Security chief: ‘Foreign spies are recruiting students’

Norwegian students and researchers are being targeted by foreign intelligence services to gain access to sensitive information, the Norwegian Police Security Service or PST has warned.

The methods used range from developing a relationship with targeted students via social media to pressurising them or their friends or family, and foreign spies are being placed on Norwegian campuses as students or researchers to carry out the recruiting.

The threat comes from individuals placed at Norwegian universities, most likely by countries with weapons of mass destruction.

The warning was made by PST Director Jon Fitje Hoffmann while presenting an assessment of threat report from PST at the social science faculty of the University of Oslo on 14 February, according to a report from the meeting by the student newspaper Universitas.

“Norwegian students are a goal for foreign countries’ intelligence,” Universitas reported from the meeting.

PST confirmed that foreign countries’ secret intelligence have been in contact with Norwegian students.

“We are worried that Norwegian students might be contacted by foreign intelligence. Such intelligence is interested in people that might give information and introduce them to interesting milieus. And we know that such intelligence have been in contact with Norwegian students,” Hoffmann told Universitas.

Hoffmann added that some of today’s students today will go on to have important positions in society later. “They hence are a target for foreign intelligence today.”

He said it is important for students to contact PST “if they experience something unpleasant”.

Threat assessment

The warning follows the publication of PST’s annual threat assessment report on 6 February, which underlined the threat from states which own weapons of mass destruction.

The report said actors from several foreign countries will present a challenge in 2019.

“This applies especially to states with an active missile and nuclear weapon programme. We also see that the present technological development creates grey zones between what is and what is not subject to licence under the export control regulations. Several newly developed goods can be used to produce weapons, in addition to the purpose for which they were originally produced. This applies especially to industrial goods with very advanced specifications.”

The report went on to spell out the threat of agents being placed at Norwegian universities this year.

“We consider countries we are concerned about in terms of possible development of weapons of mass destruction to be likely to place students and researchers in Norwegian educational institutions in 2019,” the report said.

“Furthermore, these countries may try to recruit individuals who are already connected to institutions that have the knowledge they need. These individuals could either freely accept to become recruited or they, their family or friends could be pressured or threatened into becoming recruited.”

The report said foreign intelligence services will “try to recruit sources and identify individuals and enterprises in Norway”. They will also try to obtain illegal access to computer networks to acquire sensitive information and to influence decisions.

“The operations of these services will be aimed at individuals and enterprises within Norwegian government administration, critical infrastructure, defence and preparedness and at research and development.”

The report said the Russian security and intelligence services represent the major challenge. However, services from other countries, such as China, will also carry out intelligence operations against targets and activities in Norway. “If these operations succeed, they may inflict serious damage on Norway and Norwegian interests.”

Methods of recruitment

The PST report also spells out some the methods likely to be used to recruit or influence people.

“In addition to making contact at open events, we also expect to see intelligence services approaching potential sources through social media. For an intelligence officer, under cover of another position, it is a normal procedure to make contact and establish a relationship via a professional online forum. The relationship will develop over time.

“The target may be invited to meetings and seminars and be asked to prepare written reports, articles or chronicles against payment. The cooperation will, however, be monitored by the foreign intelligence service, either to influence Norwegian opinions and decisions or to get access to sensitive information.

“Individuals who are not freely recruited may face pressure or threats to themselves or their friends or family in order to make them comply,” the PST report said.

According to Uniforum, the University of Oslo newsletter, Hoffmann said: “PST does not have oversight over which students are most at risk, and PST does not have the interest in, or the possibility for, having a general oversight over students before they are contacted. We therefore are dependent upon people contacting us.”