The Washington Post
Norwegian official convicted of spying for Soviet Union
Arne Treholt was a 42-year-old Norwegian diplomat and politician tipped as a future foreign minister when he was arrested in a dramatic swoop by Norwegian authorities at Oslo Airport in 1984. He was on his way, it later emerged, to meet a KGB agent in the historic European “spy capital” of Vienna.
In his briefcase, they found 65 classified documents, including plans on how and where NATO forces in Europe, including some from the United States, would reinforce Norway in any potential conflict with the Soviet Union. The two countries shared a 120mile border.
Mr. Treholt, 80, died in Moscow on Feb. 12, the Norwegian government confirmed, citing his family. No cause was reported. He had spent almost eight years of a 20year prison sentence in Norway during the 1980s and early 1990s for spying for at least a decade for the Soviet Union and Iraq. The court verdict said his treachery had caused “irreparable harm” to Norway. By implication, that suggested potential damage to NATO strategy in general.
The arrest and trial was the biggest European spy drama since 1974 when West German chancellor Willy Brandt was forced to resign after his closest aide, Günter Guillaume, was found to have been spying for communist East Germany.
After Mr. Treholt was arrested, Norwegian counterintelligence police had also found documents showing, according to prosecutors, that he had also sold Norwegian intelligence information to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein amid the Iran-iraq War in the 1980s in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed on both sides.
The Norwegians confiscated $52,000 that they said had been paid by the Hussein government for information on the NATO assessment of the war, but the Iraqi element played only a minor part in his trial. The prosecutors found “large” but undisclosed sums of money in his secret Swiss bank account, apparently paid from the Soviet Union.
The classified documents he planned to hand over to KGB agent Gennadi Titov in Vienna included notes when he was an adviser to the Norwegian delegation to the United Nations in New York during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The paperwork featured briefings involving U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.
In September 1980, while at the United Nations, he managed through a KGB handler to get information to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko about NATO policy over Afghanistan, which the Soviets had invaded nine months earlier. Gromyko received the information just before he met with U.S. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and was “very pleased” with the information, according to his KGB handler, the court was told at Mr. Treholt’s trial.
Mr. Treholt, a member of the center-left Norwegian Labour Party, admitted passing information to the Soviets for many years but always insisted that it was not harmful to Norway or NATO and that he was not a spy but simply trying to “build bridges” between East and West when the Cold War was its coldest.
The presiding judge at his trial, Astri Rynning, said that showed Mr. Treholt had “unreasonable and unrealistic ideas about his own importance.” The prosecution suggested blackmail may have played a role in the case, since the KGB had taken photographs of Mr. Treholt during a sex orgy in Moscow in 1975. But the accused, while not denying the photos existed, insisted they played no role in his decision to give the Soviets information.
His arrest in a busy international airport, along with his trial and conviction, was one of the most dramatic cases of Cold War espionage, a moment when the Western military alliance was particularly concerned over Soviet activity in northern Europe.
The case aroused even greater interest because Mr. Treholt was the son of one of the best-known Norwegian politicians, Thorstein Treholt, a former cabinet minister and member of parliament who was a regular face on Norwegian political television shows.
Mr. Treholt also owed his prominence to his marriage to Kari Storaekre, a popular Norwegian television personality. After his trial, she divorced him, and their 7-year-old son, Torstein, took her last name. Mr. Treholt was pardoned and released in 1992 after saying he was in bad health, but the decision was made easier by the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. He appealed unsuccessfully against his conviction and for a retrial.
He settled for years in Cyprus, where he became a businessman, importer, investor and vice president of United World Capital, a foreign-exchange trading firm in the Cypriot city of Limassol. He eventually wound up in Moscow, writing articles for Russian state media warning Norway and its NATO allies not to antagonize his new home country. He also supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.
Arne Treholt was born in the village of Brandbu, Norway, on Dec. 13, 1942. His father was then agriculture minister, and his mother was a homemaker. After graduating in politics and economics from the University of Oslo, he became a journalist at Arbeiderbladet, at the time the party organ of the Norwegian Labour Party. The publication is now called Dagsavisen.
It was widely believed that his outspoken views, including opposing Norwegian membership in NATO, protesting against the Greek military regime and marching against the Vietnam War, led to him being contacted by agents of the KGB in Norway. The Soviets viewed him as a left-wing idealist and anti-imperialist critic of U.S. policies who, because of his connections, was headed for a promising future as a political leader.
Hired as a secretary by Jens Evensen, who held a number of Norwegian ministerial posts, he had increasing access to sensitive documents, even more so after he became an adviser to the Norwegian delegation to the United Nations. A spell at the Norwegian defense college had also left him close to top-secret information. In his later career, he was high-profile press spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.
His marriages to Storaekre and Brit Sjorbotten ended in divorce. His third wife, Renée Steele, a convict he met in prison, died of AIDS in 1992, shortly before he was released. Survivors include his son and two grandchildren. In 2010, filmmaker Thomas Cappelen Malling premiered “Norwegian Ninja,” an absurdist feature that portrayed Mr. Treholt, played by actor Mads Ousdal, as a spy for the King of Norway.
“We are taking the most unpopular traitor in Norwegian history and turning him into a hero,” Malling, the subversive-minded writer and director, told the Wall Street Journal that year. Although it aroused interest at the Cannes Film Festival, it failed to fill seats in Norwegian cinemas.