27th Jun 2022

Vestager not involved in Danish spy scandal, says office

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel was the victim of US wiretapping reportedly aided by the Danish government (Photo: European Parliament)

Denmark's European Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, did not oversee any intelligence services during her time as interior and deputy prime minister, according her cabinet in Brussels on Monday (31 May).

"She was not overseeing any intelligence services," her communications advisor said in an email.

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The statement follows revelations Denmark colluded with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel and other top European allies. Germany at the time was the most-snooped on EU member state by the US.

Vestager is currently executive vice president of the European Commission, in charge of digital issues.

But she also previously served as Denmark's interior and deputy prime minister around the same time Copenhagen reportedly helped the US wiretap close European partners.

Although Danish intelligence services are overseen by its ministry of defence and justice, suspicions were raised she may have been aware.

Pressed by reporters, the European Commission said it could not comment on Vestager's past roles in the Danish government.

"There is not much for the commission to comment. National intelligence service matters are a national competence," a European Commission spokesperson told reporters.

The questions follow a joint European media investigation published on Sunday.

It revealed Denmark's Defence Intelligence Service (FE) had operated with the NSA between 2012 and 2014.

Vestager was Denmark's interior and deputy prime minister from 2011 to 2014. Its prime minister was Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who currently sits on a content oversight board for Facebook.

The NSA was reportedly granted access to Danish internet cables under their watch. The US spy agency then used them to snoop on high-ranking officials from France, Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Among those targeted was Germany's Merkel, along with the then German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The revelations were made by Danish broadcaster DR, along with Swedish and Norwegian public outlets SVT and NRK.

They also appeared in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung and broadcasters NDR and WDR as well as France's Le Monde newspaper.

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee is now seeking an audience with the Danish government and journalists over the spy scandal.

The latest disclosures are rooted in wider whistleblower revelations, first made in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor now exiled in Russia.

"There should be an explicit requirement for full public disclosure not only from Denmark, but their senior partner as well," Snowden said, in a tweet.

FE agents had carried out a probe on the back of Snowden's leaks and then compiled a report in 2015, dubbed the Dunhammer report.

The Dunhammer report revealed the NSA had in fact used the undersea Danish internet cables.

In a separate case also linked to Snowden, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg recently deemed the UK spy hub GCHQ's bulk interception of online communication as unlawful.

The latest scandal is likely to cast a shadow over the pending June visit to the EU by US president Joe Biden, who has also been invited to speak at a plenary session at the European Parliament.

Biden was vice-president under the Barack Obama administration during the Snowden leaks.

"Biden is well-prepared to answer for this when he soon visits Europe since, of course, he was deeply involved in this scandal the first time around," said Snowden, in a tweet.


French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that they expected the US and Danish governments to explain the allegations of spying.

"This is not acceptable between allies, and even less between allies and European partners," said Macron after a French-German summit meeting held via video conference.

"I am attached to the bond of trust that unites Europeans and Americans," Macron said, adding that "there is no room for suspicion between us."

Merkel said she "could only agree" with the comments of the French president, AFP reported.

"I can only echo the words of Emmanuel Macron," she said after the video conference.

"I am relieved that the Danish government, the defence minister, stated very clearly what she thought of these things and to that extent I see a good basis, not just for clarifying matters, but for really building up a trusting relationship," Merkel added.

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An obscure section in a US law is said to entitle authorities to access, without a warrant, data stored by any EU citizen on clouds run by American companies.

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The renewed calls for action on Pegasus surveillance in Poland and Hungary came after Hungary's data protection authority, headed by an appointee of prime minister Viktor Orbán, said victims were legitimate targets.

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Robert Dover from the University of Hull said intelligence work nowadays is mostly data warehousing to "improve the behavioural models of how state and individuals will act and behave" - and how to encounter that.

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