Historian cleared of libel for branding journalist a KGB agent

High court rules spying accusation was justified

The Eastern High Court has ruled that it was appropriate that a historian called former Information journalist George Dragsdahl an agent of the KGB.

Historian Bent Jensen was found innocent of libel in the unique case, the first in Denmark in which a historian has been prosecuted on the basis of a story written using previously classified material.

The ruling overturns a judgement handed down in 2010 by the district court in Svendborg, where Jensen was convicted of libelling Dragsdahl and ordered to pay him 200,000 kroner in damages.

The district court ruling focused on the fact that domestic intelligence agency PET had not found sufficient grounds to prosecute Dragsdahl in the 1980s when he was under suspicion of being a spy. The high court was not swayed by that argument however, and decided unanimously to dismiss the charges against Jensen and ordered Dragsdahl to pay 600,000 kroner in legal costs.

Declassified documents lead to charges
The court case began back in January 2007 when Jensen wrote an article in Jyllands-Posten newspaper in which he accused Dragsdahl of being a KGB agent during the Cold War.

The accusations were based on a series of declassified PET documents and case files on individuals that PET suspected of being KGB agents in Denmark.

Dragsdahl, who worked as a foreign correspondent for Information, was under PET surveillance for three years beginning in 1984. His phones were tapped, his mail was examined and his residence was bugged. The information gathered during this period is what led Jensen to finger Dragsdahl as a KGB agent.

Dragsdahl has always denied he was with the KGB, saying instead that he had fallen in love with a Russian woman and that his contact with the Russian KGB was part of his efforts to get her to Denmark.

During the proceedings it emerged that several former PET leaders were convinced that Dragsdahl was an 'impact agent ' controlled by the Soviet Union, whose role was to influence Denmark’s position on major Soviet issues.

Not the first time
The case mirrors another recent outing of a former journalist by a historian. Cold War historian Thomas Wegener Friis caused a stir last year when he claimed to have uncovered the identity of a Danish man that he said was involved in “serious cases” of subversive activities and espionage against Denmark. Per Michaelsen, a former journalist for Ekstra Bladet, was named as the person who collaborated with the Stasi during the Cold War period.

Politiken newspaper reported that in 2009 both Friis and a senior German investigator looking into Stasi activities had marvelled that Michaelsen was able to publish the names and aliases of Danish agents and officers working in the Stasi two years before that information was available in the Stasi’s own massive pile of paperwork.

The 70-year-old Michaelsen vehemently denied he was a spy.

“No,” he wrote to Politiken. “I would have been the wrong person to go to. I was blacklisted as a subversive and anti-Soviet. I was kicked out of East Germany on the personal order of Walter Ulbricht [the East German head of state at the time].”