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US spy suspect wife of Swedish ministry insider

The Stockholm woman charged in the US with conspiracy to commit espionage for Cuba is married to a Swedish foreign ministry official, Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Utrikesdepartementet) confirmed on Friday.

US spy suspect wife of Swedish ministry insider

The woman, a former State Department employee now living in Sweden, was charged on Thursday, and news of her husband’s identity surfaced on Friday.

The acts of espionage were carried out while the two were married.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Charlotta Ozaki Macías confirmed that the ministry had been aware of the case for years.

“The Foreign Ministry official with a connection to the case is not guilty of criminal activity,” she told the TT news agency.

The Swedish man remains in service at the ministry.

In a statement, US justice officials said that the woman, 55-year-old Marta Rita Velazquez, allegedly helped to “spot, assess and recruit US citizens” in sensitive national security positions to serve as Cuban intelligence agents.

A native of Puerto Rico with an Ivy League education, Velazquez worked for the US State Department’s international development arm USAID from 1989 until 2002 when she left the country and never returned, the Justice Department said.

A grand jury returned an indictment against her in February 2004, but it remained sealed until it was opened Thursday in US District Court in Washington.

The Justice Department said Velazquez, also known as “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara,” is currently living in Stockholm, but its statement made no mention of any request to Sweden for her extradition.

Velazquez, a Swedish citizen, faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Sweden has not received any requests to extradite the woman to the US, according to Per Claréus, press secretary to Justice Minister Beatrice Ask.

He told TT that if the US was to send an extradition request, it would be refused.

TT/AFP/The Local/og

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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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