A Special Message from Norway

Communications Security Establishment

The Sir Leonard Tilley Building in Ottawa, Canada. CSE, Communications Security Establishment, is the most secretive of Canada’s special services. Secretive for a very good reason. It is a central junction of Canada’s secret intelligence, a node in the Five Eyes global signals and communications network comprising the the signals intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Several other countries have important sharing relationships. What makes security a capita, vital importance is not just the protection of its own assets, for targeted system would immediately disappear, but also because, if the penetration became known to the opposition, unknown to CSE, the opponent could employ the system as a disinformation channel. A system that took large sums, and much effort, to penetrate. More important, though rarely discussed, is that analyzing and interpreting intelligence requires access to much associated, secondary contextual related intelligence. Metadata. The content of an intercepted conversation or message often is less important than Who called Who?, When?, Where? and more. In any case, strong opponents make use of virtually impenetrable cryptographic systems. Traffic analysis, deep analysis of the metadata, and contextual analysis often will be all you have.


A Special Message from Norway
CSE Sir Leonard Tilley Building

Norway an important Ally

Norway is an important member of NATO, particularly so during the Cold War. She shares a 200km border with Russia, and the northernmost province of Finnmark borders the Kola peninsula, home tor a large and strategic Russian military presence. Norway guards NATO’s norther flank, particularly the passage that Russian naval vessels, including submarines, of their Northern Fleet must navigate to enter the high Atlantic.

CSE’s P Group

Accordingly, P Group of Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, CSE, was devoted to Soviet military activities in the Kola peninsula, and along the shared border. In 1970, P Group was “all military”, with three sections. P1 focused on Soviet air defence. P2 on fighter aircraft. P3 on Soviet bombers. There also was work on Soviet missile tests, with a curtained-off area of the large P Group room where the trajectories of missile tests were projected on a screen and analyzed.

The traffic, of course, was in Russian, and most or all was encrypted. It was all sent directly to the US National Security Agency, NSA. Given that P Group had about 40 intelligence officers, on the fourth floor of a wing of CSE, it appears likely that most of the activity was sorting, performing traffic and metadata analysis of Russian military traffic to assist NSA and Britain’s GCHQ for possible decryption and to integrate any ‘product’ into existing databases.

A lot of Norwegian Activity

However, in 1970, P Group there was also “much activity” in Norwegian. That is, in dealing with intercepted Norwegian communications traffic. Including, perhaps primarily, that of Norway’s State (Secret) Police. Presumably, given that Canada and Norway are close NATO allies, this was performed with the full knowledge and agreement of Norway. It was handled by Ole Farevaag, of section P2 of CSE’s P Group, likely because he was the only CSE intelligence analyst who knew Norwegian, and had the intelligence knowledge and experience to make sense of it. Which likely meant that “clandestine” or foreign intelligence service communications, which ordinarily was the responsibility of a section in CSE’s O group, if it was in the Norwegian language or otherwise concerned Norway, was sent to Farevaag for analysis and report. Particularly given that Farevaag had worked closely with O Group, and several of its members, ever since they joined CSE’s predecessor organization, the Communications Security Centre, in 1946.

Given that there was “a lot of Norwegian activity” in 1970, in the words of an interview subject, he was a very busy man.

Ole Farevaag background

At the age of 19, he left a then poverty-stricken Norway, with no evident future, to join the merchant marine as a radio operator. Crossing the oceans communicating by of unreliable and capricious radio systems, in several languages, at a time when a storm may arise at any moment and make ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore communication impossible. Then working at Bletchley Park. What, precisely, Farevaag was doing at Bletchley is unknown to this author. However, given his skills and knowledge of Norwegian, anything maritime, or naval, or naval, and of wireless communication, he learned German, and likely was assigned to the study of German traffic in Norway. He might well have read German messages regarding the Norsk Hydro plant, near Rjukan in the telemark region of Norway, where the Germans were producing heavy water for her nuclear experiments. Maintaining the watch on the large and powerful German battleship Turpitz, which posed a continuous threat to the Atlantic and the Murmansc convoys. Helped maintain the anxious, at times fretful, watch over radio communications with British and Norwegian spies and Special Operation Executive (SOE) operatives in Norway.

A Special Message from Norway

For Britain and her allies, not knowing precisely how successful the Germans were in her nuclear experiments, or how difficult it would be for her to develop a nuclear weapon, it was an existential problem. Which brought several attempts, to destroy the Norsk Hydro plant. Sending SEO operatives to sabotage the plant, then a team of paratroopers by glider, bombings from the air. After heavy losses, ultimately successful. Whatever heavy water was produced was destroyed, and the plant so damaged that the Germans gave up the effort of producing in Norway and moved the effort to Germany.

Which naturely made Ole Farevaag a much valued listener for Britain’s wireless intercept service at a time when discovering what the German military was thinking of vital importance.

A Special Message from Norway
Norsk Hydroelectric plant near Rukan, Norway

After the war, Farevaag was sent by Bletchley to Canada, where in 1946 he joined the newly established Communications Research Centre as a senior research assistant in the production (intelligence) section.

A special message

One day in 1970. On the fourth floor of the A-wing, Ole Farevaag of the P2 section scans the messages from the day’s line printer that have been assigned to him. P2’s mission is to traffic Soviet fighters from the Kola Peninsula. Group P is a ‘production’ group, which in communications intelligence means translating and reading texts, correlating them with other messages and consulting known information on related subjects. Curiously, while Group P’s targets were almost entirely Russian, in 1970 there was ‘a lot of Norwegian activity’. As he was the only one in the CSE with a command of the Norwegian language, messages, on a wide range of paper from an online printer, came to him.

Including messages intercepted by the Norwegian state, or secret, police.

On this day in 1970, Farevaag had a message of unusual interest in front of him. He reported the observations of a Norwegian State Police surveillance team watching a car stopped at the edge of a fjord. Two men got out of the car, opened the boot and took out two bodies. They carried the bodies to the edge of the fjord and threw them in. The message did not identify the bodies. However, it did identify the men who had sent them to their final fate as Mossad agents.

This tells us that the Norwegian authorities were fully aware of what Mossad was doing in Norway at the time, and, probably by formal agreement, fully approved it.

Two mysteries

Thus begins a story probably linked to two mysteries. The first is the death of the woman who was burnt to death on a mountainside in the Isdal valley near Bergen. A woman whose name is still unknown, but who became known as the Isdal Woman, but who, according to the evidence, which includes recordings of her travels, over several months, to several European cities, especially in Norway, was clearly an intelligence agent. Until she was murdered in the most terrible way possible. On the other hand, the activities of the DEFLQ, Délégation extérieure du FLQ, that group of “terrorists” who, like Isdal’s wife, went to several cities and places in Europe and the Middle East, several of them as intelligence agents.

A subject we will explore in future posts.

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