Denmark accuses Russia, China, Iran of espionage threat

"The threat from foreign intelligence activities against Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands has increased in recent years," Denmark's counterintelligence chief said.

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Reuters - January 13, 2022
Denmark’s national flag flutters in Copenhagen, Denmark, October 22, 2019. (Andreas Mortensen / Reuters File Photo)

COPENHAGEN — Denmark warned on Thursday of a rising espionage threat from Russia, China, Iran and others, including in the Arctic.

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service said there had been numerous examples of attempted spying on Denmark, whose active global role had helped make it a tempting target.

“The threat from foreign intelligence activities against Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands has increased in recent years,” Anders Henriksen, head of counterintelligence at the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, said in a report.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands are sovereign territories under the Kingdom of Denmark and also members of the Arctic Council forum. Copenhagen handles most of their foreign and security matters.

The report cited a 2019 incident of a forged letter purporting to be from Greenland’s foreign minister to a U.S. senator saying an independence referendum was in the offing.

“It is highly likely that the letter was fabricated and shared on the Internet by Russian influence agents, who wanted to create confusion and a possible conflict between Denmark, the USA and Greenland,” it said.

Russian denial

In an email to Reuters, Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Vladimir Barbin, dismissed the allegation regarding the letter as false.

He linked the broader charges against Russia to a spy scandal in which the United States allegedly used a partnership with Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit to spy on senior officials of neighboring countries, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Barbin said the allegations “should be solely considered as an operation to cover up the scandal with the Danish authorities having provided the U.S. National Security Agency with access to communication cables that run through Danish territory.”

The Arctic has increasing geopolitical importance, with Russia, China and the United States eyeing changes in access to natural resources, sea lanes, research and militarily strategic areas.

The Danish report also said foreign intelligence services — including from China, Russia and Iran — were trying to make contact with students, researchers and companies to harness information on Danish technology and research.

Reuters found in November that a Chinese professor at the University of Copenhagen conducted genetic research with the Chinese military without disclosing the connection.

Thursday’s report said NATO member Denmark’s active international role, the openness of its society and high levels of technological knowledge all served to make it “an attractive target of foreign intelligence activities.”

Neither the Chinese nor Iranian embassy responded to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard.