Which is your ally, enemy or friend? These terms are becoming very murky. Does it matter?
Allies furious that 'US spied on Merkel'
Britain likes Xi Jinping, the US needs to spy on Merkel, in Britain’s eyes Australia ranks below Xi Jinping, the US needs Australia, etc. And on which side is Denmark?
Europe demands answers after US-Danish spying claims
Germany and France have demanded answers following reports the US spied on its allies using Danish underwater cables – a move that allowed it to listen in on Angela Merkel’s phone calls and read her text messages.
In an investigative report, Danish public broadcaster Denmark’s Radio and other European media outlets said the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to spy on top politicians in Germany, France, Norway and Sweden.
The NSA gained access to text and chat messages, phone calls and internet searches – including those of the German Chancellor, then foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Peer Steinbruck, DR said.
DR said the NSA had taken advantage of a surveillance collaboration with Denmark’s military intelligence agency, known as FE, to eavesdrop.
But it was unclear whether Denmark knew at the time that the US was using the cables to spy on Denmark’s neighbours.
Denmark’s military intelligence agency refused to comment on the revelations. The US State Department and the NSA also declined requests for Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said they expected an explanation from Washington and Copenhagen.
“This is not acceptable between allies, and even less between allies and European partners,” Mr Macron said after the two leaders talked via video conference. “There is no room for suspicion.”
He added “that is why what we are waiting for complete clarity” from both Denmark and the US. “We are awaiting these answers.”
Mrs Merkel said she “could only agree” with Mr Macron’s comments, adding she was “reassured” by Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen’s condemnation of any such spying.
Ms Bramsen, who took over the defence portfolio in June 2019, has neither confirmed nor denied DR’s report, but said “systematic eavesdropping of close allies is unacceptable”.
Denmark’s neighbours also demanded an explanation.
“It’s unacceptable if countries which have close allied co-operation feel the need to spy on one another,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.
She said Norway had asked Denmark “for all the information they have”.
Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said he had been “in contact with Denmark’s Defence Minister to ask if Danish platforms have been used to spy on Swedish politicians”.
US eavesdropping on European leaders is, however, not new.
In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast US surveillance put in place after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Among other things, the documents showed the US government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Mrs Merkel’s mobile phone..
However, if the Danish-US spying is confirmed, it went on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair.
In 2014, following the Snowden scandal, a secret internal working group at FE began looking into whether the NSA had used the Danish-US spying collaboration – called XKeyscore – to spy on Denmark’s allies, DR said.
The group’s report, codenamed Operation Dunhammer, was presented to top FE management in May 2015.
What happened after that is not yet known.
Ms Bramsen was however informed of the spying in August 2020, according to DR. Shortly after that, FE director Lars Findsen, his predecessor who was in the post until 2015 Thomas Ahrenkiel, and three other FE employees were removed from their positions. No full explanation was made public.
At the time, the government said an audit had raised suspicions that FE was conducting illegal surveillance between 2014 and 2020.
In November 2020, DR revealed that the US had used the Danish cables to spy on the Danish and European defence industries from 2012 to 2015.
A month later, Denmark’s justice ministry ordered a commission of inquiry into FE’s operations. Its conclusions are due at the end of 2021.
Snowden, who now lives in Russia, called on Twitter for “full public disclosure” from Denmark and the US.
The latest revelations are “new pieces of the puzzle”, Thomas Wegener Friis, an intelligence expert and professor at the University of Southern Denmark, said.
“It’s exactly the same kind of scandal as the one with German services helping the Americans to spy a few years ago.”
Denmark is one of the US’s closest European allies and sent troops to fight in Iraq.
It is the only Nordic country that is both a member of NATO and the EU.