Lars Findsen, the head of FE, was suspended from service along with two colleagues until further notice after the agency was accused by a watchdog of a string of offences including violating data privacy laws, withholding information and misleading investigation of the organisation.
The suspension was initially announced by the ministry of defence in a brief press statement.
The ministry’s press office told broadcaster DR that it would not add “any more than what is said in the press statement”.
FE’s primary tasks are foreign intelligence, military security and national IT security. They are a not the same organisation as PET (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste), which is responsible for domestic intelligence and security in Denmark.
Earlier this month, the intelligence services' watchdog organisation TET (Tilsynet med Efterretningstjenesterne) confirmed that it was investigating FE, stating it was in possession of a “significant amount of material relating to FE”.
The watchdog told DR that, before it was established in 2014, FE launched operational activities that were in breach of Danish law, including obtaining and passing on a significant amount of information about Danish citizens.
TET also said that its investigation was launched on the basis of material provided by “one or more” whistleblowers.
A statement published by TET on its website on Monday accuses FE of withholding information; failing to follow up on signs of espionage within the ministry of defence; enabling an “inappropriate legality culture” by hiding potentially improper activity; and obtaining and passing on a significant amount of information about Danish citizens, in breach of Danish law.
It also accuses FE of “improper management of information regarding an employee of (TET)”, which has been interpreted as an accusation of FE espionage against TET.
Breaking spy scandal in Denmark: based on whistleblower reports, supervisors accuse military intelligence of hiding info from them and even spying on one of their members, not following up on signs of espionage within Ministry of Defence, and illegal data collection before 2014. https://t.co/iOD0sY0fDp
— Jan Lemnitzer (@JanLemnitzer) August 24, 2020
The developing scandal has already been called “highly unusual” by commentators in Denmark.
“FE has been left somewhat groggy by this. It has lost its top manager and two other senior staff. This has the shape and form of something that can be a very big scandal,” DR legal correspondent Trine Maria Ilsøe said on Monday.
The strength of the watchdog’s criticism of one of Denmark’s intelligence services sets Monday’s developments out from past cases, she said.
“It's highly unusual. We know that FE has received criticism in previous reports, but it has always looked like something that could be worked on. But this time the watchdog is of a different opinion. They are virtually accusing them of lying,” she added.
The involvement of whistleblowers is one of the elements that makes the case stand out, Ilsøe said.
“The public should not expect to be told everything about this case, because TET has stressed it has (only) declassified some of its conclusions. That is to say, the information on which the conclusions are based is classified, but I certainly believe that more information will emerge than what we have at present,” she added.