Norwegian spymaster blows agents' cover

Intelligence head resigns after inadvertently divulging the service has operatives in Pakistan

It wasn't exactly John le Carré material: Norway's chief spymaster was forced to resign in ignominy yesterday after revealing "by mistake" that the country's equivalent of MI6 runs a string of undercover agents in Pakistan.

Janne Kristiansen, who until yesterday was head of Norwegian intelligence, the Police Security Service, made what has proved to be something of a howling gaffe while giving evidence at a public inquiry held before the Stortinget parliament in Oslo.

During the hearing, which concerned Norway's 400-man military contingent in Afghanistan, the intelligence chief was asked whether it was of strategic importance for Oslo to maintain contacts with Pakistani intelligence.

Ms Kristiansen's wholly unexpected response managed to raise eyebrows: she disclosed that her country already had its own full-blown military intelligence or "E service" agents operating in Pakistan.

"The E service has its representatives in these countries, so we co-operate via the E service about this country," Ms Kristiansen told the public hearing, according to the official transcript published yesterday.

Ms Kristiansen tendered her resignation late on Wednesday after attending a hastily convened meeting with the Norwegian Justice Minister, Grete Faremo. Ms Faremo explained to reporters that a "potential breach of confidentiality was a very serious matter" and that she had chosen to "accept Kristiansen's desire to resign".

The Norwegian media was full of reports yesterday stressing that the country's military intelligence service had never confirmed running agents in Pakistan. There were other unconfirmed reports that that the Pakistan authorities had summoned Norway's ambassador to Islamabad and demanded that he explain Ms Kristiansen's remarks.

It was not the first time that Norway's now-ex spymaster has suffered criticism. Ms Kristiansen, who was appointed intelligence chief in 2009, came under attack in the aftermath of the devastating bomb attack and shootings carried out last July by Anders Behring Breivik, the self-confessed anti-Muslim mass murderer.

Ms Kristiansen was castigated for having failed to take action which might have prevented Breivik from planting a bomb in the centre of Oslo and subsequently shooting deaths of youth members of Norway's ruling Labour party at a summer camp on the fjord island of Utoya. Seventy-seven people were killed in the twin attacks.