Following our news item about Paul Whelan (http://spyingtoday.com/2019/03/25/amateur-hour/) it might be worth considering the case of Frode Berg. Berg has not received as much attention in Western media, but his case is consistent with similar recent cases.
Berg, 63, is a retired Norwegian Customs officer from Kirkenes in the far north of Norway, just a few miles from the Russian border. He was arrested in Moscow by the FSB on 5 December 2017. He has been held in custody in Russia since that time (i.e. for more than a year). In January, a criminal court in Moscow authorised his continued detention until 5 April 2019.
When Berg was arrested in 2017, he had 3000 Euros in cash in his pocket and a tranche of secret Russian naval documents. He had arrived in Russia the day before his arrest and claimed that he had come to see friends and to shop for Christmas presents. He has travelled to Russia several times before without any problems.
The FSB allege that he was sent by the Norwegian Intelligence Service on behalf of the CIA in order to collect classified material relating to the Russian Arctic Fleet. They claim that the large amount in cash was for his contact. Berg says that he had been given the cash by two Norwegian friends – whom he won’t name – and that he was supposed to mail it to an address in Russia from a Moscow post office. He initially claimed not to remember the name or the address that he was supposed to write on the envelope, but he says that he thinks the first name was “Natasha” or “Natalia”. Berg’s story could hardly be more suspicious.
The FSB arrested a 24 year old former Russian police officer, Alexsei Zhitnyuk, in connection with this case. The FSB claim that Berg received the classified documents from Zhitnyuk. In December 2018, Zhitnyuk was tried and found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. Under Russian law, Berg must be either charged or released by June of this year. His wife and family are campaigning strongly for his release.
Berg’s case appears to be similar recent suspected “citizen courier” cases, such as that of Paul Whelan. With it being so difficult for cadre intelligence officers to travel internationally now because of modern intensive security checks, intelligence services are now using ordinary citizens to run routine errands. These people are harder to spot than conventional officers because they have no intelligence background and they usually have good reasons for being in the target country. (They are also easier to deny if they get caught.) However the fact that there are an increasing number of arrests such as these suggests that security services worldwide are becoming more experienced in spotting such couriers.