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How much do we have the right to know? What should we know? What do we actually want to know?

When having a radar as your neighbor, how much do you actually want to know about what they are doing? As a local politician, how many questions do you actually ask about them? As a journalist, how deep are you actually allowed to dig about what they are monitoring? Simply, how much do we have the right to know and how much do we actually want to know?

By: Marie Søndergaard

The conference “Militær etterretning som en demokratisk blindzone” which was held in Vadsø Ocotber 10-11th, was to promote and invite to a public debate about northern Norway as a militarized landscape of secrets.

I attended the conference as a student assistant from UiT and with my background living in Greenland and working at Thule Air Base for a few years, I found the theme of the conference quite interesting. The conference gave me a lot to elaborate on and gave me new perspectives, but yet it also surprised me in many ways. I was surprised that people questioned the intelligence service – A service that the people should trust! They should trust that the intelligence service acts in the best interest of Norway – even if they do so behind their back. Isn’t it okay that we as regular citizens do not know what they are doing, if they are doing it to protect our country?

Activists, politicians, local citizens, academics, scientists and a bunch of journalists were present at the conference. Especially the number of journalists caught my attention. Were they here to catch the next headline? Were they digging for the next huge scandal in Norwegian history? It has been seen before that politicians have made under the table agreements with the United States; Denmark (Greenland) as an example, allowing atomic bombs at Thule Air Base. You get the feeling that the journalists were there to find something just as bad. The journalists are hoping that the intelligence service will be more open with regards to the use of the Vadsø Radar and what it is monitoring – but what would the point of an intelligent service be, if they need to play with their cards face up?

It was easy to feel the disagreement between the few politicians present and the journalists throughout the conference. And even though no one from the intelligence service was present, they were still being criticized – especially for not being a part of the debate.

But should they have joined the conference to be targets? I believe that their absence can be interpreted several ways. The people attending the conference described the politicians and intelligence service as ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand for not showing up.

However, I think that the intelligence service believe so much in what they do and that they do right for their country, that they saw their presence as being unnecessary. Also, I have my doubts as to whether the conference would have continued in such a peaceful and proper level or if their presence would have led to mudslinging.

I found the local citizens and their reaction towards the theme of the conference quite interesting as well; some were surprised – the radar has always been there and is for some, an integrated part of the landscape. “Why do they need a conference? We can just talk about it around the dinner-table” said one from Vadsø. For them, the theme is common and they were surprised that a conference was needed to get the theme out in the public for debate.

Some of the journalists victimized the local citizens for being neighbors to the intelligence service and their radar. But as far as I could see, they did not see themselves at victims – the radar also created jobs along the way. So is this a real problem or is the media generating it to promote their own case?

One of the politicians refereed to LEGO during his discussion. “The best is not too good.” With this, he refereed to the conference and the opportunities it gives to enlighten different problems – Only by that, the intelligence service can get better. He does not mind openness as long as it does not put the community at risk.

That debate is now raging, and I find it very interesting that people are showing mistrust to the intelligence service, whom want to protect Norway. Why is this happening now? What will Norway and their intelligence service look like in 20 years? Will general people ever rely 100% on politicians and the intelligence service? Rely on them to do what is best for Norway? Is it possible to keep the country safe from external threats if the citizens claim complete openness? How will we ever know, if they are honest? Where will this lead the Norwegian society? When will it stop?

Personally, I get a little bit frightened that there are people who are trying to blur not only the boundary between what we should know and what we have the right to know – but also what we want to know. It is a delicate balance, which needs to be found.

As I mentioned in the beginning – such a conference adds new perspectives to your thoughts.