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US Embassy under suspicion

A US memo shows that American embassies must monitor suspicious people in the vicinity of their properties.

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Justice Minister Lars Barfod has been called into Parliamentary Council following reports that a secret American data collection unit has been collating information on suspicious people in Norway, with fears that the same activity may be taking place in Denmark.

The Security Incident Management Analysis System (SIMAS) calls for extensive intelligence gathering on local human and vehicle activities in the vicinity of American properties abroad in order to counter possible or potential threats.

DOCUMENTATION: Read the US SIMAS memo here (external)

While a State Department official in Washington says that the activity has taken place with the full knowledge of local authorities, that does not appear to be the case in Norway. Both the former and current justice ministers in Norway have said they have been unaware that a 15-20 person Surveillance Detection Unit has been monitoring for SIMAS in the Norwegian capital for a decade.

It remains unclear whether the Norwegian Intelligence Service has been aware of the activity, although two previous heads of security, dating up to 2009, have said they were ‘surprised’ at the disclosures and had been unaware of what was going on.

Following the disclosures in Norway, Danish legal experts tell Politiken that a similar activity in Denmark would be illegal, although it remains unclear as to whether Danish consent has been sought and received and by whom.

“If something like this has taken place at an embassy in Denmark, that would be illegal intelligence activity,” says Criminal Law Professor Jørn Vestergaard, adding that the activity would be a breach of diplomatic rules.

Another legal expert, Professor Jens Vedsted, a former member of the Intelligence and Security Commissions, agrees; “If this has taken place without the consent of the Danish authorities, it is illegal.”

Former Head of the Danish Intelligence and Security Service (PET) Jørgen Bonnichsen says he is amazed.

“I have never heard of SIMAS. And if it’s true then it is clearly illegal intelligence activity in Denmark. PET, and only PET is allowed to operate on Danish soil,” Bonnichsen says.

The current head of PET Jakob Scharf has not wanted to comment on the issue but says in an e-mail that on principle his service does not comment on foreign embassy activities in Denmark, but: “If PET discovers illegal activities, we would of course take action”.

The Justice Ministry has not yet been able to disclose whether the US Embassy has been given permission to register Danish nationals in Denmark. The US Embassy has not wished to comment on the issue.

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