Massive Intelligence Agency Scandal Rocks Denmark as Spy Chief Detained over Alleged 'Highly Classified' Information Leaks
[Translated from Danish]
It is unparalleled in history at home, and even in an international context, it is extremely spectacular: the head of the intelligence service has been arrested and has been in custody for a month.
This is the head of the Defense Intelligence Service, Lars Findsen.
The 57-year-old spy chief was arrested on December 8, 2021 and has since been in custody. There has been a name ban in the case, which is why Politiken and other media have been barred from telling the public about the spectacular fact that a spy chief has been sent to prison, but the Copenhagen City Court has this morning lifted the name ban.
Therefore, it is now allowed to tell that Lars Findsen has spent Christmas and New Year behind bars, because the Police Intelligence Service (PET) and the prosecution accuse him of revealing some of the state's deepest secrets. The spy chief has been under a lengthy interception, Politiken learns.
It is not only startling because Lars Findsen is formally still the top manager of FE, even though he has been exempted from service for a year and a half, but also because there are hardly any other people in Denmark who for decades have been entrusted with more secrets than he is.
The law-educated official was appointed head of the PET shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. In 2007 he became head of department in the Ministry of Defense, and in 2015 he then took over the chair of the Defense Intelligence Service (FE). Lars Findsen is the only person ever who has been head of both Denmark's intelligence services.
Lars Findsen has therefore had a permanent seat on the Government's Security Committee for two decades, where the state's deepest secrets are discussed. Now he is in jail because he is accused of revealing some of those secrets.
Lars Findsen was dressed in a dark suit and white shirt when he entered Copenhagen City Court on Monday at 10 o'clock and nodded smiling towards the audience with a "hello".
It is still limited what the media can and must tell about the background of the charges against Lars Findsen. Even though the name ban has been lifted, the Copenhagen City Court has at today's court hearing chosen that the case should continue to be heard behind double closed doors.
However, Lars Findsen himself would like to be open about the matter. Before the doors to the court were closed, he addressed the journalists present directly.
"I want the charges brought forward and I plead not guilty," he said before the doors were closed due to "crucial considerations of foreign powers and the enlightenment of the case," as the judge put it.
Although the case has been embalmed in secret, it is clear that it is PET that has investigated the case, which in addition to Lars Findsen includes three other former and current employees from both PET and FE. The other three are at large, but are still charged in the case.
PET has not said much other than that the case is based on a 'lengthy investigation'. In other words, PET has for the longest time kept an eye on employees both from its own organization and with the spy colleagues in FE - including Lars Findsen, who has previously also been head of PET. In the court books one can see that at least one of the accused has been under observation. In addition, several searches have been made in the case.
The four men are all suspected of "unjustifiably passing on highly classified information from the intelligence services". They are charged under section 109 (1) of the Criminal Code. 1, which is about revealing "the state's secret negotiations, deliberations or decisions" with foreign states. It is a section that has not been in use for more than 40 years, and we are in the part of the law that deals with treason, espionage and other illegal intelligence activities. The penalty is up to 12 years in prison.
Because the case is running behind closed doors, it has not been disclosed what confidential information the persons in question are charged with leaking. But events outside the courtroom point in the direction of which cases it is about:
In December, PET chief Finn Borch Andersen and acting FE chief Svend Larsen visited Danish media directors and editors-in-chief to remind them that the media also risks being punished under section 109 if they pass on the leaked confidential information.
Weekendavisen's editor-in-chief Martin Krasnik has said that the two spy chiefs mentioned three specific cases for him: One is the case of the Dane Ahmed Samsam, who was convicted of terrorism in Spain, but who according to Berlingske was actually sent on a mission as an agent for the Danish intelligence services . Another case is Ekstra Bladet's coverage - which was honored with the Cavling Prize on Friday - of the situation for Danish women and children in Syrian prison camps. Finally, there is the case of Denmark's cooperation with the American surveillance service National Security Agency (NSA), which a number of media have described in detail.
All three cases are based in part on confidential information, and last week at least eight journalists from various media, who have covered, among other things, the three cases, were invited for questioning by the police.
Acquitted by Commission
The case of FE's collaboration with the NSA in particular has filled the media for the past year and a half.
This is due to the fact that the Danish Intelligence Service issued an explosive press release in August 2020, in which the independent control body made historically harsh accusations against FE. Five chiefs of the spy service, including Lars Findsen, were sent home, and a secret commission headed by three district judges was set to undermine the accusations that FE had led the inspection behind the light and had exposed Danes to an unjustified risk of surveillance in connection with it. close cooperation with the NSA.
After a year of scrutiny, the FE Commission in December 2021 came to a clear conclusion: The repatriated employees were purely acquitted, and the Commission found no reason to criticize them or the FE as such.
The commission's acquittal was announced on Monday 13 December - the same day as the Supreme Court ruling against Inger Støjberg - so the otherwise very startling conclusion did not throw front pages. In connection with the publication of the Commission's conclusions, the Ministry of Defense issued a press release stating that the Ministry would now continue the dialogue with the staff who had been repatriated while the Commission investigation was underway.
"Based on the conclusions, the criticism in the Authority's special investigation will no longer prevent them from serving at the FE," the Ministry of Defense wrote.
The ministry failed to mention that PET had five days earlier been out to arrest the spy chief's chief Lars Findsen. It is not clear whether the government already knew on December 8, when Findsen was arrested, that the commission was on its way with a report which acquitted him of all charges.
Politiken has asked the Ministry of Defense how the dialogue with the repatriated FE employees is going after the acquittal, and whether Lars Findsen is still head of FE. The ministry does not want to answer that.
Today's court hearing is about whether Lars Findsen will continue to be remanded in custody in the case. The city court will decide later in the day.