Norway Warns of Increased Russian Economic Espionage

Russian espionage against NATO members is rising as the crisis in Ukraine drags from weeks into months. Some of this intelligence-gathering is aimed at political and military information, as in the case of Hungary, which I recently detailed. However, economic espionage is always a high Kremlin priority as well. Such matters are seldom discussed openly by Western countries who know what’s really going on.

However, the matter has grown so serious that Norway has decided to go public this week with statements from Benedicte Bjørnland, the chief of the country’s Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste or PST), who went into cautionary detail about what Russian spies are seeking. Norway’s opposition to Russian expansionism is hardly new, and the country’s devotion to NATO has never been in doubt, so Moscow has long considered Norway an important intelligence target (perhaps not coincidentally, Oslo has been on the receiving end of several damaging intelligence revelations, care of the Snowden Operation lately).

The PST chief’s statements make clear that Russian espionage is also aimed at Norway’s important oil and gas sector, the backbone of the country’s economy, so it’s worth reading her comments in toto, not least because they provide some helpful counterintelligence tips:

The crisis in Ukraine has made the Norwegian oil and gas industry more interesting to Russian intelligence.  The Norwegian Police Security Service urges caution.

“The Russian intelligence service has informational needs that it wants covered in connection with the crisis in Ukraine.  Our oil and gas sector is of special interest,” PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland says.

Bjørnland underlines that other states also are interested in Norwegian petroleum operations but it is only Russia that she names this time around. Russian complicity in the Ukraine crisis is the main reason.

“We are an important supplier of oil and gas. It is of interest to other states to know what kind of capacity we have,” she says.

Urges Caution

According to the PST chief, people do not need to be high up on the career ladder in politics or industry to have an intelligence service seek them out.

“Intelligence officers orient themselves toward oil and gas suppliers and industrial activity but employees in technological enterprises, research institutes and public administration can also be of interest,” Bjørnland says, continuing:

“Anyone who has access to relevant and attractive information is, in principle, of interest to foreign intelligence services. It’s in the nature of intelligence that it is long-term. Attempts may be made to recruit young people and students,” she says.

She urges caution about what people send by e-mail and talk about on the telephone.  Take good care of your smart-phone, tablet or computer when traveling, and to discard used memory sticks are other pieces of advice that she gives.

Stable, High Intelligence Pressure

Bjørnland says that foreign intelligence officers often operate under cover of being diplomats or journalists but they can also acquire sensitive information by acquiring access to computer networks.

The Ukraine crisis has not had any impact in increased activity from other intelligence services but only in a tendency.

“For a number of years, we have described stable, high intelligence pressure. That is still the picture, but the intelligence is going in a somewhat different direction.”

She underlines that the activity is serious and damaging, not least because information that goes astray can severely set Norway or Norwegian interests back in negotiation situations.

“Often the harmful effects only show themselves once some time has passed, frequently a number of years,” Bjørnland says.

In 2008, the PST came out and warned of Russian spies. On that occasion, then-chief Jørn Holme connected the activity with the Norwegian focus on the High North.  The Embassy of the Russian Federation dismissed the allegations as groundless and called them a “repetition from the days of the Cold War.”

I’m confident NATO countries are going to get more Russian espionage operations aimed at them, not less, as long as Putin rules in the Kremlin, so it would be a good idea for all Westerners holding positions of political, economic, or military importance to take seriously the solid counterintelligence advice by the PST director.



11 comments on “Norway Warns of Increased Russian Economic Espionage”
  1. mrmeangenes says:

    This just in -from me:  Biology 101 and Putin’s Russia Biology 101 and Putin’s Russia You’re probably looking at the title and saying : “WHAT ???” Sorry, but it gets worse from here on in ! The thing is, I’ve been watching Russia put the snag on … View on Preview by Yahoo  

  2. “The Russian intelligence service has informational needs that it wants covered in connection with the crisis in Ukraine. Our oil and gas sector is of special interest,” PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland says.

    From a counterintelligence perspective, this is a top-tip: PST seems to be “nipping” Russian recruitment attempts in the bud while also forcing them to adjust their tactics and strategy by going public with the threat. This reminds me of a quote by Pete Blaber in his book Men, Mission, & Me:

    “In combat, once you recognize the patterns that inform the behavior of your enemy, you can adapt to them, and your enemy is toast!” – Pete Blaber (

    Good article, as always.


    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks – solid advice all.

  3. test says:

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  4. d says:

    Are Russians going after Norway because they find it harder to operate in Germany, France or US?

    And on espionage more generally, if Israel is being denied special visa waivers due to espionage, does that mean UK, Germany and France do not spy on US.

    1. 20committee says:

      Allies spy on each other, some (much) more than others.

  5. John, I have come to your site via my brother. I am a U.S. diplomat with many many years of Russia experience. Russia is very interested in technology transfer for much of its industries. It is very reliant on the West and on Western technology for vital parts of its economy, including the extraction and refining of oil and gas. Much of that technology transfer is done openly, via commercial projects and interactions between the Russian Government, Russian firms and Western firms.

    For example, FMC Technologies, a major oil and gas servicing company, is the leader in the undersea extraction of oil and gas. Russia does not have the engineering or technical expertise to perform this vital task on its own. FMC Technologies, in addition to supplying and installing the vital equipment in Russian gas fields, is training Russian engineers at St. Petersburg State Technical University so that they have a cadre of Russian engineers capable of understanding and implementing undersea gas extraction. Likewise, other Western companies with investments in Russia must meet certain localization requirements with regard to local production, with an emphasis on the development of Russian R & D capacity. Would you say the West is playing a risky game here, or that these companies be allowed to pursue what is in their commercial interest?

    Russia has also recognized its vulnerability with regard to international payment systems, hence the drive to try and replace Visa and Mastercard with a Russian variant similar to China’s Union Pay.

    Finally, do you see a role for the USG in guarding against industrial espionage? It seems we largely leave the protection of commercial secrets and vital technologies to their private sector owners, except for regulating via the export control regime, to whom those technologies may be exported or sold. How do you counter-balance the need for security with the genuiine need of our private sector firms to be commercially competitive with their non-U.S. rivals?

    1. 20committee says:

      Russian industrial espionage is a serious matter in the West that unfortunately is not accorded the seriousness it merits. During the Cold War, the KGB stole pretty much any economic/S&T information it wanted; not much has changed, I fear. I retweeted out this AM a piece about RU industrial espionage in the US, specifically in the Boston area – always helps to raise awareness in the private sector of the threat, which is real, and not just from Russia.

  6. Yes, but companies in all range of industries see, as they do in China, profits to be had in Russia. I sit in a place within the USG where our role is seemingly fighting on behalf of our consituency – U.S. business – the very sanctions the USG pursues against Russia. We all know about the ExxonMobils, the Caterpillars, etc. They will not lose market share over the long term. However, our small – to – medium sized enterprises, the ones that were posed to bring U.S. – Russia trade to the next level, have considerable more to lose. They have invested considerable time and resources in developing the Russian market, and if they have to leave they may never come back. Their markets will be taken by their Chinese, Japanese, European competitors. How much of a consideration should this be? Should we care about the small business in Illinois (120 employees) that will lose $150 million in sales as a result of sanctions. What types of technologies should or should not be transferred?

    1. 20committee says:

      Great questions all…and you are exactly right that it’s the small-to-medium businesses that are most vulnerable (and get the least USG help) here.

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