The infamous US spy network, National Security Agency (NSA), has reportedly colluded with Denmark’s military intelligence unit, FE, to snoop on senior European politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The NSA was able to access SMS text messages, telephone calls, and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services of European politicians, Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) and other major European media reported Sunday, noting that intelligence authorities in the US and Denmark have refused to comment on the report.
“The spying was detailed in a secret, internal FE working group report codenamed ‘Operation Dunhammer’ and presented to FE top management in May 2015,” the DR report added, citing nine unnamed sources with access to an internal investigation within the Danish Defense Intelligence Service into the NSA’s role in the collaborative snooping effort.
It also pointed out that a decision last August to suspend the head of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service and three other officials from their posts following criticism and accusations of serious wrongdoings from an independent board overseeing the unit, centered around the 2015 investigation.
According to DR, Denmark’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen -- who took over the post in June 2019 and was informed of the spying operation in August 2020 – reacted to the report by saying, “Systematic eavesdropping of close allies is unacceptable.”
DR revealed the information following a probe it led into the controversy together with Swedish broadcaster SVT, Norway's NRK, Germany's NDR, WDR and Suddeutsche Zeitung, and France's Le Monde.
According to the investigation, which covered 2012 and 2014, the NSA used Danish information cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, including former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbrueck.
“It is grotesque that friendly intelligence services are indeed intercepting and spying on top representatives of other countries,” Steinbrueck told German broadcaster ARD. “Politically I consider it a scandal.”
Reacting to the report, Sweden's Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist also told Swedish SVT broadcaster that he “demanded full information on these things.”
Moreover, Norway's Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen further told local NRK broadcaster that he “takes the allegations seriously.”
France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune also noted that if proven, those reports must be treated seriously.
"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," Beaune told France Info radio, adding it would be very serious if it turned out Washington had been spying on EU leaders.
However, a spokesperson for the German chancellery refused to comment on the report, claiming that he only became aware of the allegations when asked about them by journalists.
The NSA also declined to respond to inquiries about the newly-released report and the Washington-based Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) refused to comment as well.
A spokesperson for the Danish Defense Intelligence Service further avoided any response to questions on the latest controversy.
The internal probe in the Danish Defense Intelligence Service was first launched in 2014 following concerns over leaks exposed by former NSA officer Edward Snowden the previous year revealing the spy agency’s massive surveillance operations across the US and worldwide.
Also in 2020, Denmark’s government announced that it would initiate an investigation into the spying operation based on information it had received from a whistleblower report. That probe is expected to be concluded later this year, according to DR.
The US spying effort was going on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair, which erupted when he unveiled thousands of classified documents exposing the gigantic US surveillance operations established following the highly suspicious September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and near Washington DC.
In November 2020, DR had also reported that the US had used the Danish cables to spy on Danish and European military industries from 2012 to 2015.
Denmark, a close US ally, hosts several key landing stations for subsea internet cables to and from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland, and Britain.