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US reported to have spied on Merkel, European allies with Danish help

National Security Agency said to have eavesdropped on Danish internet cables, text messages and telephone calls to spy on top politicians and high-ranking officials in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses her mobile phone during a debate at the Bundestag in Berlin, December 8, 2020. (MACDOUGALL/AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses her mobile phone during a debate at the Bundestag in Berlin, December 8, 2020. (MACDOUGALL/AFP)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The US spied on top politicians in Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from 2012 to 2014 with the help of Danish intelligence, Danish and European media reported on Sunday.

Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish internet cables under former US president Barack Obama’s administration to spy on top politicians and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France.

The NSA had taken advantage of a surveillance collaboration with Denmark’s military intelligence unit FE to do so, it said.

Denmark’s defense ministry has not responded to AFP’s requests for comment.

Defense Minister Trine Bramsen, who took over the portfolio in June 2019, was informed of the spying in August 2020, according to DR.

She told the broadcaster that “systematic eavesdropping of close allies is unacceptable.”

It was not clear whether Denmark authorized the US to use its surveillance system to spy on its neighbors.

This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Maryland at a time when the American Civil Liberties Union, Wikimedia and other groups were suing the National Security Agency over its surveillance practices. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

DR revealed the information following an investigation it led together with Swedish broadcaster SVT, Norway’s NRK, Germany’s NDR, WDR and Suddeutsche Zeitung, and France’s Le Monde.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Peer Steinbruck were among those the NSA had spied on, DR said.

The NSA was able to access SMS text messages, telephone calls, and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services, DR said.

The spying was detailed in a secret, internal FE working group report codenamed “Operation Dunhammer” and presented to FE top management in May 2015, the report said.

DR said its information came from nine different sources who had access to classified FE information, and said their revelations were independently confirmed by several sources.

Neither the FE nor its director at the time, Lars Findsen, commented immediately on the revelations.

The US spying, if confirmed, was going on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair, which erupted when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast US surveillance put in place after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Among other things, that documents showed the US government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

In November 2020, DR reported that the US had used the Danish cables to spy on Danish and European defense industries from 2012 to 2015.

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