We knew about the US-Danish spy collaboration. The revelations are still remarkable

DDIS DenmarkTHE FIRST CLAIMS OF an alleged secret collaboration between the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and Denmark surfaced in November of 2020. By January of this year, it was clear that the Danish government would, sooner or later, need to deal with the fallout of its controversial spy deal with Washington, under which Denmark enabled the US to spy on some of its closest European allies. Still, the news last weekend that Denmark helped the US spy on countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, is nothing short of remarkable, and has a huge symbolic significance that cannot be overlooked.

IntelNews regulars will recall that Lars Findsen, director of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) was unceremoniously “relieved of duty” in August of 2020. This was in response to a damning report by the Danish Oversight Board, known as TET, which is responsible for supervising the work of Denmark’s intelligence agencies. The Danish Ministry of Defense would not discuss the precise nature of the report, which at the time was believed to relate to vaguely described “improper intelligence collection practices”.

Then, in November of 2020 came news of an alleged secret collaboration between the DDIS and its American equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA). According to Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Danmarks Radio —Denmark’s public-service broadcaster— the agreement dated to 2008, and involved the use by the NSA of a number of fiber optic Internet cables that pass through Danish territory, in return for the DDIS being given access to the content of intercepted traffic. This collaboration resulted in the interception of information belonging to the governments of Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and Holland, among others.

It is said among intelligence practitioners that “there is no such thing as a friendly foreign intelligence agency”. There is also no known agreement not to spy on each other between the United States and several core countries of the Western alliance, such as Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, or Spain (it is rumored that a “no-spy clause” exists between Five Eyes participants). Technically speaking, therefore, espionage between European powers, or between them and the US, is not in violation of some sacred agreement.

Indeed, some would even argue that there are reasons why Washington should want to keep an eye on the inner workings of its close European allies, and vice-versa. For instance, during the presidency of Donald Trump, relations between the US and Europe were tested as few times in the past, and there were numerous reasons why European governments would want to know what was in the mind of President Trump and his inner circle. There has also been a vast chasm that separates Washington and Berlin or Paris in relation to the Iran nuclear agreement, and it could prompt the White House to seek secret intelligence about Franco-German intentions on this topic. More recently, Austria, a European Union (EU) member, and Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, have been accused of orbiting too closely to Moscow, and may have become a target of American —and even other Western European— spy agencies.

Yet it is one thing to expect that friendly Western countries may spy on each other occasionally, and quite another to see it revealed in such a dramatic way in the world’s news media, as has been the case in the past few days. Aside from its shock value, this striking revelation further-complicates a number of severely tested relationships on the European continent, as well as between the EU and the US. It comes at a time when US President Joe Biden is trying to convince the Europeans that Washington has returned to the world stage following the Trump years, and is a trustworthy ally of the West. To his embarrassment, he cannot claim that this latest scandal involving US-Danish spy collaboration happened prior to his administration, since he was vice president between 2014 and 2015, when much of the US-Danish espionage occurred.

Moreover, the connections between this latest espionage scandal involving Denmark, and the Crypto AG affair of 2019, which shattered the image of Switzerland’s neutrality, are inescapable. Essentially, even the most ardent supporter of the EU ought to concede that the Western European alliance is confronting a deepening crisis of confidence and identity, and that the tension generated by this crisis will not subside as a result of the recent revelations of espionage. Ultimately, if there is one thing that the US-Danish spy collaboration demonstrates, it is that Washington does not view the EU as anything close to a unified entity. The question is, whether EU states do so themselves.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2021 | Permalink

2 Responses to We knew about the US-Danish spy collaboration. The revelations are still remarkable

  1. AGK says:

    A small edit: while Austria os indeed an EU member, it is not a NATO member state for historic reasons linled to WWII and the occupation of the 4 powers afterwards.

  2. intelNews says:

    @AGK: Good catch. Thank you for the correction. [JF]

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