Author: Kent Moors, Ph.D.
In an earlier Classified Intelligence Brief Spy Tale installment, I talked a bit about a network I ran out of Bergen on the west coast of Norway (“A Death on Copinsay,” Classified Intelligence Brief, January 20, 2021). I described there some curious events on one of the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland.
Today’s Spy Tale will discuss an operation with that network, one of the more tension-filled of my experiences. It was one of the few times of those I can discuss these days in which there emerged a genuine concern for personal safety.
In the process, it seems some grudging respect surfaced, as a phrase emerged that I would carry for much of my remaining time in service.
As noted on many occasions, there was a protracted period in which my intel base was London with additional launch points in places like Dundee in Scotland (as discussed in the CIB entry mentioned above) and Swansea in Wales (on which see “Tracking a Bwytawr Pechod on Gower,” Classified Intelligence Brief, March 4, 2021).
In each case, there was an overt reason for my being there – the appointment I had at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), along with guest lecturing posts at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law & Policy (CEPMLP) at the University of Dundee and the University of Wales College of Swansea (since 2007, Swansea University). All of this made an excellent cover for all manner of other activities.
From Dundee, the travels north would involve face-to-face meetings with members of an agent network based in the picturesque city of Bergen on the Norwegian North Sea coast west of Norway’s capital Oslo.
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway (after Oslo) and has been a major port since the Hanseatic League of merchant towns and trading guilds was formed in the fourteenth century. The Hanseatic Museum is in Bergen.
It would become a central link in oil trade and policy once crude was discovered offshore in the Norwegian section of the North Sea and production began in the early 1970s. The city, however, would retain its unique charm despite some changes in its commerce and an expansion of the local population. Much of the oil work moved just south down the coast to Stavanger.
The oil factor would figure in the tale I will recount below, although the main reason for using Bergen by my assets (or agents; nationals of other countries working on our behalf) was more strategic.
The function of the network was to provide intel as far east as Finland and across the border into Karelia. Karelia is the most northwestern part of Russia (then the Soviet Union), has significant military bases and a direct polar contiguous land border (via the Russian Murmansk oblast) to Norway (through Lapland).
At the time, any pending Soviet movements to put pressure on northern Europe would be reflected in operational changes in Karelia and show up in increased activity among KGB assets across Scandinavia. That meant my agents could provide early warning of significant moves.
Most of the activity could easily be done via radio transmission (we were still in a pre-Internet in those days). But there were occasions when personal meetings were necessary. Those face-to-face sessions would either be held on the island of Copinsay in the Orkneys or in Bergen. There were specific reasons why I would choose one or the other. These are restricted for discussion purposes even today but had something to do with an at times shaky operating arrangement with the Etterretningstjenesten (the Norwegian Intelligence Service, or NIS).
For much of the period throughout and following the World War II, US intelligence did not fully trust the NIS and the feeling was mutual. That finally came to an end in 1949, resulting from a decision by the fledgling CIA to keep “stay behind” units in Norway to protect the country against Soviet intel incursions across the narrow land bridge connecting the two nations in the far north while forging other bilateral arrangements.
In return, NIS set up an important series of five surveillance stations north of the Arctic Circle which still exist today. Three of these (two at Vardø and one at Kirkenes) are close to the Soviet (now Russian) border near Severomorsk in the Murmansk oblast. This was then and is now the home of the Soviet/Russian Northern Fleet.
However, NIS is not a civilian agency. It is part of and controlled by the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. At times, that would make for some dicey disagreements about what we could accomplish on (or across) Norwegian territory.
And then there was a vexing practice the NIS would occasionally run back in London. Seems they were particularly fond of training their personnel by having them follow us (and also British MI6 and MI5) to develop street surveillance techniques, of course, without letting us know in advance. This obliged that we waste time and manpower in countersurveillance of what turned out to be “friendlies”(?) while raising a few warning balloons in the process.
On the occasion of this tale, I traveled to Bergen. We had a safe house used for our agent servicing and coordination, located close by the ferry docks connecting the city to the rest of the Baltic Sea region. NIS may or may not have known about it. We certainly never told them and, with only one noticeable exception to be described shortly, our side never detected any reconnaissance or stakeout activity surrounding the location shown below.
This is a personal photo taken the last time I visited Bergen in 2017.
