Published December 8, 2011
The state prosecutor’s office has concluded that the US embassy in Iceland broke no Icelandic laws when conducting a Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) that aroused controversy last year.
Last November, the US embassy admitted engaging in SDUs in Iceland. An SDU is essentially extending security surveillance from beyond the building of the embassy itself and into the neighbourhood around it. A Norwegian blogger added to this explanation in more detail, saying in part “the SDU will be stationed outside the embassy, working in plain clothes and will do its best not to be noticed or seen as having anything to do with the embassy. The members will normally be recruited from police or military intelligence, and are usually very experienced in their chosen field. They will actively follow, photograph, videotape and monitor persons that they deem to be deserving of that treatment.”
Embassy spokesperson Laura Gritz emphasised though that SDUs are “neither secret nor spying. It is not used against a host country or its citizens. It is simply to watch for suspicious activity within the vicinity of the embassy and its employees.” US Ambassador to Iceland Luis E. Arreaga-Rodas reiterated this, explaining on the news show Kastljósið that the US has no reason to spy on Icelanders, as the US and Iceland are friends. He added that the SDU is just a security measure, designed to save lives, focused exclusively on suspicious activity.
Nonetheless, the Ministry of Justice refered the matter to the state prosecutor for review. Vísir now reports that the state prosecutor has found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the US embassy.
The state prosecutor said that there was furthermore nothing to indicate that embassy employees, or anyone the embassy hired, broke any Icelandic laws in conducting SDUs. As such, the office found no need to pursue the matter further, and the case has been dropped.