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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Spy Scandal Leads to Diplomatic Tension Between Denmark and Allies

A shocking report released last week alleged that the United States, in cooperation with the Danish Intelligence Service, spied on leaders of European states, many of whom are allied with both countries, including Germany and Norway.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the leaders who were targeted by US spying operations. (Photo:

Danish national broadcasting company DR released a striking report last week alleging cooperation between the Danish Intelligence Services (FE) and the NSA (National Security Agency) in the United States of a deliberate effort to spy on prominent European political figures including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and political leaders in France, Norway, and Sweden. The allegations were almost immediately condemned by leaders in the affected countries, with French President Emmanuel Macron (himself not a target of the spying) saying in part “This is not acceptable between allies”. According to the BBC, prominent leaders of Germany including Chancellor Merkel, then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the former opposition leader Peer Steinbrück were all targeted by the espionage operation.

The allegations against Denmark have led to harsh rebukes of their behavior from the European neighbors and allies, with whom Denmark normally enjoys warm diplomatic relations. Leaders of both Norway and Sweden, who were targeted by the espionage operation codenamed “Operation Dunhammer”, expressed their disapproval at the actions of their Nordic neighbor.

Denmark, which is a connection point for many underwater and underground telephone cables, used their access to these cables to spy on European leaders, according to DR. The reasoning behind the FE allowing the NSA to use these cables to spy is as of yet unknown. DR released their findings after a five-year investigation which used Danish sources with knowledge of confidential information from FE operations. Current Danish Defense Minister, Trine Bramsen (who was not affiliated with FE during the spying operation), declined to comment on what she labeled as “speculation” but did reaffirm the “official attitude of this government, which is that spying on close allies is unacceptable”. The NSA and Department of Defense in the USA has declined to comment on any findings by the media.

This is not the first time that the United States has been accused of spying on their European allies. In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing about operations by the NSA, many countries in Europe, including Germany, found out that the NSA was actively spying on their leaders. These countries, including Denmark itself, then launched internal investigations into operations by the NSA in their own countries. Although the Danish investigation’s results were not released, another investigation was launched by the Danish government last year based on the reports of a whistleblower within the FE. The results of this investigation are, according to Reuters, set to be released next year.

As the report was released, Mr. Snowden took to Twitter to release a message, in Danish, urging for full public disclosure of events which transpired between FE and the NSA. He also said that President Biden (who served as Vice President during the time of these events) was intimately involved in the operations with Denmark. The White House has not commented on the matter.

It is unclear which consequences, if any, will be faced by Denmark or the United States for their espionage activities. But it does seem that in the short-term the trust between Denmark and its neighbors has been broken.

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