The safe house was on the near left in this photo on a small pedestrian passage leading down to a main urban avenue (Vaskerelvsmauet) close by Festplassen, the large open air paved city square used for many local gatherings, the docks, and the attractive small Lake Lungegardsvann in the heart of Bergen. Further up, the walkway opens into a park making it easy to detect pedestrian traffic from that direction.
Anybody approaching up the passageway in this photo from below had to pass by the small bistro pictured center right. This was a real commercial enterprise run by a married couple who were working for us (and lived in the apartment above). Nobody could approach from the steps below without being seen. That the bistro also managed to run at a small profit also meant we did not have to declare its expenses on any operational budget! The safe house itself was owned by an agency front in Switzerland and was subsequently sold some two decades ago.
The “one noticeable exception” to surveillance took place about a year after the events described in “A Death on Copinsay.” I did not believe then, and I do not believe now, that the death described therein had to do with the work of my agent network. As I noted in the earlier Spy Tale, I have my own conclusions on what happened in the Orkney Islands, However, given the fact that this happened on UK territory and that it is still a matter for British domestic intelligence (MI5), I am prevented from commenting further.
Nonetheless, much transpired shortly thereafter that kept the network busy and moving into another area. We had intel coming in from several sources that the Soviets were intent on compromising Norwegian-British bilateral accords on North Sea oil. Both countries were jointly developing the large deposits and Moscow was intent on undermining the rapport in preference to exports of its own oil.
Once again, the Cold War battlefield changed. It was now rapidly moving into the world of energy contracts and shipment sabotage. That is, it was transiting into my rapidly emerging visibility in global energy matters.
A standard approach then emerged; one I have mentioned before. It essentially goes like this: if it happens once, it is an accident; twice, a coincidence; three times, an act of war. Well, I have never even believed in coincidences. Keeps you alive in the field.
Anyway, the first in this sequence was a curious interdiction of our radio traffic from an area close to the Finnish/Karelian border. That was followed (stage two) by a car containing two of my agents being rammed broadside off the road between Flåm and the Laerdal-Aurlands tunnel in route from Oslo to Bergen. At almost 16 miles in length, the tunnel is the world’s longest through straight rock and opens into a panoramic view to the west.
This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful scenic roadways anywhere, but also a potentially deadly stretch.
The deliberate attempt to ram a car off the road was certainly a dangerous and provocative act, given the steep way that runs near the fjords. The perpetrating car had Finnish plates but was never recovered. The car with our assets ended up near an 800-foot fall. The two inside were shaken but not otherwise injured. The Volvo, on the other hand, required a tow.
That’s it, I concluded. These were my people and I was responsible for them. I requested and received on the ground additional support and went to Bergen for a full debriefing. Shortly after arrival, we began picking up a three-person team following us in the area surrounding Festplassen. It did exhibit some urgency since the square was wide open and surveillance could not take place without being detected. They wanted us to know they were there. Whatever they were up to had to be accomplished with dispatch.
We drew them in over the next 24 hours, but without directing them to the safe house. They remained unusually direct and aggressive. I had the CIA Chief of Station (COS) in Oslo solicit and receive from Langley authorization for direct and lethal action if warranted.
I concluded and the COS concurred that there was reason to believe we may be facing a hit squad. A little over 36 hours on, three of us boarded a local ferry that went up the western entry to the mouth of the magnificent Sognefjord fjord moving north from Bergen. Two of our “shadows” followed us to the port; one came on board.
We departed the ferry a few hours later once it reached an early port stop at Fonnes. The fjord runs deep west of the port and by the time we deplanked the remaining ferry list was minus a passenger. Upon our return to Bergen that afternoon, it seemed the remainder of the “shadow brigade” had disappeared.
Over a decade later, I was reviewing records of the Bergen network upon its deactivation. In one of the after-action reports, an agent was asked to comment on the operational results. “Don’t p*ss off the prof,” he concluded. It was a description that stuck with me for some time thereafter.
As for the Sognefjord, taking an entire full cruise up the magnificent fjord remains one of the natural “wonders” I intend to experience with Marina. This time it will be a luxury ship, we will take the full eight-day tour…and everybody who gets on will leave the ship when they are expected to.
Dr. Kent Moors
This is an installment of Classified Intelligence Brief, your guide to what’s really happening behind the headlines… and how to profit from it. Dr. Kent Moors served the United States for 30 years as one of the most highly decorated intelligence operatives alive today (including THREE Presidential commendations).
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