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ESPIONAGE

Why suspension of intelligence chief is a shock in pragmatic Denmark

The head of Denmark’s military intelligence service FE (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste) has been suspended after being accused by a watchdog of a number of offences.

Why suspension of intelligence chief is a shock in pragmatic Denmark
FE chief Lars Findsen, whose suspension was announced on Monday August 24th. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

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.

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.

READ ALSO: Danish ex-spy boss sentenced for revealing secrets

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INTELLIGENCE

Danish PM sees ‘no need to restore relations’ with France and Germany over spying

Denmark has "good dialogue" with its European allies and "no need to repair ties" with France and Germany, its prime minister said Wednesday following revelations that the US used Danish cables to spy on European leaders.

Danish PM sees 'no need to restore relations' with France and Germany over spying
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made her comments at the closing debate of parliament. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

In her first remarks on the subject since the revelations emerged on Sunday, Mette Frederiksen refused to address the claims directly.

But as a general rule, “there should not be any systematic surveillance of allies”, she told reporters.

In an investigative report on Sunday, Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) and other European media outlets said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014.

They spied on top politicians in France, Germany, Norway and Sweden, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Reports of allies spying on each other have surfaced ever since the Snowden affair in 2013, and after these latest revelations Paris, Berlin and other European capitals on Monday demanded answers from Denmark.

READ ALSO: 

Frederiksen played down the damage done to Denmark’s relations with its allies.

“We have a good dialogue,” she said. “I don’t think it’s correct to say that there’s a need to repair relations with France or Germany. We have an ongoing dialogue, which includes the field of intelligence,” she said.

According to DR, the NSA got access to text messages, telephone calls and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services — including those of Germany’s Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Peer Steinbruck.

It remains unclear whether Denmark knew at the time that the US was using the cables to spy on Denmark’s neighbours. Washington has yet to comment publicly on the matter.

DR’s revelations are based on a classified, internal report written by a working group at Denmark’s military intelligence unit FE.

The report, submitted to FE management in May 2015, was commissioned by FE after the Snowden affair came to light — which suggests Denmark may not have been aware the US was using its cables to spy on its neighbours.

Five years later, in August 2020, several top FE directors were removed from their posts, a move DR said was linked to the US spying.

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