Denmark intel helped US NSA to spy on European politicians

Pierluigi Paganini May 31, 2021

Denmark’s foreign secret service allowed the US NSA to spy on European politicians through a Danish telecommunications hub.

Journalists from Danish broadcaster DR recently received a document titled the Dunhammer Report, which included the findings of an investigation conducted by the Danish authorities on the spying operation. DR shared the report with other news agencies across Europe, including the German broadcasters NDR and WDR, the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, French newspaper Le Monde, Norway TV station NRK, and the Swedish broadcaster SVT.

One of the victims of the spying operation was the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Danish: Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE) allowed the US National Security Agency (NSA) to tap into a primary internet and telecommunications hub in Denmark, the operation allowed the US intelligence agency to spy on the communications of European politicians. According to BBC, the NSA allegedly gathered intelligence on officials from Germany, France, Sweden, and Norway.

“The NSA is said to have accessed text messages and the phone conversations of a number of prominent individuals by tapping into Danish internet cables in co-operation with the FE.” reported the BBC. “The alleged set-up, said in the report to have been codenamed “Operation Dunhammer”, allowed the NSA to obtain data using the telephone numbers of politicians as search parameters, according to DR.”

The spying operation, Operation Dunhammer, was uncovered by a joint investigation conducted by some of Europe’s biggest news agencies.

The NSA and the Danish intelligence signed a secret pact that allowed the cyberspies to eavesdrop on sensitive communications between 2012 and 2014

The NSA used the surveillance platform XKeyscore, which was described in the documents leaked by the popular whistleblower Snowden, to spy on communications passing through the Sandagergårdan hub in Dragor, near Copenhagen.

The NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’, XKeyscore gives ‘widest-reaching’ collection of online data analyzing the content of emails, social media, and browsing history.

In 2013, documents leaked by Edward Snowden explained that a tool named DNI Presenter allows the NSA to read the content of stored emails and it also enables the intelligence analysts to track the user’s activities on Facebook through a system dubbed XKeyscore. 

XKeyscore map

The NSA has chosen this specific hub because it was the point of conjunction for several key submarine cables that connected Denmark to the Scandinavian peninsula.

Operation Dunhammer was halted in 2014 after Danish government officials became aware of the secret pact between the NSA and the FE by Snowden’s revelations.

Curiously the NSA was also spying on representatives of the Danish government.

Denmark’s Defence Minister Trine Bramsen told DR that “systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable”.

The Danish government suspended several FE officials from the agency because of their involvement in the spying operations.

Following the publishing of the report, Snowden accused US President Joe Biden of being a key figure behind this operation, at the time it took place he was US vice-president.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, NSA)

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