Denmark spied on leading European politicians for the NSA

The NSA affair is still going on after eight years: Denmark is said to have eavesdropped on allies on behalf of the USA. German politicians were also eavesdropped on.

According to Edward Snowden, it had been apparent since 2013 that Denmark was helping the US intercept communications. (Source: IMAGO / agefotostock)

The issue at hand is whether Denmark helped the US intelligence agency NSA to wiretap top German, Swedish, Norwegian and French politicians such as Angela Merkel. Berlin and Paris are now demanding that the government in Copenhagen provide a comprehensive explanation of the current reports on covert operations.

A research network comprised of the Danish radio station DR as well as NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung had reported on Sunday evening, citing anonymous sources (in German), that the NSA had deliberately eavesdropped on leading European politicians such as Merkel with the help of Denmark. This information is based on an internal analysis of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE)) about their activities in 2012 and 2014.

The FE had given the NSA access to data from submarine cables running off the Danish coast. According to the report, those eavesdropped on included not only the German Chancellor, but also the former Foreign Minister and current Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former SPD candidate for Chancellor Peer Steinbrück, and top politicians from Sweden, Norway and France.

“I would like to say that this is not acceptable between allies. This is quite clear,” emphasized French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday after consultations of the Franco-German Council of Ministers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could “only agree”. Steinbrück spoke of a “scandal”, according to the newspaper taz. He had called on the Chancellor in 2013 to demand an immediate end to total surveillance vis-à-vis the USA.

Politicians from Sweden and Norway also expressed their anger at the allies’ actions. Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, assessed the behaviour of NATO partners Denmark and the USA as a “serious breach of trust”.

Previously, the Danish government had distanced itself from wiretapping. Denmark’s Defence Minister Trine Bramsen said that the current government shares the view expressed by former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in 2013 and 2014: "Systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.”

Chancellor reassured

Macron stressed that they expect “complete transparency and clarification of the facts from our Danish and American partners”. Merkel said that nothing had changed in regard to the German government’s position on the NSA incidents. “What was right then is still right today.” With this, the Chancellor was obviously alluding to her statement made when the NSA affair came to light a few years ago. At that time she had said: “Spying among friends – that is simply not done.” The Chancellor now emphasised that she was “reassured” that the Danish government had also made it very clear what it thought of such matters.

The Danish Defence Minister Bramsen said that she would not comment on speculations about possible intelligence matters. The Danish Defence Intelligence Service also declined to comment on the reports when asked. In Berlin, government spokesperson Seibert said that the Federal Government had taken note of the reports and “is in contact with all relevant national and international agencies to clarify the matter.” The Chancellor was only made aware of the issue through the enquiry of investigating journalists.

Operation Dunhammer

Nine sources have independently confirmed to the DR that the interception took place with the help of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service FE. Apparently, the NSA accessed the phones of individuals affected through a surveillance programme operated by the FE.

Within the FE, an investigation called “Operation Dunhammer” was conducted into the US spying on submarine cables that end in Denmark. In a secret report conducted in 2015, a team of workers came to the conclusion that the NSA had purposefully collected data from Norwegian, Swedish, German and French politicians through Danish-American collaboration. According to research by Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR, the Danes did not inform their German partners of their findings.

Snowden comments

In 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden (in German) revealed the massive and worldwide surveillance conducted by the NSA. He reacted to the revelations on Sunday with a sarcastic tweet: “If only there had been a reason to investigate years ago. Oh, why didn’t anyone warn us?”

With this message he alludes to the fact that the collaboration between the NSA and Danish FE was already evident from the documents leaked in 2013. The information published by Snowden revealed that Denmark was one of the 33 countries that helped the NSA to intercept electronic communications worldwide under the code name RAMPART-A. (dpa / hcz)