Danish intelligence scandal related to data sharing with US agency, according to media

Cooperation between Danish military intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) and US counterpart the National Security Agency (NSA) has been connected to recent criticism of the Danish service by an official watchdog.

Danish intelligence scandal related to data sharing with US agency, according to media
Military buildings at Kastellet in Copenhagen. Photo: Keld Navntoft/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish broadcaster DR reports the connection based on independent anonymous sources.

The collaboration is described in the report as a top-secret collection of a large amount of raw data from cable access given by FE to the NSA.

The cable in question is used for all types of digital communication including telephone calls, internet and SMS messaging, DR reports.

As such, NSA may have been given access to data which could have included Danish citizens' private personal information and communication.

Both the Danish Ministry of Defence and FE have declined to comment on connections between the watchdog report and cooperation with the NSA.

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“The audit of FE has raised several serious points of criticism. This is a serious issue. The watchdog has recommended an inquiry be initiated. The government will be furnished with the basis for this inquiry. So that investigation should be allowed to take place, and I have no further comment until it is complete,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said when asked about the DR report.

Criticisms made public by the watchdog, TET (Tilsynet med Efterretningstjenesterne) earlier this week include the contention FE may have passed on a “significant amount of information about Danish citizens” in breach of the country’s laws.

NSA has not commented on the matter.

DR has not been able clarify exactly when the reported cooperation with the NSA began and whether it still exists. But the broadcaster reports that it was an “extremely valuable collaboration” for FE.

It has also not been possible for DR to clarify whether the NSA cooperation is legal or illegal. Several current and former senior FE staff have been suspended due to the TET report.

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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.


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.