Norway, EU reevaluating security
Oslo attacker escaped scrutiny
OSLO - If a man walked into a drug store 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 assault is forcing authorities here to look at what they could have done to prevent or identify his pattern of purchases and other suspicious behavior.
Figuring out how government should respond will present a tough test, pushing up against laws protecting personal freedoms and against the likelihood that, even with better intelligence gathering, a plotter such as Breivik will remain exceeding difficult to stop.
Breivik said in his 1,518-page manifesto that he bought 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.
Breivik visited more than 10 countries in preparation for the July 22 attacks on Oslo and Utoeya island, police prosecutor Christian Hatlo said yesterday. Breivik traveled to the Czech Republic, Sweden, and other countries to acquire weapons and materials to make explosives and set up bank accounts in the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.
Norwegian police are working with authorities and security services globally, to track down people who may have been in contact with Breivik or encouraged him in his actions.
The Oslo attack has already spurred antiterrorism 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 how such a new system would work when they meet at a 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,’’ said Janne Kristiansen, director of the PST, Norway’s national security agency. “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.
In the mid-1990s, disclosure 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.