Norway sends mixed signals on U.S. spy row

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s government demanded an explanation from the United States on Friday of reports that its embassy in Oslo conducted illegal surveillance of Norwegian residents for more than 10 years.

However, the capital’s police department, according to television network TV2, said it had been aware of the surveillance.

“We are awaiting clarifications from the American side,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marte Lerberg Kopstad. “We of course expect all entities in Norway, including embassies, to follow Norwegian law.”

TV2 reported that a team of U.S. agents and retired Norwegian security officers had been conducting illegal “systematic surveillance” from a base near the U.S. embassy in Oslo.

The TV network did not say exactly what the team has been doing but the report has angered Norwegian politicians and late on Friday state prosecutors told public broadcaster NRK that they are launching a formal investigation into the matter.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Tim Moore said Washington sought to “work very closely with host country authorities” on security issues.

“Norway is a friend and ally,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “We are prepared to work intensively to address any questions the Norwegian government might have on this or any other matter.”

TV2 reported Oslo police chief of staff Johan Fredriksen said that Norwegian authorities had been aware of at least some surveillance by the embassy, which is located on a busy street in central Oslo.

“The way this activity has been understood by us, and the way it has appeared, it is not breaking Norwegian laws,” Fredriksen was quoted as saying by TV2.

Oslo police were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Justice Minister Knut Storberget told Reuters he had asked Norwegian police and security services to tell him what they knew about the reported U.S. programme, whether it broke the law and whether any Norwegian authorities had approved it.

Any organization may secure its own building and register visitors, he said, but Norwegian police and security have “a monopoly” on methods such as room and telephone surveillance. “I think we are capable of taking care of people’s security here in this country,” he said.

Earlier this year police said three men arrested in Norway and Germany on suspicion of having links to al Qaeda had been planning to hit targets in Norway and Denmark. One of the three was released last month.

Editing by Matthew Jones