Uncomfortable questions for Norway


By Harold Elletson




Norway is still grieving after the appalling slaughter on the island of Utoya and in Oslo. There is, however, an urgent need to ask what may prove to be some very uncomfortable questions both about the genesis of the attacks and, unfortunately, about the competence of Norway’s police and security establishment in responding to them. These are important questions and lessons must be learned quickly in Norway and elsewhere, about intelligence, planning, preparedness, training and response.


The issue of competence is not an easy one to address at a time when Norwegians are still trying to recover from the carnage and, understandably, want to avoid recriminations. However, it is fair to say that, in most NATO countries, a bomb attack on government buildings, followed by the shooting of young members of the governing party, which continued unimpeded for ninety minutes within only twenty miles of the capital city, would have been enough to bring about several senior resignations.


The recent admissions that police were unable to reach Utoya because their boat broke down and, even more astonishingly, that no helicopter transport was available because the usual crews were all on holiday, are unlikely to reassure Norwegians about their security. Moreover, they are likely to be the first of several indications of a failure to plan, prepare and respond effectively. In that sense, the slip-ups by the Norwegian police are symptomatic of a wider failure to appreciate the realities of our modern security environment.


Over the last twenty years, the nature of security has changed fundamentally. The possibility of a single person, acting alone, inflicting disproportionate levels of physical, economic or cultural damage has increased significantly. The reasons for this are manifold and many of them are connected to what has been happening in the information sphere and to developments in technology. This has all meant that there are new vulnerabilities and new enemies. It has meant too that police forces have had to assume a different and more frontline role.


Planning and preparedness are crucial to any police force which is serious about playing this new role and ensuring that it can respond effectively. Technology has created a variety of new security solutions that are available to police to help them improve their intelligence, planning, communications, training and coordination.


Scenario planning can be improved by computer modelling; crisis management, decision-making and exercising can all benefit from the use of simulation and gaming; and both overall coordination and information-sharing have been made much easier by new forms of communication. Many police forces have taken advantage of technological innovations to develop imaginative new training solutions. The Dutch police, for example, were early pioneers of a virtual city, which has made a major contribution to improving training and preparedness. In Germany, the police force in Baden-Wuerttemberg developed a virtual system for training helicopter pilots in both night flying and emergency response.


It seems that Anders Breivik planted a bomb outside government buildings in Oslo, partly as a feint to divert the police. The idea of a diversionary attack in one location, in order to draw the response of the security forces away from a more serious attack in another, is not new. It has been practised throughout history, most recently by terrorist groups everywhere from Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, had the possibility of such an event not already been obvious, the Norwegian police could have called upon a number of computer-based tools to enable them both to assess probability or risk and to develop realistic scenarios, to which they could have then planned an appropriate response. Any such assessment would have been likely to conclude that an incident similar to the one that finally occurred with such bloody consequences was possible, given the various factors that were already known.


In such circumstances, there could and should have been proper planning for an effective response. If a proper plan was indeed developed, there is no excuse for such an inadequate response. If the police helicopter crews were on holiday, one would have thought that the slightest degree of forethought, not to mention any coordinated inter-service planning, might have ensured the swift dispatch of a military helicopter. Nothing could be more damning in this regard than the pictures of Breivik taken from a helicopter sent to the scene by the media, as the Norwegian state struggled to find one for its security forces.


The keys to an effective response are preparedness and training. In this, modern police forces can call on an enormous battery of new technological solutions to help them develop everything from crisis management skills and the decision-making capabilities of senior officers to information sharing and, if necessary, the coordination of an effective inter-service, or even international, response. Such systems are designed to ensure that a quick police or security response can be mounted.


The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has announced the creation of a commission of inquiry, which will look into the attacks. The Norwegian police force will also conduct an internal inquiry into its response.


The Prime Minister said:


"Especially after the investigation is finished, there will be a time for going through all the experiences, learning from what happened and then draw the conclusions regarding, for instance, security measures, and I welcome also a debate about that because every country, every society that experiences this kind of very dramatic incidents, has to go through 'what can we learn? what did we do right? and what did we do wrong?


"And then try to do whatever we can to avoid something similar in the future, and then part of that evaluation will be also to go through how we organise our security, security measures, security services."


Quite rightly, Mr Stoltenberg is adamant that Norwegians want their country to remain an open society and that any new security measures will need to be balanced against this. He must ensure that the inquiry is thorough and comprehensive, though. It is important not only for Norway but for the rest of the free world that lessons are learned and that the appropriate conclusions are drawn about the intelligence gathering, planning, training and response that is necessary to protect the citizens of an open society.


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