How Denmark became the NSA’s listening post in Europe

Sunday’s revelations that Danish spies helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitor European leaders highlighted the pivotal role that the Scandinavian country has played for US intelligence services, a collaboration that has intensified over the years.

Jun 1, 2021

Denmark served as an outpost for NSA agents spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other politicians across the Rhine, as well as French, Norwegian and Swedish personalities between 2012 and 2014, if not longer. That revelation, made public on May 30, was the result of an investigation by Danish public television (DR), with the cooperation of several European media outlets, including France’s Le Monde daily.

The ambition of American cyber spies who want to wiretap the whole world, including their allies, is nothing new. Edward Snowden’s 2012 revelations exposed the broad reach of the country’s massive cyber-surveillance programme. The Danish TV investigation is based on an internal Danish intelligence report commissioned in 2013 in response to the Snowden scandal, to determine the extent to which the United States had deployed its big ears on Danish soil.

An unofficial member of the ‘Five Eyes’ club

Many were surprised to learn that the US had chosen this small country in northern Europe as its base for spying on its continental allies, and that the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, or FE) had agreed to collaborate with them.

Experts say they shouldn’t have been.

“It’s not all that surprising, and these new revelations just add more detail to a scandal that broke last year in Denmark,” Flemming Splidsboel Hansen, a specialist in international security issues at the Danish Institute of International Relations, told FRANCE 24. Indeed, the FE has been in the hot seat since the spring of 2020 for having allowed the NSA to wiretap Danish personalities and industrial groups.

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“At the time, authorities were rather cryptic, saying only that they regretted that the Defense Intelligence Service had not intervened to prevent ‘a foreign power’ from spying on Danish soil,” Splidsboel Hansen said. It took the tenacity of local media to discover that the unidentified spies were the Americans. “That is probably the only country that can afford to do that on our soil without fearing the consequences,” Splidsboel Hansen added.

If the NSA appears to be able to use Denmark as a base for spying on Europe with impunity, it is thanks to a long tradition of collaboration between the two countries’ intelligence services. “Denmark has become a sort of de facto and unofficial member of the ‘Five Eyes’ club (the grouping of the intelligence services of the five main English-speaking countries),” wrote the Danish weekly Weekendavisen.

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