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Norway massacre forces new look at security in Europe
Question of the Day
OSLO, Norway — If a man walked into a drug store along one of this city’s winding streets and bought three boxes of aspirin, there would be no reason to take notice. But when Anders Behring Breivik visited 20 drug stores a day for four days and bought three packages of aspirin at each stop — then separately ordered six tons of fertilizer, chemicals and a semiautomatic rifle — he still largely escaped attention.
Now, Breivik’s massacre of 77 people in a meticulously planned rampage is forcing Norwegian authorities to look at what they could have done to prevent or identify his pattern of purchases and other suspect behavior. But figuring out how government should respond will present a tough test — pushing up against laws protecting personal freedoms and the likelihood that, even with more forceful intelligence, an isolated and thorough plotter such as Breivik will remain exceeding difficult to stop.
Breivik says in his 1,518-page manifesto that he bought the aspirin to obtain acetylsalicylic acid, combined with other chemicals to build the truck bomb he planted in central Oslo. He was painstaking in arranging his purchases — creating elaborate cover stories including renting a farm and documenting a plan to grow sugar beets — to stay within both the law and the norms of doing business.
The Oslo attack has already spurred anti-terrorism officials at the European Union, consulting with counterparts in Norway, to look at ways to flag suspicious sales of legal chemicals, including fertilizer, that can be used to make explosives.
EU experts will discuss exactly how such a new system would work when they meet at a specially called conference in December, said Tim Jones, principal adviser to the EU’s counterterrorism coordinator.
Meanwhile, Norwegian officials say they plan a thorough reexamination of laws and intelligence methods.
“Can we do something differently? We will do that with our sister agencies all over Europe. I’m certain that my colleagues want to talk to me about ‘what can we do if we are in the same position,” said Janne Kristiansen, director of the PST, Norway’s national security agency.
What could be done differently is hardly a matter of consensus in this country of 4.9 million.
Domestic surveillance is an especially touchy subject in Norway, a country that prides itself on its transparency and dedication to protecting of civil liberties. In the mid-1990s, revelations that Norway’s intelligence agencies had been spying illegally on Norwegians with suspected or stated Communist leanings sparked public outcry, Parliamentary hearings, a spate of resignations and ultimately an overhaul of the country’s intelligence apparatus.
Norway agreed earlier this year to participate in EU counterterrorism initiative mandating that the government stores citizens’ telecommunications for a fixed period of time — six months in Norway — after transmission.
Investigations “are frequently hampered because of the ever-growing limitations on what can be logged and how long that data can be stored,” he told Norwegian news agency NTB at the time.
The head of the commission that investigated the claims of politically motivated espionage in the ‘90s, Ketil Lund, told the AP that, like Sandberg, he believes widening the scope of surveillance beyond the EU’s parameters is unlikely to gain much traction.
By Michael P. Orsi
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