US Ambassador to Iceland Luis E. Arreaga-Rodas, speaking on the television news show Kastljósið last night, emphasized that the embassy is not spying on Icelandic citizens and never has been.
The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has recently brought to light that the US embassy has engaged in what is known as a Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU), essentially extending security surveillance from beyond the building of the embassy itself and into the neighbourhood around it. Part of this allegedly included plain-clothes Securitas employees rooting through the garbage of people living on the same street as the embassy.
Many Icelanders living on the street have told reporters that they are worried about and scared of the embassy, saying that security cameras are pointed at their windows, and that concrete planters set up by the embassy (presumably put up in front of the building for security reasons) impeded traffic and were set up without a permit from the city. A lawyer representing the residents took up the matter, but soon thereafter dropped the case without explanation.
Ambassador Arreaga-Rodas tried to assuage these fears on Kastljósið. He said that the embassy is not spying on Icelandic citizens – that it is only looking out for suspicious activity in the vicinity of the embassy, and even then only in conjunction with the Icelandic police.
The SDU was not set up after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, as has been widely reported, but rather after terrorist attacks on US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998. In the wake of these attacks, it became protocol for US embassies around the would to become more vigilant against suspicious activity around their offices.
Ambassador Arreaga-Rodas said the US has no reason to spy on Icelanders, as the US and Iceland are friends. The SDU is just a security measure, designed to save lives, focused exclusively on suspicious activity.