BEHIND AN ABANDONED military facility 40 miles northwest of Oslo, Norway built a surveillance base in close collaboration with the National Security Agency. Its bright, white satellite dishes, some of them 60 feet in diameter, stand out against the backdrop of pine-covered hills and red-roofed buildings that scatter the area.
Classified documents describe the facility as “state-of-the-art,” with capabilities “previously not released outside of NSA.” Despite a hefty price tag of more than $33 million paid by Norwegian taxpayers, the Norwegian Intelligence Service has kept the operations at the site beyond public scrutiny.
The station, code-named VICTORY GARDEN, was ostensibly built to support Norwegian troops serving overseas and to combat terrorism. But its dragnet has also secretly captured records of phone calls and emails transmitted between law-abiding Norwegians and their friends, families, or colleagues in foreign countries, an investigation by The Intercept and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, known as NRK, has found.
In 2014, the data collection at the base was central to a behind-closed-doors dispute between the Norwegian Intelligence Service and the oversight committee that monitors the conduct of the country’s spy agencies, according to sources with knowledge of the incident. The intelligence service argued that the surveillance was lawful and necessary. But the committee disagreed and claimed that the storing and searching of Norwegians’ communication records was legally dubious. The disagreement remains unresolved; meanwhile, the surveillance appears to have continued unabated.