NSA spied on European politicians through Danish telecommunications hub

Denmark's foreign secret service allowed the US National Security Agency to tap into a crucial internet and telecommunications hub in Denmark and spy on the communications of European politicians, a joint investigation by some of Europe's biggest news agencies revealed on Sunday.

The covert spying operation, called Operation Dunhammer, took place between 2012 and 2014, based on a secret partnership signed by the two agencies.

The secret pact, signed between the NSA and the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Danish: Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE) allowed US spies to deploy a data interception system named XKeyscore from a base in Sandagergårdan, near Copenhagen.

The NSA allegedly used XKeyscore to mass-sniff internet and mobile traffic and intercept communications such as emails, phone calls, SMS texts, and chat messages sent to the phone numbers and email addresses of European politicians.

The covert operation abruptly stopped in 2014 after Danish government officials learned of the NSA-FE collaboration following the Snowden leaks.

Danish officials put a stop to the operation after they learned that the NSA had also spied on Danish government members.

Several high-ranking FE officials were suspended from the agency last year for their involvement in the operation, as Danish law prohibits the foreign intelligence agency from using its resources to spy internally.

News of the scandal leaked over the weekend after journalists from Danish broadcaster DR got their hands on a document called the Dunhammer Report, which contained the results of the Danish government's investigation into the NSA-FE secret pact, and which was presented to Danish government officials back in 2015.

Through the past weeks, DR worked with news agencies across Europe, such as German broadcasters NDR and WDR, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, French newspaper Le Monde, Swedish broadcaster SVT, and Norway television station NRK to unearth the victims of this covert surveillance operation, which allegedly included many high-ranking government officials across central and northern Europe, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Danish and NSA officials refused to offer any comments to any of the news agencies which investigated DR's findings and the Dunhammer report.

News outlets in Germany, Norway, and Sweden featured comments today from local politicians calling the NSA covert spying operation unacceptable between allied countries.

Snowden also confirmed the secret NSA-FE pact in tweets over the weekend. He also shared an older Danish news article in which he accused Denmark of welcoming an NSA plane on its territory back in 2013, ready to extradite him and fly him to the US on a moment's notice during a period he was on the run from the NSA and seeking asylum.

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Catalin Cimpanu

Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.