Danish secret service helped the US spy on Merkel and other EU countries

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Cartoon by DonkeyHotey.

Media investigation claims Denmark cooperated with US spying on European politicians.

Two weeks before the U.S. president makes his first visit to Europe since being elected, Danish media reported the country’s secret services helped American counterparts to eavesdrop on European leaders while Joe Biden was vice president under the presidency of Barack Obama.

The report thrust Europeans back to the dark days of 2013, when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed massive U.S. surveillance programs that included tapping the mobile phones of allied heads of state — including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US National Security Agency (NSA) used a partnership with Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit to spy on senior officials of neighbouring countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish state broadcaster DR said.

Reports of the NSA spying on U.S. allies first came to light in 2013 through disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden, but the new investigation published Sunday details alleged support from the Defense Intelligence Service (FE) in Denmark, Germany’s northern neighbour.

The media reports describe a system of Danish-American cooperation used to surveil and stock data from underwater internet cables. DR reports that a data center was even built for that purpose at a Danish intelligence facility on the island of Amager, south of Copenhagen.

Merkel was reportedly among the targets, as well as two of her past rivals for the chancellery, Social Democrats Peer Steinbrück and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the latter of whom is now the German president. DR also reported that other high-level officials had been surveilled from France, Norway and Sweden, though did not name them.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, Danish public broadcaster DR and other news organizations in Germany, France, Norway and Sweden reported that a confidential Danish intelligence analysis reviewed the NSA’s relationship with FE from 2012 to 2014. This so-called Dunhammer report, conducted by four specialized FE agents following the Snowden revelations and concluded in 2015, found that the NSA was able to use Danish eavesdropping systems on submarine internet cables, with Denmark’s knowledge and agreement.

Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen declined to comment on “speculation” about intelligence matters in the media.

“I can more generally say that this government has the same attitude as the former Prime Minister expressed in 2013 and 2014 – systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable,” Bramsen told Reuters in a statement.

In Washington, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Danish Defence Intelligence Service also declined to comment.

Denmark, a close ally of the United States, hosts several key landing stations for subsea internet cables to and from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland and Britain.

Through targeted retrievals and the use of NSA-developed analysis software known as Xkeyscore, NSA intercepted both calls, texts and chat messages to and from telephones of officials in the neighbouring countries, sources told DR.

The internal investigation in the Danish Defence Intelligence Service was launched in 2014 following concerns about former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s leaks the previous year revealing how the NSA works, according to DR.

Snowden fled the United States after leaking secret NSA files in 2013 and was given asylum in Russia.

Following DR’s report, Snowden posted a cryptic Danish-language comment on Twitter saying: “If only there had been some reason to investigate many years ago. Oh why didn’t anyone warn us?”

The media investigation was conducted in collaboration with French newspaper Le Monde, German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, German broadcasters NDR and WDR, and public broadcasters from Sweden (SVT) and Norway (NRK).

In the wake of the 2013 Snowden reports, Obama committed to stop spying on allies. Le Monde said it was unclear at this point whether the spying via Danish systems happened prior to, or after, this promise.

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