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2000 02 11 * Ekstra Bladet * Where the spies are listening * Bo Elkjaer, Kenan Seeberg

Take a walk with us through the most secretive secrets of the FE (the Intelligence Agency of the Danish Armed Forces)

 

The_Big_Ear
The Big Ear: Sandagergaard, Denmark.
The location of the danish military
intelligence FEs SIGINT site.

Reynard the fox scurries through the tall grass like a bright red dolphin in hot water. We scared him out of hiding and he quickly disappears toward a low thicket. An idyllic scene of untouched nature. Tall grass below, blue sky above - and totally calm all around. In front of us lies a group of buildings which in recent days has received an unusually large amount of attention - a lot more that they care to get over there in the low buildings. We are at Aflandshage south of Copenhagen and the facilities named Sandagergaard are a listening post of Denmark's FE.

But whom is it monitoring today?

We are walking toward the surveillance center when we startle the fox. Reynard is the only living creature we have met on our way. Before we go any further we should tell the reader: We make fascinating discoveries on our foray into the very core of this top secret installation. But first we must tell you what it is that is located at Aflandshage.

Nothing less than a gigantic surveillance industry, secretly constructed by the FE over 50 years of cooperation with the two US agencies, the CIA and the NSA (National Security Agency). A surveillance industry that has not decreased in intensity, mind you, since Cold War ended ten years ago. Quite the contrary. They are in the process of installing new facilities out there. But we're jumping the gun.

 

THE BASTARD CHILD

Before we go any further let us establish the fact that Denmark participates in the global surveillance system known today as UKUSA, and known in the press as Echelon. This participation started in deepest secrecy back in 1947 when second in command of the FE at that time, Commander P.A. Mørch, initiated an informal surveillance collaboration with the OSS, (later known as the CIA).

The agreement was that the Americans were to supply the equipment free of charge. Denmark's payment was to allow a large American ear to listen in on everything that was intercepted by Denmark's FE agents. In 1950, the informal agreement was formalized in the shadow of the NATO alliance - the final details were negotiated by Commander Finn Haugsted.

The agreement was approved by then Minister of Defense Rasmus 'Jetfighter' Hansen on the basis of discussions between Commander Mørch and Rasmus Hansen over a box of cigars. In his memoirs, Commander Mørch refers to Denmark's surveillance agency as 'the Social Democrat's Child'.

 

NEW MASTS

Today, the Social Democratic party has declared open enmity to its child. Repeatedly. The Social Democratic Minister of Justice Frank Jensen has denied any knowledge of Echelon on several occasions. Minister of Defense Hans Hækkerup (Social Democrat) publicly denies any knowledge of Echelon, and the now former Minister of Research Jan Trøjborg (Social Democrat) - responsible for Denmark's telecommunications - also denies having any knowledge of this enormous surveillance system. They have repeated their denials to several committees of the Danish parliament. But part of the system they know nothing about is located on the southern tip of the island of Amager, just south of Copenhagen.

Approaching on foot across the overgrown meadow towards the barricade, the first thing to come into view is a gigantic mast structure laid out in a circle. This is commonly referred to as a 'Pusher' system, a High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) system which can be used to find radio signals. The Pusher system is an exact replica of the facilities used by the NSA in England and Germany. Over by the buildings stands a gigantic white 'golf ball' and a small green one. A large part of the secret facilities are located inside these two domes. The enormous white dome is interesting, since it can be proven that it was built after 1992 - almost three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The proof that it was built after 1992 is ironically found on photos taken by a Russian spy satellite. On 19 May 1992, Aflandshage was overflown and photographed in clear weather by a satellite from SovinformSputnik. The picture is freely accessible today on the Internet.

The resolution of the spy photo is one and a half meters. This large white golf ball would have been easy to spot if it had been there. It wasn't. But today we're standing six meters away from it. Separated only by a barbed-wire fence.

 

AMERICAN COMPUTERS

A low humming sound emanates from the enormous white dome. Behind it is a power plant, and beside it is a terminal for two large pumping plants. We trample the grass outside the fence as we try to look in through the darkened panes in the building beside it. Only the mosquitoes are moving out here. A dismantled and discarded mast system lies beside the fence. After walking a couple of hundred meters along the outside the barricade, we come to some newly-erected storage buildings.

On the approach road outside the storage buildings we find some interesting refuse piles. At the bottom of one them is the lid of a giant, discarded IBM mainframe computer. The orange IBM lid is one by two meters. The American-made IBM computer dates from the 1980's and was one of the largest in existence back then. A container next to it is filled with a variety of discarded computer equipment which demonstrate that the FE has also thrown out equipment that was newer than the old giant computer.

The discarded papers and scraps of paper show that the FE uses equipment from the American computer firms Digital Equipment Corporation, Microsoft and Unisys. Discarded printouts reveal that the computer equipment was in all probability used to decipher intercepted codes. But the equipment has been thrown out. It is obvious that totally new and much more powerful systems have been installed. The freight boxes for the new computers lie scattered around the area.

 

SECURITY GUARD ARRIVES

"What are you doing here?"
A visibly nervous security guard disturbs our investigation. The man is obviously prepared for the worst. We shake hands with him.

Hello, we're from Ekstra Bladet. We're just on an outing to see what you're up to out here.

"I'm not allowed to say anything," says the black-uniformed security guard. "If you want a statement, please call Kastellet."

You mean call the FE? Are they in charge of this operation?
"Yes."

The guard of few words refuses to say anything else, but escorts us from the area. In this way we receive a guided - albeit silent - tour of the narrow winding asphalt road between the buildings and barracks fenced in by the barbed wire. We pass several large parking lots with parked cars and pass several small clusters of buildings. It resembles an entire industrial district. An entire surveillance industry.

 

THE POLICE ARRIVE

Several parabolic antennas are lying in storage along the road - one of them is used and has been taken down, and there are two new ones which haven't been installed yet - and we pass some brand new orange cable conduits and cable vaults that are also waiting to be installed. As we politely bid the security guard good-bye, we are able to conclude that something new is constantly under construction out here.

Exit Sandagergaard. As we stand outside discussing what to look at next, we are passed up by two police officers in a patrol car. They check our names and social security IDs. The two police officers were sent for by the Taarnby Police Station after the alarm went off at one point or another as we were walking along the fence.

"We always check it out whenever the alarm goes off. It goes off regularly," explains police officer Svend Kristensen who has been sent to the scene.

So there are automatic alarms in there that are linked up with Taarnby Police Station?
"Yes there are," says the officer before letting us continue on our way. Shortly after, we can see the two officers drive in to the surveillance center. They come out again fifteen minutes later.