PET agrees to increased oversight

Head of domestic intelligence agency PET concedes organisation needs to build public trust

The head of the domestic intelligence agency PET conceded that his organisation should be more transparent after revelations that intelligence agencies in other European countries are far more open about their activities than PET.

On Sunday, Jyllands-Posten newspaper ran a story detailing how the results of checks into PETÂ’s activities are never publicised, and so the public remains unaware if PET has illegally tapped phones, investigated individuals or engaged in the illegal use of agents.

The newspaper also revealed that a committee which has spent 14 years investigating how to create a better legal framework for PET will be publishing its results on February 24.

The committee – headed by Supreme Court judge Hugo Wendler Pedersen and 15 other legal experts – was established in 1998 by the government to find ways to improve PET’s transparency after concerns that the organisation was too secret and lacked accountability.

PET is primarily overseen by a parliamentary committee, the Justice Ministry and the so-called Warmberg Committee. Together, they keep track of PETÂ’s activities and check whether their investigations are legal.

However, none of the information from the checks made by these committees is ever publicised.

The fact that PETÂ’s remit is also based on guidelines by the defence and justice ministries, and not established in law, are both changes that the Wendler Pedersen-led committee have been tasked to investigate.

Jakob Scharf, head of PET, acknowledged that PETÂ’s operations need to change.

“ItÂ’s clear that there is a need for greater oversight of PET,” Scharf told Jyllands-Posten. “Increased oversight of our activities means a lot to the average citizen because we have so much power to intrude on peopleÂ’s lives. But we also need to follow the rules in order to keep the publicÂ’s trust  — oversight is important because we only have authority if there is trust. Trust is also important because in order to protect the public interest we have to draw on the knowledge of the people.”

While Scharf accepts that greater transparency of PET is in both its, and the publicÂ’s, interest, he drew the line at revealing specific numbers about their operations, as the British intelligence agency MI5 does.

“We see no reason to completely demystify all of our operations,” Scharf said, adding that secrecy also had a preventative effect. “It makes no sense to release numbers in isolation. If we say, hypothetically, that we have tapped 1,000 telephone conversations, is that a lot or little? If we think that 1,000 people want to detonate bombs, it’s little. If we think it’s five, then it’s a lot. And we could never reveal the background for the numbers, as it would reveal too much about our investigations.”

This issue was the source of great debate in the Wendler Pedersen committee, which is comprised of the stateÂ’s attorney and representatives from the Justice Ministry, Prime MinisterÂ’s Office and the Defence Ministry.

Politicians across the spectrum responded positively to the call for increasing PETÂ’s transparency.

“Trust is good, but one of the few places that blind trust is not wise is with intelligence agencies,” Simon Emil Ammitzbøll of the Liberal Alliance told Jyllands-Posten.

From across the aisle, government support party Enhedslisten’s Pernille Skipper expressed a similar sentiment.

“The oversight that we have now is only pseudo,” she told Jyllands-Posten. “The parliamentary oversight committee is not able to take any initiative; they can only check what PET presents to the politicians.”

The Wendler Pedersen committee took so long to publicise their information as they were awaiting the 2009 publication of the findings by PET Commission.

Established in 1999, the commission was tasked with investigating whether PET illegally started files on individuals during the Cold War simply because of their political orientation.

While the commission found evidence of some illegal activity, their overall judgement was that PET was following the guidelines given to it by the Justice and Defence Ministries as well as data protection laws.

Parliament will debate the Wendler Pedersen committeeÂ’s findings after they are released next week.

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