Intelligence agency’s destruction of files comes into question

A new document has surfaced suggesting that PET has destroyed historical public records against protocol

A 1965 document newly unearthed by Information newspaper indicates that domestic intelligence agency Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET) was obliged to preserve individual files on persons that have been prominent figures within the political, cultural, financial and administrative realms. However, up until 1998 when new rules were instituted, PET had been destroying files that may have had significant historical value.

In 2009, the PET commission revealed that the agency had been shredding the contents of files on several high profile persons, including three of Denmark’s former prime ministers – Jens Otto Krag (Socialdemokraterne), Anker Jørgensen (Socialdemokraterne) and Poul Hartling (Venstre) – and the current minister of business, Ole Sohn (Socialistisk Folkeparti), who was also the head of the Danish Communist Party in the 1980’s.

Due to the recent media focus on the shredding of the politicians' files, PET sent an explanation to the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), assuring him that the shredding of files has proceeded according to approved guidelines and regulations.

However, PET explained that it has not been prioritising the assessment of information consisting of historical value, saying that the collection of sensitive information purely occurs in order to support PET’s work and not for other reasons, such as documentation or research.

At issue is also the fact that PET have been using lawyers to determine whether or not information was of historical relevance, rather than a public records keeper, something Peer Henrik Hansen, a museum inspector and historian specialising in intelligence activity, found disturbing.

“You would never have a historian assess the legal ramifications of an indictment of espionage,” Hansen told Information newspaper. “That illustrates to me that PET are considering other avenues, and not the ones concerning the preservation of historically valued information.”

But the former minister of justice, Ole Espersen (Socialdemokraterne), sided with PET, saying that in the interest of protecting citizens, intelligence work should be prioritised over historical relevance.

“My principle opinion has always been the more you shred, the better,” Espersen told Information. “The purpose of PET is not to contribute to historical research but to keep the country safe.”

Syddansk University professor of constitutional law, Pernille Boye Koch, however, suspects PET of destroying files for other reasons.

“It seems problematic that it is PET, and PET alone, that has had the power to assess whether or not a file should be kept due to historical reasons,” Koch told Information. “It is clear that PET should be evaluating cases involving intelligence, but one has to question whether the agency has the competencies to assess the historical value of cases.”

According to the document sent by the state public records keeper to PET on 17 December 1965, there were five scenarios in which PET was not to destroy files of historical significance:

  1. Reports created by PET or others concerning standard political relationships or containing the reflections of considerations of a more ordinary character.
  2. Espionage cases from before World War II.
  3. Criminal files concerning espionage cases that are borrowed from the police commissioner’s office. When these files are returned, the public records keeper will decide whether or not they should be transferred to the respective national archives.
  4. Individual files concerning persons that have had a prominent political, cultural, financial or administrative position.
  5. Individual files concerning persons that are connected to the occupation era of WW2

The current rules stipulate that PET must shred personal files that have been inactive for ten years unless the files are deemed to be of historic value.

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