- Associated Press - Sunday, August 7, 2011

OSLO — If a man walks into a drug store along one of this city’s winding streets and buys 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, after the massacre of 77 people in a meticulously planned rampage, Norwegian authorities are forced to look at what they could have done to prevent or identify Mr. Breivik’s pattern of purchases and other suspect behavior.

Figuring out how government should respond will present a tough test. It pushes up against laws protecting personal freedoms and the likelihood that, even with more forceful intelligence, an isolated and thorough plotter such as Mr. Breivik will remain exceeding difficult to stop.

Mr. Breivik says in his 1,518-page manifesto that he bought the aspirin to obtain acetylsalicylic acid, which he 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 the law and the norms of doing business.

The Oslo attack already has spurred antiterrorism officials at the European Union, consulting with their counterparts in Norway, to look at ways to flag suspicious sales of legal chemicals, including fertilizer, that can be used to make explosives.

EU specialists 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 re-examination of laws and intelligence methods.

“Can we do something differently?” asked Janne Kristiansen, director of the PST, Norway’s national security agency. “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?’.”

What could be done differently is hardly a matter of consensus in this country of 4.9 million people.

Domestic surveillance is an especially touchy subject in Norway, a country that prides itself on its transparency and dedication to protecting 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 an EU counterterrorism initiative mandating that the government store citizens’ telecommunications for a fixed period of time - six months in Norway - after transmission.

Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget has bemoaned surveillance limitations placed on the country’s counterterrorism investigators.

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