German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former German Foreign Minister and current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and former German opposition leader, Peer Steinbrück, along with other top officials from France, Sweden and Norway, are among the people that the U.S.’ National Security Agency (NSA) spied on with Danish cooperation. This points out the fact that there is evidently mistrust among NATO members (keeping in mind Sweden is not a bloc member).
According to a report by Danish broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR), the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) collaborated with the NSA to gather information on European officials. It is recalled that similar allegations emerged in 2013 when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the alleged tapping of the German chancellor's phone by the NSA. Washington gave no outright denial but did say Merkel's phone was not being bugged at the moment and would not be in future.
As Associate Professor Thomas Wegener Friis from the University of Southern Denmark said, “Angela Merkel, Steinbrück and Steinmeier are not just the pinnacle of German politics: they are the Super League of European Politics. It makes them move up completely on the Americans' wish list.”
The FE's secret and internal investigation of the American espionage through Danish internet cables was code named “Operation Dunhammer.” The study was conducted by not only a working group of the FE, but also with four of the intelligence service's hackers and analysts. They investigated the Danish-American cooperation in the deepest secrecy to avoid the NSA knowing about the FE's investigation.
The finalized secret report, entitled “Dunhammer,” was handed over to the FE’s management in 2015. The report is the focal point of the scandal and in August last year, it sent shockwaves across the FE and the Ministry of Defense. Ultimately, the Danish government forced the FE’s management to resign in 2020 after discovering the full extent of their relationship with the NSA. Unsurprisingly, they kept this hidden from their European allies, once again demonstrating mistrust between NATO members.
Denmark's Defense Minister Trine Bramsen, who had reportedly been informed about the espionage, told DR that “systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.”
Snowden accused U.S. President Joe Biden of being “deeply involved in this scandal.” The scandal occurred at a time when Biden was U.S. vice-president during the Barack Obama administration.
“There should be an explicit requirement for full public disclosure not only from Denmark, but their senior partner as well,” Snowden tweeted.
The secret working group in the FE revealed that the NSA apparently used the telephone numbers of the politicians and officials in question as so-called selectors. The NSA used the telephone numbers as search parameters against the politicians and officials they were spying on. They would then pull these out of the extensive data streams that run through internet cables to and from Denmark. Through this method, the NSA intercepted text messages and phone calls.
DR explained that access to internet cables in and out of Denmark also has great value for the NSA as the Nordic country is geographically a hub for global internet traffic and has access to cables with communication streams from a large number of European countries, including Russia.
The collaboration to eavesdrop on internet cables in and out of the country is so important that it “has strategic significance for the relationship between Denmark and the USA,” a source said to DR.
Another source described the spy system as the FE’s “crown jewel.” This is because it is by far their most effective method of accessing information on everything - from terrorist plans to information on Russia and China.
Friis described the spying scandal as “a stinker” because the FE has helped the NSA spy on Germany, Sweden, Norway and France. As he said, these are not “obscure” countries or ones on the verge of invading Denmark, but “some of our very best friends in the world. And if you help others to fool your best friends, then you are not doing well.”
There is no clear motive on why the FE spied on Denmark’s closest allies and neighbours for the sake of the U.S., but it also does leave many questions open. Although the FE, along with the NSA, spied on Denmark’s neighbours, it is almost unfathomable to not expect that they also spied on Russia. There is no evidence to suggest this for now, but it also brings to question the extent of spying against Russia if the U.S. is so willing to spy on Merkel, considered especially during the period in question, as one of Europe’s closest allies to Washington.
It also points to an issue of mistrust and disunity within NATO if the U.S. felt it had to spy on fellow member states. Since the U.S. were so willing to spy on France, Germany and Norway, it suggests that the North American country has no trust in its European allies, meaning that there is certainly mistrust within NATO itself.
By Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
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