The NSA helped the Defense Intelligence Service (DE) to build a data center on Amager to house a new, top-secret spy system, DR News learns.
By Niels Fastrup , Lisbeth Quass , Henrik Moltke , Mads Korsager Nielsen and Lasse Lindegaard
Sep 24 at 06:00
The Defense Intelligence Service (FE) collects targeted information about Danes.
This is one of the startling conclusions in the four-volume long and deeply confidential statement that the Danish Spy Inspectorate, the Danish Intelligence Service , recently submitted to Minister of Defense Trine Bramsen (S).
DR Nyheder experiences that the report describes in detail why, according to the audit, these are not purely coincidental findings when FE, in collaboration with the American intelligence service NSA,fishes information out of Danish cablesand obtains information about Danes and Danish companies in the network.
Thus, FE may have violated one of the clear rules that apply to the Danish military and foreign intelligence service: FE is only set in the world to protect Denmark from external threats and to safeguard Danish interests abroad. FE may therefore only come into possession of Danish information by chance.
Previously, it has only been stated that the Authority had found indications that FE had acted in violation of the law by, among other things, obtaining information about Danes, but the case may be far more serious, assesses professor of constitutional law at the University of Copenhagen Jens Elo Rytter .
- If FE purposefully collects data about persons who belong to Denmark, then it is contrary to the law to which FE is subject, he says.
New advanced spy system
The alleged illegal collection of Danish information has taken place through a newer, extremely advanced spy system that has a special internal code name in FE. DR News knows the code name, but has chosen not to bring it.
The spy system makes it possible to suck up huge amounts of text messages, phone calls, pictures, chat conversations and internet communication from Danish fiber cables and store the large amounts of raw data.
Weekendavisen and Berlingske have in recent weeks described an old intelligence collaboration between Denmark and the United States, which was allegedly approved at government level by the then Social Democratic Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen back in the 1990s.
But according to DR News' information, in recent years there has been such a drastic technological upgrade of the collaboration that it is actually a completely new spy system, which has only been operational for a short number of years.
- Before, you could listen a little here and a little there. With this system, the gate was opened. Only challenge was to find a container that was large enough to collect everything that spilled out, says a source.
- The collaboration is 'one of a kind'. FE has no other collaborations like that, says another source.
FACTS Therefore, we do not bring the names of the sources
• Due to the sensitive nature of the case, the sources have commented on condition of anonymity.
• DR News also omits the names of the FE managers who are not publicly known. As it has not been determined whether they have done anything illegal, DR News has chosen to only bring the names of the top executives, which the Ministry of Defense has confirmed.
NSA employees have helped Denmark with the technology
According to DR News' information, work on building the advanced spy system began in the wake of the fact that in 2008 FE got a new head of procurement, a senior officer who came from the army. The officer in question is one of the current and former FE chiefs who has been repatriated as a result of the scandal .
After the acquisition manager took over, there has been a long phase where NSA employees have frequently traveled to Denmark and helped FE build the necessary hardware and install the required software.
According to DR News' information, NSA technicians have, among other things, been involved in building an entire data center at Sandagergård at the southern tip of Amager, from where FE controls much of the service's work with electronic retrieval. The data center is specifically built to house the spy system in question, DR News learns .
According to DR News' information, the spy system was taken into use at some point between 2012 and 2014. The then FE chief, Thomas Ahrenkiel, has signed an independent agreement - a so-called memorandum of understanding - which forms the basis for cooperation between FE and NSA specific spy system, DR News learns .
Thomas Ahrenkiel was head of FE from 2010 to 2015 and is also among the bosses sent home today.
US spyware is used by FE
At the heart of the new and advanced spy system is American technology, which has previously been described by the media in light of whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations of the NSA's mass surveillance.
The intelligence services identify a quantity of data that may be interesting, after which they "mirror" or "suck" the light that whizzes through the fiber-optic cables that form the backbone of the Internet.
In this way, they can copy huge amounts of so-called metadata as well as text messages, chat conversations, phone calls, mail communication and more and according to sources send it on to the data center at Sandagergård.
In addition to Danish internet traffic, the cable from which communication data is retrieved also contains, among other things, Russian communication.
This helps to explain the intelligence services' interest in accessing the cable's content and the NSA's interest in cooperating with the FE, says postdoc at the Center for Military Studies Tobias Liebetrau, who from 2013 to 2015 worked for the Center for Cyber Security under the Defense Intelligence Service .
- Denmark and the USA are close allies in terms of our common NATO alliance, and we have been together in war in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans , but Denmark is also interesting due to its geographical location and some of the cables that run through Denmark , and which of course gives the NSA access to partly Russian and probably also German internet traffic, he says.
According to DR News' information, employees in both intelligence services have the opportunity to search the enormous amounts of raw data in the data center, including the Danish ones.
According to DR News' information, the FE and NSA here use the spyware XKeyscore to select and search data from the cable. Xkeyscore was mentioned in several media in 2013 on the basis of confidential NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
It has previously been reported that the NSA has shared the spy program with several countries in an attempt to build a global spy network. However, it is new that Danish FE has also gained access to and used Xkeyscore.
It is not yet clear exactly how and to what extent the intelligence services have processed and possibly used the Danish information.
Intelligence researcher Tobias Liebetrau believes that it is not unusual for the NSA to help close collaborators to gain access to data themselves.
- But from a Danish perspective, it is more unusual. It is probably only the NSA that we have that type of collaboration with, and that we allow to get so close to, he says.
Filters were to sort Danes out
According to DR News' information, FE has for some time been trying to develop a number of filters to ensure that information about Danish citizens and companies is sorted out and not made searchable via Xkeyscore in the data center.
This is to ensure that the FE and NSA through the spy system do not have access to purposefully spy on Danes, Danish companies and persons domiciled in Denmark, which is basically prohibited for the military intelligence services , unless it is done on the basis of a court order.
According to constitutional law expert Jens Elo Rytter from the University of Copenhagen, it is about ensuring citizens' legal security as well as possible:
- In our type of society, a democratic state governed by the rule of law, we consider the privacy of the individual citizen to be important. And if it is circumvented through intelligence cooperation and the collection of raw data, then it is a major problem for the individual's privacy.