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ESPIONAGE

US ‘used Danish surveillance system’ to spy on Merkel and Nordic allies

The United States spied on top politicians in Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from 2012 to 2014 with the help of Danish data cables, Danish and European media reported on Sunday.

US 'used Danish surveillance system' to spy on Merkel and Nordic allies
German Chancellor Angela Merkel using her mobile phone in 2015. File photo: Odd Andersen/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish broadcaster DR said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish internet cables to spy on top politicians and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France.

The NSA had taken advantage of a surveillance collaboration with Denmark’s military intelligence unit FE to do so, it said.

Denmark’s defence ministry has not responded to AFP’s requests for a comment.

Defence Minister Trine Bramsen, who took over the defence portfolio in June 2019, was informed of the spying in August 2020, according to DR.

She told the broadcaster that “systematic eavesdropping of close allies is unacceptable.”

It was not clear whether Denmark authorised the US to use its surveillance system to spy on its neighbours.

The Norwegian and Swedish defence ministers last night demanded an explanation from the Danish government and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück called the issue a “scandal”.

The French government said in Monday that the reports alleging that the US spied on top politicians in Europe with the help of Danish intelligence are “extremely serious” if proven.

“It is extremely serious, we need to see if our partners in the EU, the Danes, have committed errors or faults in their cooperation with American services,” Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Info radio.

He added it would also be very serious if it turned out Washington had been spying on EU leaders.

“Between allies, there must be trust, a minimal cooperation, so these potential facts are serious,” said the minister.

He said the facts must first “be verified” and then “conclusions drawn in terms of cooperation.”

“This is not something that should be played down,” Beaune said, while acknowledging that similar allegations had emerged back in 2013 that the United States had spied on Merkel.

“We are not in some kind of cuddly world so this kind of behaviour can unfortunately happen,” he said.

DR revealed the information following an investigation it led together with Swedish broadcaster SVT, Norway’s NRK, Germany’s NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung, and France’s Le Monde.

German Chancellor Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Steinbrück were among those the NSA had spied on, DR said.

The NSA was able to access SMS text messages, telephone calls, and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services, DR said.

The spying was detailed in a secret, internal FE working group report codenamed “Operation Dunhammer” and presented to FE top management in May 2015, DR said.

DR said its information came from nine different sources who had access to classified FE information, and said their revelations were independently confirmed by several sources.

Neither the FE nor its director at the time, Lars Findsen, commented immediately on the revelations.

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The US spying, if confirmed, was going on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair, which erupted when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast US surveillance put in place after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

Among other things, that documents showed the US government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

In November 2020, DR reported that the US had used the Danish cables to spy on Danish and European defence industries from 2012 to 2015.

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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.

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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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