Between 2012 and 2014, the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on top politicians and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway, and France by tapping into Danish underwater internet cables in collaboration with Denmark’s foreign and military intelligence service.
The secret wiretapping was reported by Danish broadcaster DR, based on interviews with nine unknown sources who are all alleged to have access to confidential information stored by the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste or FE).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Peer Steinbrück, the opposition leader at the time, were among the targets of the surveillance operation.
According to the report, the NSA intercepted everything from text messages to phone calls that travelled through the cables on their way to and from the phones of politicians and bureaucrats by using their phone numbers as search parameters.
In order to scan and analyze data streams travelling in and out of internet cables, a unique technical software called XKeyscore was installed in a data center located at Sandagergrdan in the city of Dragor.
Concerns that the NSA had misused the collaboration with FE to snoop on targets in Denmark and its neighbors prompted the Danish counterpart to form a covert internal working group with four hackers and analysts — codenamed “Operation Dunhammer” — to examine the link in 2014.
The latest revelations originate from a 2015 report presented to the FE by the working group, which also found that Danish intelligence assisted the US agency in spying on the Danish foreign and finance ministries, as well as a weapons manufacturer, forcing the government to suspend the FE’s head and three other officials in August 2020.
In October 2013, US whistleblower Edward Snowden made public a collection of confidential documents detailing the NSA’s suspected tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, accusing US President Joe Biden of being “deeply involved in this scandal the first time around”.
In June 2015, Germany ended its investigation into the phone-tapping incident due to a lack of evidence.
Snowden stated on Twitter that full public disclosure should be required not only from Denmark, but also from its senior partner.