U.S. squirm in Scandinavian spying row

The United States has sought to ease tensions over spying claims in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, admitting to the program but saying it was customary.

The comments came after a top Swedish prosecutor announced than an investigation had been launched into whether the U.S. surveillance operations in the three countries were legal. According to indications given by Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask, the U.S. embassy in Stockholm had been spying on residents since 2000.

Similar allegations also surfaced in Copenhagen, Oslo and Reykjavik this week, with national officials in all three countries insisting that they had not been informed about activities. The programmes included the storing of personal data of protesters and monitoring demonstrations.

On Monday, a State Department spokesman mapped the origins of the surveillance programme back to the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

“We have acknowledged that we have a program around the world where we are alert for people who may be surveilling our embassies because we recognise that they are potential targets of terrorism,” he said. “We will be happy to answer any questions that any government has about the nature of the security measures to protect our embassies,” he added.

Scandinavian experts maintain that if the host countries were not aware of the surveillance activities, it could be a breach of national laws. The U.S. embassies in Norway and Sweden are, however, insisting that their actions were part of common protection procedures.

Front-page Photo: Fredrik Persson

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