Norway’s most notorious spy is dead

Arne Treholt dies in Moscow after a short illness

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
Arne Treholt was photographed during an interview in 2004.

Arne Treholt, a Norwegian spy convicted in the most talked-about espionage case in Norway’s history, is dead. He was 80 years old.

Treholt died in Moscow after a short illness, as reported by Aftenposten. In recent years, he lived and ran his business from the Russian capital, but he also lived in Cyprus after his pardon in 1992.

NTB has tried to reach Treholt’s family, without success.

Treholt was a journalist, a Labor Party politician, and a diplomat. But in 1984, when he was bureau chief in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was arrested in the most talked-about espionage case in Norwegian history. The following year, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage for the benefit of the Soviet Union and Iraq. He was pardoned on July 3, 1992, for health reasons after serving eight years and five months of his sentence.

Dialogue and understanding

All these years, Treholt claimed to be innocent of espionage, but he admitted to having secret meetings with the KGB and to having given them classified documents. He also admitted to accepting money from the Soviet intelligence service KGB and from Iraqi authorities.

“I think I ventured into dangerous territory at the time when the Cold War neared its end. I was probably too preoccupied with dialogue and contact with Soviet representatives, who I should have realized were to be regarded as enemies and not as friends. It was this that brought me into this predicament,” Treholt told NTB in 2004 when the autobiography Gråsoner (Shades of Grey) was launched.

Also in NRK’s 2022 documentary series “Rikets sikkerhet,” Treholt claimed that he wanted to contribute to contact between the two neighboring countries but that he was misunderstood.

“My conscience is clear when it comes to the conditions for which I was convicted,” he says in the documentary.

Accepted money

The arrest at Fornebu airport on Jan. 20, 1984, the espionage charge, and the sentence of 20 years in prison made Treholt one of the most talked-about and controversial Norwegians in the post-World War II period. Treholt was convicted, among other things, for having given the KGB detailed information about the organization of the Norwegian invasion defense in the event of a Soviet invasion.

Treholt’s defender, Arne Haugestad, claimed that Treholt was subjected to a miscarriage of justice. But repeated attempts to have the case reopened were unsuccessful.

Former Labor Party politician, editor-in-chief and commentator Arne Strand says he was shocked when his old university friend was arrested for espionage.

“I think that his motivation was probably to contribute to a better relationship between East and West. He must have thought highly of himself. He perhaps thought that he would be able to contribute to narrowing the gap between East and West, Russians and Americans, during the Cold War,” said Strand to Dagsavisen.

“If there had been no money involved, he might have been able to make the case that it was idealism. But few believed it, and especially not the court,” he said.

Gray Zone Agreement

After his release, Treholt moved to Russia, where he started businesses. He also spent time in Cyprus.

Treholt started his professional career as a journalist in Arbeiderbladet, but from 1972 he was political secretary to the minister of trade and maritime affairs. As state secretary to the Minister for the Law of the Sea Jens Evensen, Treholt became deeply involved in the negotiations between Norway and the Soviet Union on boundary lines and rights in the Barents Sea. The so-called Gray Zone Agreement from 1978 was controversial but lasted until a new dividing line agreement was made in 2011.

After Treholt’s close connections to the KGB were revealed, many wondered whether the Soviet Union had sat on both sides of the negotiating table. But the espionage charges did not reference these negotiations.

Through an eventful life, Treholt was also involved in the fight against the Greek military junta and for democracy in Greece. He was personal secretary to Evensen during the trade agreement negotiations with the EC (now the EU) in the 1970s. But Evensen and Treholt represented a non-traditional style that created skepticism both inside and outside the Labor Party, according to Norsk Biographical Lexicon.

Treholt worked at the Norwegian United Nations delegation in New York from 1979 to 1982. He studied at the Norwegian Defense Academy form 1982 to 1983, despite the fact that the government was aware of the espionage suspicion against him at the time.

Treholt was married three times, including to NRK journalist Kari Storækre, with whom he had a son.

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway