Denmark’s intelligence service says country is target of ‘increased’ foreign spying

Denmark's intelligence service warned on Thursday of a rise in foreign state espionage on its soil, a month after the national head of military intelligence was arrested, accused of leaking confidential documents.

Head of counter-intelligence with national security service PET, Anders Henriksen, said in a Danish newspaper interview that China, in particular, was
Head of counter-intelligence with national security service PET, Anders Henriksen, said in a Danish newspaper interview that China, in particular, was "making great efforts to gain access to cutting-edge technology and knowledge".  File photo: Erik Refner/Ritzau Scanpix

The threats targeting the Scandinavian country emanated mainly from Russia, China and Iran, Denmark’s security and intelligence authority PET said in a new report.

“A number of foreign states are actively carrying out intelligence activities against Denmark and the espionage threat has increased in recent years,” PET said in a statement accompanying the report.

“The activities include espionage, influence operations, harassment, attempts to illegally procure products, technology and knowledge and, in exceptional cases, outright assassination attempts,” it added.

The threat from foreign state intelligence activity “is also relevant to the Faroe Islands and Greenland”, PET said, namely because of rising international competition for access to the Arctic.

PET’s head of counter-intelligence, Anders Henriksen, told the Politiken newspaper that China, in particular, was “making great efforts to gain access to cutting-edge technology and knowledge”. 

University exchanges were particularly vulnerable, he said.

“Certain types of research, even when it’s at a very early stage, could be used for military purposes and pose problems,” Henriksen said.

In summer 2021, Politiken revealed that at least 30 researchers in Denmark had been recruited via a Chinese programme called “1,000 Talents”.

The new report comes at a difficult time for Denmark’s intelligence services.

According to an investigation released last year by public broadcaster DR, the United States used Danish undersea cables until at least 2014 to tap conversations between senior figures in Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, including the then German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Then PET military intelligence chief Lars Findsen was arrested in December 2021, accused of leaking “highly confidential” information to the media. He remains in detention.

Findsen and two other senior military intelligence officials had already been suspended in 2020, amid suspicions his service was conducting illegal surveillance. 

An audit found that the military intelligence service “hid essential and crucial information” and provided “false information to the authorities” when quizzed about its surveillance operations between 2014 and 2020.

READ ALSO: Danish military intelligence head held over leaks

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What does resolution of Denmark-Canada ‘whisky war’ tell us about international relations?

Canada and Denmark on Tuesday finally settled the largely good-natured "whisky war" that was fought for decades with weapons such as flags and bottles of alcohol over a tiny, barren, and uninhabited outcrop in the Arctic.

What does resolution of Denmark-Canada 'whisky war' tell us about international relations?

The two sides formally announced a deal to split Hans Island and effectively create the first land border between Canada and Europe at a signing ceremony in Ottawa with Canadian and Danish foreign ministers.

READ ALSO: Why Denmark and Canada are about to share a border

Dividing up the kidney-shaped island and resolving the 49-year-old benign impasse was held up as a model for peacefully resolving territorial disputes — contrasted with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Arctic is a beacon for international cooperation, where the rule of law prevails,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told news wire AFP.

“As global security is being threatened, it’s more important than ever for democracies like Canada and Denmark to work together, alongside Indigenous peoples, to resolve our differences in accordance with international law.”

The waggish row over the 1.3 square kilometre Hans Island, which sits between Ellesmere and Greenland, dated back to 1973, when a marine boundary was drawn between Canada and Greenland, part of the Danish kingdom.

Danes and Canadians have visited the rock by helicopter over the past decades to lay claim to it, leading to diplomatic protests, online campaigns and even a Canadian call to boycott Danish pastries. 

During those ministerial visits, each side would plant a flag and leave behind a bottle of whiskey or schnapps for the other to enjoy, along with comical notes.

“Many have called it the whisky war. I think it was the friendliest of all wars,” Joly said of the territorial dispute — which had drawn in no less than 26 foreign ministers over the decades — at a news conference with her Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod.

Kofod said that its resolution, however, comes at a time when “the ruled-based international order is under pressure” and democratic values “are under attack.”

“We see gross violations of international rules unfold in another part of the world,” he said, alluding to the war in Ukraine. 

“In contrast, we have demonstrated how longstanding disputes can be resolved peacefully by playing by the rules,” Kofod said, adding that he hoped Canada and Denmark’s experience will “inspire other countries to follow the same path.”

“This sends a strong signal: diplomacy and the rule of law actually works, and that a great result can be achieved by following the rules.”

As they exchanged bottles on Tuesday, Joly and Kofod laughed off suggestions that Canada might join the EU now that the two share a land border.

Joly quipped that a Canadian singer would surely enter the next Eurovision Song Contest, while Kofod offered: “Welcome Canada to the European continent!”

Snow-covered Hans Island is uninhabitable, but the onset of global warming is bringing more ship traffic to the Arctic, and opening it up to fishing and resources exploration — although maybe not in the area of the island.

Arctic expert Michael Byers noted that “the island is so incredibly remote as to make it uneconomical to contemplate any serious activity there.”

Putting off resolution of this unusual territorial dispute, however, made for good political theater in both countries, flaring up ahead of elections.

“It was an entirely risk-free sovereignty dispute between two NATO allies over an insignificant, tiny island,” Byers said.

Denmark had also feared that losing the ownership battle would undermine relations with Greenland, while Canada worried that a loss would weaken its negotiating position in a more consequential dispute with the United States over the Beaufort Sea, in far northwestern Canada, believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has not made Arctic sovereignty part of his brand,” in contrast to his predecessor, Byers said. 

“So that reduced the temperature, at least from our side.”

“But most importantly, Russia invaded Ukraine, and that created an opportune moment to tell the world that responsible countries settle territorial disputes in a peaceful way,” he said.