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A scandal of great dimensions has lurked beneath the surface in Danish intelligence for weeks.
Now, it is disclosed and out in the open.
The head of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS), Lars Johan Findsen, who has been suspended for almost a year and a half, was arrested on December 8 2021. He has been charged with allegedly leaking »highly classified information from the intelligence services« to the press.
The following day, Lars Johan Findsen was taken into custody following a preliminary statutory hearing behind »double-closed doors« – meaning that both the public, including journalists, must not be present. Here, the court further ruled on a name ban, according to court documents from the Copenhagen Court House.
The press has therefore – until now – been prevented from describing this sensational arrest.
However, during a hearing Monday morning regarding the extension of custody of Lars Johan Findsen, the ban on mentioning the DDIS-chief's name in connection with the case was lifted following a request from his lawyer.
The public prosecutor had no comments to that effect.
The arrest of Lars Johan Findsen is unprecedented. Sure, the former head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (DSIS), Jakob Scharf, was charged with revealing and sharing classified and confidential information in a book about his seven years in office. However, Scharf was charged under a significantly milder section of the Danish penal code.
Risking 12 years behind bars
Lars Johan Findsen – one of Denmark's top spy chiefs – is charged under section 109, one of the harshest parts of the penal code, chapter 12 on crimes against the state, which can result in up to 12 years in prison.
»Anyone who reveals or discloses the state's secret negotiations, deliberations or decisions in cases where the security or rights of the state in relation to other states depend.«
A total of four current and former employees of the two intelligence services, DDIS and DSIS, were arrested on December 8.
The following day, Lars Johan Findsen and two other men were arraigned in a preliminary statutory hearing behind double-closed doors.
Essential details from the case were in that way hidden from the public, thus raising a number of questions.
What are the three men each suspected of having done? Which of the cases, which Danish media in the recent years have described based on anonymous sources, does the public prosecutor believe the men have disclosed information about to the press? What evidence are the suspicions based on?
The fourth of the arrested intelligence employees was released before the preliminary statutory hearing.
Suspended, arrested, acquitted
At the time of the arrest in Copenhagen Airport on December 8, Lars Johan Findsen had been suspended from his job as head of DDIS for almost a year and a half.
In the summer of 2020, the Danish Intelligence Oversight Board (DIOB) submitted a report with a number of serious suspicions. Among other things:
That in the case of »central parts of the DDIS’s collection capacities ‘there are risks that collection may be unjustifiably carried out against Danish citizens’; that DDIS has unjustifiably processed information about an employee in the DIOB; that DDIS has withheld information from the DIOB; and 'that there is an unsuitable culture of legality in DDIS’s management and parts of the service'.
Danish Minister of Defence, Trine Bramsen, had already suspended Lars Findsen and two other senior employees when the DIOB issued the sensational press release.
Like Berlingske and other media have uncovered since the summer of 2020 about the Danish intelligence services, the criticism from DIOB concerned a top-secret collaboration with the American National Security Agency (NSA) on tapping data from submarine cables, which in Denmark connect Eastern and Western Europe.
In light of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden's previous revelations of the NSA's mass surveillance programs, it was also not unimaginable that there could be some truths behind the suspicions from DIOB.
The Danish Parliament, led by Minister of Defence Trine Bramsen, therefore set up the so-called DDIS-Commission, which consisted of three Danish high court judges from the Western High Court, who were given the task of examining the criticisms from DIOB.
Their conclusion arrived on December 13, and in the four-page long public summary of the Commission's classified report, DDIS is acquitted on all counts.
Thus, the suspended intelligence chiefs were free to return to their work, the Ministry of Defence said:
»Based on the conclusions, the criticism in DIOB's special investigation will no longer prevent them from serving at DDIS and – in agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for one of those concerned – as ambassador, to the extent they may wish.«
At that time, head of DDIS, Lars Johan Findsen, had been behind bars for a week.
Translation by Signe Westermann Kühn