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ESPIONAGE

Sweden knew of US surveillance: report

Sweden’s former Social Democratic government was informed in 2002 about a surveillance programme run by the US embassy in Stockholm, secret documents reveal.

Sweden knew of US surveillance: report

Top secret documents from the Swedish foreign ministry show that government officials have known of the US embassy’s Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) for years, the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper reports.

Sources within the government offices tell the newspaper that the foreign ministry received information about the programme when Anna Lindh was foreign minister.

Two weeks ago Norwegian media revealed the existence of an SDU programme run out of the US embassy in Oslo.

Within days of the reports from Norway, Swedish justice minister Beatrice Ask confirmed that the US embassy in Stockholm had operated a similar programme since 2000 and that “neither (Swedish security service) Säpo or anyone in the ministry has previously received any information about it”.

Spokespeople for the US embassy in Stockholm and the US State Department in Washington have maintained that the programme was not secret, but was a security measure meant to protect US embassies around the world.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley traced the origins of the surveillance programme to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, arguing that the it had become customary procedure.

“We have acknowledged that we have a programme around the world where we are alert for people who may be surveilling our embassies because we recognize that they are potential targets of terrorism,” he told reporters at a press briefing last week.

Nevertheless, Sweden’s chief prosecutor on security issues, Tomas Lindstrand, launched “a preliminary investigation of illegal intelligence activities” in order to assess whether the US embassy’s programme may have violated Swedish law in its efforts to “protect the US mission in Stockholm and American personnel”.

US embassy spokesperson Ryan Koch said he welcomed the Lindstrand’s decision to open a probe into the programme.

“The embassy is very open about this programme and we’re very willing to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office in any way we can,” he told The Local.

“We understand Swedish concerns and are trying to be as open as we can so we can clear up any misunderstandings.”

Earlier this week, the security services in both Norway and Denmark admitted they knew about the US embassy programmes in their respective countries prior to recent media reports.

The Social Democrats’ current foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin on Friday demanded that the government call a meeting of Sweden’s foreign policy council and explain the contents of the secret documents cited in DN’s report.

“Despite my requests that the opposition be informed about what every agency new regarding the surveillance, the government has instead leaked a document to a morning newspaper in which anonymous sources claim this and that,” Ahlin told TT.

He pointed out that he had repeatedly expressed his disbelief that no Swedish government agency knew about a US embassy programme which had apparently been in place for so many years.

“In the Riksdag’s justice committee Beatrice Ask explained that no Swedish authorities know about this. You’d think that the justice minister should have checked with the foreign ministry before she said that,” said Ahlin.

However, Ahlin had no comment on the fact that the documents ended up at the foreign ministry under a Social Demcrat-led government.

“I don’t know what the documents are about of if there was any reason for those who were responsible to act,” he said.

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ESPIONAGE

US ‘used Danish surveillance system’ to spy on Merkel and Nordic allies

The United States spied on top politicians in Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from 2012 to 2014 with the help of Danish data cables, Danish and European media reported on Sunday.

US 'used Danish surveillance system' to spy on Merkel and Nordic allies
German Chancellor Angela Merkel using her mobile phone in 2015. File photo: Odd Andersen/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish broadcaster DR said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish internet cables 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 defence ministry has not responded to AFP’s requests for a comment.

Defence Minister Trine Bramsen, who took over the defence 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 authorised the US to use its surveillance system to spy on its neighbours.

The Norwegian and Swedish defence ministers last night demanded an explanation from the Danish government and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück called the issue a “scandal”.

The French government said in Monday that the reports alleging that the US spied on top politicians in Europe with the help of Danish intelligence are “extremely serious” if proven.

“It is extremely serious, we need to see if our partners in the EU, the Danes, have committed errors or faults in their cooperation with American services,” Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Info radio.

He added it would also be very serious if it turned out Washington had been spying on EU leaders.

“Between allies, there must be trust, a minimal cooperation, so these potential facts are serious,” said the minister.

He said the facts must first “be verified” and then “conclusions drawn in terms of cooperation.”

“This is not something that should be played down,” Beaune said, while acknowledging that similar allegations had emerged back in 2013 that the United States had spied on Merkel.

“We are not in some kind of cuddly world so this kind of behaviour can unfortunately happen,” he said.

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

German Chancellor Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Steinbrück 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, DR 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.

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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 11th, 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 defence industries from 2012 to 2015.

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