigate what the surveillance detection teams see.”
But the Nordic furor shows little sign of fading anytime soon, prompting some U.S. officials to try to calm local citizens personally.
The American ambassador to Iceland, Luis Arreaga, told Iceland’s National Broadcasting Service that no espionage is involved in protecting the embassy.
"If an employee of ours sees that there is a person who goes back and forth two or four times, that looks pretty suspicious to us," he said. "If we see that and we think it is significant, we immediately call the local authorities and say, 'Look, we have observed the following, would you please follow up?' And that's it. We don't follow people. We don't do anything that would not be respectful of Icelandic citizens."
| November 17, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence | Tags: Fred Burton, Strafor
Save & Share: Previous: Ex-China spy Li Fengzhi faces deportation, again
Next: Pot growers portrayed as terror threat
Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | November 17, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FranknErnest | November 17, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jkoch2 | November 17, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Aleksandros | November 18, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DCNative41 | November 18, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse