A former Danish defence minister has been charged with disclosing state secrets as part of a growing intelligence scandal in the Scandinavian country over US spying using data provided by Denmark.
Claus Hjort Frederiksen, defence minister from 2016 until 2019, said on Friday that he had been charged under a section of the country’s criminal code that includes treason, and carries a maximum punishment of 12 years in jail.
This follows his comments in various local media in 2020 and last year about a longstanding agreement Denmark allegedly had with the US over wiretapping, allowing Washington to use Danish data to spy on other countries and politicians.
“I have expressed myself as a member of parliament in a political case, and I have nothing further to add at present. But I could never dream of doing anything that could harm Denmark or Denmark’s interests,” Frederiksen said in a statement issued through his centre-right Liberal party on Friday. Prosecutors have declined to comment.
His charging comes only days after local media revealed that Lars Findsen, head of Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit and a former head of its security services, has been in jail for the past month, charged with leaking classified material.
The sweeping scandal is still largely shrouded in mystery as authorities have said almost nothing publicly about their investigation, but analysts in Denmark say the briefings and leaks over alleged US involvement increasingly threatens the country’s international reputation.
Findsen, the only man to have headed both Denmark’s intelligence services, decried the charges against him as “insane” and said he would plead not guilty, according to Danish journalists present at the court hearing.
Danish authorities said in December that they had charged three current or former intelligence officials alongside Findsen for leaking confidential information, but the exact charges and the secrets alleged to have been disclosed have not been made public.
Danish media reported in 2020 that the US National Security Agency spied on world leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel using data from Danish internet cables under an agreement with Denmark’s secret services.
Frederiksen then told various Danish media that Denmark had entered the partnership under US president Bill Clinton. “Now I have to be careful about what I say, otherwise I risk prison,” he told TV2 last December.
Defence minister Trine Bramsen suspended Findsen from duty in 2020 after the Danish inspectorate of intelligence services found his agency had withheld information from the regulator. Frederiksen criticised the decision and argued it would hurt US confidence in Danish intelligence.
Jacob Kaarsbo, a former Danish intelligence official, told TV2: “The more times the leaked information is repeated the worse it is. It is deeply harmful the more people help confirm details about the co-operation between the US and Denmark.”
Danish media have also carried other stories using leaked information, including how a Danish citizen convicted of having joined Isis in Syria claimed to be an agent of the intelligence services; and how the government did not listen to security services’ assessment about the risks of leaving Danish women and children in Syrian refugee camps.
Source: Financial Times