Lars Findsen: The saga continues

New book grabbing headlines, but at what damage to the government ahead of the November 1 election?

The all-to-real saga surrounding the downfall of spy chief Lars Findsen has all the ingredients of a gripping political thriller complete with backroom bargaining, corrupt politicians and turncoat spies. The latest round of developments has kicked all the dust back up in the air. 

Catching up
In December 2021, the head of foreign intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) from 2015-20 was arrested under suspicion of having divulged state secrets. 

Findsen was subsequently charged on six counts: five relating to the divulgence of state secrets and one for a breach of general provision for confidentiality.

The penal code associated with the disclosure of state secrets falls under the umbrella of treason and could carry a penalty of 12 years in prison. The trial itself is a closed-door affair, making it difficult to ascertain specifics and particulars. 

Findsen is pleading not guilty on all counts.

A book of revelations
The situation was further complicated when Findsen recently released his new book ‘Spionchefen – Erindringer Fra Celle 18’. The book detailed some serious accusations surrounding the circumstances of his suspension from FE – an incident not related to the one he is facing trial for – and the handling, or mishandling, of his arrest. 

It should be noted that Findsen does not provide documentation for the claims he makes in the book. The book has reignited support for a commission of inquiry into the matter in addition to, but not overlapping with, the material being investigated in the trial.

Claim 1
In August 2020, Findsen was suspended from his duties amid allegations that Danish Intelligence colluded with the United States National Security Agency to spy on Danish citizens. After a commission investigated the claims and resolved that they were unfounded, Findsen was reinstated. 

In the eyes of many, Trine Bramsen, the minister of defence and the person responsible for Findsen’s suspension, acted out of nobility and strength in a dire moment. Findsen had a slightly more cynical take on the situation.

In the book, Findsen recounts the meeting in which Bramsen explained to him that he would be suspended from his post. Findsen claims that Bramsen made it clear she knew very well that there had been no wrongdoing on the part of the FE leadership but said: “I must be able to get to 90.” It was a sentiment she repeated several times according to Findsen’s account.

Possibly feeling the precariousness of her position, exacerbated by the scandal, the 90 to which Bramsen alludes refers to the 90 mandates a minister must receive from Parliament to maintain their post. In Findsen’s account then, Bramsen did not act out of concern for Danish citizens but rather out of concern for her political preservation.

PM Mette Fredriksen, when asked, denied that Findsen was sent home for political reasons.

Claim 2
Perhaps even more astounding is what Findsen claims happened immediately following his arrest at Copenhagen Airport on 8 December 2021. 

Findsen alleges that upon being taken into questioning by the PET legal chief, among others, he was offered a deal. The prosecution would show him leniency on two conditions: that he would confess to something and that he would tell them who the press had as sources inside PET. It is relevant to note that at the time several articles had been published crediting anonymous intelligence sources.

Experts say that such a deal would not be legal.

Arguments for investigation
At this point almost all are in agreement that a commission of inquiry to investigate, among other things, Findsen’s most recent claims are necessary; the issue then becomes when it should be held. With an election approaching, the issue has taken on even greater importance.

Socialdemokratiet and Radikale have said they will support an investigation so long as it comes after the conclusion of the criminal trial, so as not to interfere with the legal proceedings.

“The courts must come first. It is very important to me that there is neither direct nor indirect influence on the criminal proceedings,” said the minister of justice, Mattias Tesfaye.

On the flip side, both the bourgeois parties and Findsen agree that a speedy investigation is both possible and necessary. Findsden fears that the legal trial could take years to resolve as it winds its way through several courts

“It is important to have the circumstances investigated while those being questioned can remember what happened,” said Findsen’s lawyer in an email to DR.

Enhedlisten has also hinted that it may throw its support behind Findsen in favour of a more imminent investigation. The move would likely create a critical mass in Parliament and ensure an investigation sooner than later.

“When a new Parliament is assembled, we must sit down and have a discussion about what we can agree to investigate. For me, it is of course completely clear that it should not influence the legal proceedings taking place. But if there are things outside that you could perhaps look at before then, we will at least have an open mind towards it,” said Enhedslisten spokesperson Mai Villadsen.

With so much still unknown or unclear, this is a saga that will likely drag on for years and the implications of the discoveries and resolutions made before the dust settles will be great.