COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The man who has headed both of Denmark’s intelligence agencies at different times has been detained for over a month on suspicion of “disclosing highly classified information from the intelligence services,” a Danish court has revealed.
The revelation has sparked speculation that Lars Findsen was considered too open toward the media.
Four suspects with Denmark’s two intelligence agencies — two from each — were detained. Three have since been released while Findsen remains in pre-trial custody. His name had been protected by a court-ordered ban, but that was removed on Monday.
Findsen headed the domestic security service, known by its Danish acronym PET, from 2002 to 2007. He then headed the foreign intelligence service, known as FE, from 2015 until he was suspended in August 2020 after an independent watchdog heavily criticized the spy agency for deliberately withholding information and violating laws in Denmark.
Writing in the Politiken newspaper on Tuesday, the former operative head for PET questioned whether Findsen had done anything wrong.
Hans Joergen Bonnichsen described Findsen as “the person in Denmark, and probably also internationally, who has the deepest insight into the soul, means and methods of the intelligence service.”
Bonnichsen said Findsen made “the largest turnaround process in PET’s history. We created a modern organization with greater openness about the work of the service, with a website, annual report, meetings were held with the press and interviews were given.
“I find it infinitely difficult to see that such a profile has a motive for national harm, but let the process determine this,” Bonnichsen wrote.
Details about Findsen’s detention are shrouded in secrecy and because of the sensitivity of the case his defense lawyer cannot talk. It is not known whether his arrest is linked to his earlier suspension.
A custody hearing was held Monday behind closed doors in Copenhagen and extended Findsen’s detention until Feb. 4.
His defense lawyer decried the fact that not even the preliminary charge, allowing him to be held while the investigation goes on, was known. In Denmark, preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges.
“We do not understand the background for this secrecy” Lars Kjeldsen said.
Findsen himself told reporters in court on Monday: ”I want the preliminary charge brought forward, and I plead not guilty. This is completely insane.”
Opposition lawmakers expressed fears that the detention of a top intelligence official may harm the agencies’ contacts with foreign partners.
“We need to be assured that we can trust that the cooperation with other countries is complete,” Peter Skaarup, the populist Danish People’s Party’s legal affairs spokesman, told Danish broadcaster DR.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Eva Flyvholm, the defense and foreign affairs spokeswoman for the left-wing Unity List, said it wants the Social Democratic government to give lawmakers a briefing on the case.
Danish newspapers splashed Findsen’s detention news across their fronts.
The Jyllands-Posten daily wrote in an editorial that “Denmark’s security and credibility stand to become the big loser” no matter how the case ends and that it “undoubtedly must trigger the question: What is rotten in Denmark?”
“Either (Denmark) is in the process of destroying its own intelligence services by bringing an unfounded case against the FE boss, or Denmark has had a spy chief who has undermined the kingdom’s security. Both are, to put it mildly, frightening and deeply harmful to Denmark,” Politiken wrote.