PARIS --- The U.S. National Security Agency used a top-secret Danish-American intelligence agreement to spy on Danish government ministries and private companies in Denmark, Sweden and Germany, Danish Radio News (DR News) reported on Sunday.
The illegal intercepts also targeted Eurofighter and Saab, DR News reported, which at the time were competing to win a major contract to supply Denmark with a new fighter to replace its F-16s, as well as Danish defense contractor Terma.
DR News’ report is based on a number of highly classified reports made by an internal whistleblower in the Defense Intelligence Service (FE) around 2015, warning FE top management about possible illegalities in bilateral intelligence cooperation that allowed the United States to intercept Danish internet cables and use the information thus obtained for its own purposes.
“It is basically shocking, because the authority that was supposed to protect Denmark, helped to undermine the security of Denmark's vital interests,” Jens Elo Rytter, professor of constitutional law at the University of Copenhagen, told DR News.
“According to Danish law, a foreign intelligence service must of course not spy on Denmark in the way that you gain insight into military information or politically sensitive information,” Professor Emeritus in Criminal Law at the University of Copenhagen Jørn Vestergaard said.
In addition to the warnings about American espionage against Denmark, the reports say the whistleblower also warned about NSA espionage against targets in a number of the country’s closest neighbors, including Sweden. The whistleblower also claimed that NSA used the Danish-American intelligence agreements to search for information on the pan-European Eurofighter and the Swedish Saab Gripen fighter programs.
Both aircraft were competing to be chosen as Denmark's new fighter aircraft, a process that was already well advanced and which, at the time of the alleged intercepts, was moving into its final phase. At the time, Denmark’s selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35, and its government’s rationale for the decision, was widely criticized, as we reported in June 2016.
One source told DR News that the NSA wanted to "nose down in Terma prior to Denmark's purchase of new fighter jets" in 2015 and 2016, when Denmark made the final decision on the purchase of new fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of F-16s. Terma, based in Aarhus, is one of Denmark’s largest defense contractors and a supplier to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, but was also involved in the Danish fighter competition as a potential offset beneficiary.
“It's a 'smoking gun'. Targets have been identified at Terma,” one source told DR News. “These are searches that point directly to specific employees in Terma. The NSA entered keywords into the system that show they have searched for specific email addresses and phone numbers belonging to Terma,” the source said.
DR News was unable to determine exactly what information NSA was looking for, or how the US intelligence service may have used the information about the fighter companies, but the it said the whistleblower prepared, or participated in the preparation, at least two internal reports on the disputed matters.
DR News spoke to several independent sources who have insight into the reports. “The NSA has used the cable collaboration for targeted espionage against Denmark's closest allies and previously also against Danish interests and goals,” said one source speaking on condition of anonymity.
The sources that DR News spoke to mention the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Terma as some of the targets for the Americans' alleged espionage. Denmark's closest allies - especially Sweden, Germany, France, but also Norway and the Netherlands - were also mentioned as targets.
It has not been possible for DR News to determine whether FE's management acted on the basis of the whistleblower's reports.
But it is clearly contrary to the FE’s purpose if the FE has given the NSA access to or otherwise made it possible for the Americans to spy on key Danish social institutions and the defense industry, say two leading experts in the field.
“I would not like to be the political decision-maker who had to tell my colleagues in Germany or Sweden that 'unfortunately, we have now learned that the Americans have used an access with us to spy on you,” Professor Jens Ringsmose from the University of Southern Denmark, told DR News.