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Espionage

The espionage threat to Denmark and Danish interests abroad presents our society with a number of significant political, security and economic challenges.

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In recent years, PET has uncovered several cases showing that a number of foreign states are actively carrying out intelligence activities against Denmark. The authorities in other western countries have uncovered similar cases.

 

These intelligence activities include espionage, foreign interference, harassment, attempted illegal procurement of products, technology and knowledge and, in special cases, assassination attempts. Methods and targets vary depending on the country behind the activities. 

 

The threat primarily emanates from Russia, China and Iran, but other states have also carried out intelligence activities in Denmark. The threat picture also applies to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. 

 

The threat from foreign state intelligence activities targeting Denmark has grown more serious. As a result, PET has intensified its counterintelligence efforts in recent years. 

 

As part of our intensified efforts, we published our first overall assessment of the current espionage threat to Denmark in 2021.

 

Danish espionage targets 

Foreign states primarily carry out their intelligence activities to further their political, military and economic position, and Denmark is an attractive target of foreign intelligence activities because of its active role on the international stage and its membership of international organizations such as the EU, NATO and the UN. Furthermore, as Denmark is a world leader within some technology and research areas, it is attractive to gain access to these areas. Finally, matters pertaining to the Arctic and the North Atlantic regions attract increasing attention.

 

PET has established that politicians, officials, staff at intelligence services, the Danish Defence and companies, researchers, students, refugees and dissidents are regularly the targets of foreign state intelligence activities against Denmark and the Danish Realm. Danish interests abroad, such as Danish diplomatic representations and Danish delegations visiting foreign destinations, are also exposed to espionage. 

 

Among other things, foreign intelligence services are interested in obtaining information on negotiation positions, cooperative relations, key individuals and meeting activities.

The Arctic and the North Atlantic regions are espionage targets

China, Russia, the USA and a number of European countries increasingly have geostrategic, security policy and economic ambitions in the Arctic and the North Atlantic regions. Geographically, the Faroe Islands and Greenland are positioned in areas of strategic importance to vessels, submarines and planes passing through the Arctic and the North Atlantic regions. Greenland is home to the US Thule Air Base, which is a key component of the US missile warning and missile defence system. In addition, the superpowers have an interest in the underground resources of Greenland.

 

On this backdrop, PET assess that there is a threat from both Chinese and Russian intelligence services, especially in the form of influence and espionage activities, for instance via cyberattacks, against some Danish, Faroese and Greenlandic public authorities, decision-makers, companies and research institutions. PET assesses that China and Russia are interested in collecting information on military, political and economic matters, the Danish Realm and the positions of its constituent parts as regards international negotiations and research of military, political or economic importance. In addition, China and Russia are interested in complicating the positions of the USA and other western states in the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

How do foreign intelligence services spy on us? 

Foreign intelligence services generally deploy intelligence officers who often work under cover of being diplomats, journalists, researchers etc. They are trained in selecting and building rapport with individuals who can generally give them access to classified and sensitive information. Intelligence officers may often find information on social media about an individual’s work, family relations, leisure activities etc. Intelligence officers may use this knowledge to make the first contact with individuals who may be interesting sources to recruit.

 

Foreign intelligence services also use cyberattacks to a considerable extent in an attempt to gain access to information from Danish authorities, educational institutions, companies and private individuals. Cyberespionage is attractive in many respects, because the risk relating to this type of espionage is low, it can often be performed from the home country, and it barely leaves any visible traces.

 

Foreign intelligence services continuously develop their capability to intercept telecommunications and data traffic. These capabilities include monitoring of electronic communications such as mobile phone conversations, texts, emails and radio communications.

Why is espionage harmful?

It is detrimental to Denmark’s and the Danish Realm’s security and freedom of action when foreign intelligence services gain access to classified and sensitive information. 

 

If the information concerns our relations with other countries, it may be used against us and the countries with which we cooperate. Espionage against companies and research institutions may impair our competitiveness and lead to a loss of revenues, jobs and prestige in the long term.

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