Minister of Justice: Iceland Not Exempt from Russian Espionage

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

The Minister of Justice says there is “no reason to believe that the Russians, and other dictatorial nations, are not engaged in espionage in Iceland, as elsewhere,” RÚV reports. The minister’s bill on the increased powers of the police has been submitted to Parliament, although there seems to be little interest in the establishment of an Icelandic intelligence service.

No basis yet for the establishment of an Icelandic intelligence service

Yesterday, Runólfur Þórhallsson, Deputy Superintendent of the National Commissioner’s Analytical Department, stated that it was “very likely that Russia and other dictatorial countries are conducting illegal intelligence gathering here in Iceland – as elsewhere.”

Runólfur observed that the Nordic countries had established special security services to investigate and work against illegal information gathering and to carry out supervision; in order to conduct such supervision in Iceland, a similar service needed to be established.

Addressing the subject in an interview with RÚV, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated that there was no reason to believe that Iceland was exempt from foreign espionage:

“There’s no reason to believe that we aren’t on the same boat as the Nordic countries in this regard, or when it comes to organised crime in general, for espionage is nothing more than an aspect of organised crime. On the other hand, however, there has, perhaps, not been a sound basis for establishing an intelligence service in Iceland akin to those of our neighbouring countries. This is why we’ve now been bolstering that arm of the police that deals with organised crime, and, thus, these matters being discussed, as best we can,” Jón Gunnarsson stated.

Childish to think that Iceland is exempt

Jón also stated that his bill on the increased powers of the police is being reviewed by Parliament. Current legal powers severely limit the police’s ability to counter espionage.

“This bill of mine has been somewhat controversial to some people, but it has progressed very modestly and is nothing close to what is customary with the intelligence services of our neighbouring countries. But, of course, it is just childish to think that we’re somehow exempt. We need to equip our police in such a way that they can at least work in full confidence and with the necessary authorisation required to collaborate with these neighbouring countries so as to inform them of these cases, and others, related to organised crime.”

When asked if he thought it was simply “a matter of time” that an intelligence service was established in Iceland, Jón remarked that we would “have to see how things developed.” Iceland relied on its allied nations, with whom it collaborated in matters of defence and within the political field – given that intelligent services in these nations were afforded a much greater authority than the police in Iceland.

Scant understanding for critical voices

“I’d like to reiterate that it is necessary for us to come to terms with the changes that have taken place around us in recent years. We must respond to these changes. The first step is to strengthen the police in this regard, that is, to afford our police the opportunity to be able to fully collaborate with the police of other countries.”

As RÚV notes, this is why Jón has a “scant understanding of the critical voices that have been heard regarding his bill.” In his opinion, it is crucial that these questions are dealt with in the spring. He added that his bill was meant to protect the security of the state and that espionage falls under that category.

Russian Trawler Suspected of Espionage

capelin loðna fishing

At least one of the 50 Russian ships suspected of conducting espionage in the legal waters of the Nordic countries is believed to have also operated in Iceland, reports Morgunblaðið.

A team of journalists from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have recently produced a documentary which proves the involvement of Russian fishing vessels in acts of espionage carried out in the territorial waters of the Scandinavian nations. According to the latest information, one of the ships in question, Melkart 5, also operated in Icelandic waters.

Melkart 5 is suspected of being connected to a damaged underwater cable between Norway and Svalbard. It has also been shown to carry specialized military communications equipment.

The trawler, operated by Murman Seafood, has a history of operating in Iceland. Melkart 5 visited the Akureyri drydock in 2020, when it was painted, repaired, and its main engine replaced. The latest work by the investigative team of journalists alleges that Melkart 5 dragged a trawl door along the seabed to damage the underwater cable. Due to unclear legislation, the case was dropped. The ship’s management denies all accusations.

Some 50 Rusian ships are suspected of such espionage actions, but the full list has not been published.

In February of last year, representatives of the Norwegian Coast Guard, the police, and the customs authorities also went on board the Russian yacht Ragnar while it was docked in Northern Norway. Owned by Vladimir Strzhalkovski, a former KGB official and acquaintance of President Putin, the vessel was equipped with a helipad, ice-breaker hull, and docking facilities for a small reconnaissance submarine. Ragnar was suspected of espionage actions and refused fuel by the Norwegians. Other Russian-operated vessels have also been shown to spend large amounts of time in waters of strategic significance to Norway.

At the time of writing, Melkart 5 is currently docked in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. Although evidence suggests that Melkart 5 may not have been the only Russian-operated ship to have engaged in espionage while in Icelandic waters, definitive proof has not yet emerged.