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23 Nov, 2017 15:17

Listening to Russia: Danish spooks building 85m tower on Baltic island to spy on comms

Listening to Russia: Danish spooks building 85m tower on Baltic island to spy on comms

Danish intelligence will soon have a brand new listening post in a strategically located island, which it will use to spy on Russian communications. Just four years ago, a similar post located 15km away was shut down due to high running costs.

The now-defunct intelligence facility on the island of Bornholm was part of NATO’s Cold War effort to intercept Soviet radio communications. The island is located south of Sweden and not far from Poland, a former member of the Warsaw Pact bloc, which previously placed it right in the heart of NATO’s communist adversary.

Now, the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE) is set to build a replacement in another part of Bornholm. An 85-meter-high tower is currently being built in the village of Østermarie, with a separate building for personnel and equipment set to be constructed next to it, the daily Politiken reported.

Residents of the village protested against the development and suggested several alternative options, including reopening a listening post at the original site in the village of Dueodde. Its white tower has since been rebuilt into a Cold War and espionage museum, but the owners said they would not object to hosting an FE installation again. The service rejected the offers, however, saying the location they chose was better suited for the purpose.

The strategic placement of Bornholm is no longer such an asset, considering that Poland and three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – are now part of the same military bloc as Denmark, defense analyst Johannes Riber Nordby told the newspaper. But he believes it may give FE some advantage in monitoring the Baltic Sea and Russian ships in it. FE chief Lars Findsen said the new post will strengthen his agency’s “ability to report Russia’s intentions towards Denmark, including about Russia’s military ambitions in the Danish neighborhood,” but refrained from going into details.

The NATO signal intelligence operation on Bornholm was launched in 1948, with the Dueodde site opened in 1961. The 70-meter-high white tower, hosting a radar station and other electronic equipment, was built in 1986. The facility was shut down in 2012 as the Danish military was cutting operational costs.

Ironically, the decision was taken just after the post got a $320,000 upgrade, but the Danish spy chief insists it was the right decision at the time. However, NATO’s appeals to allies for higher defense spending have been receiving more attention since 2014, when a political crisis in Ukraine led to an armed coup, civil war in the east of the country, and the subsequent Crimean vote to rejoin Russia, which it had been part of before 1954.

NATO branded the development an annexation by force, and has since used the perceived Russian threat to whip up support for more funding. Denmark, one of the 12 original NATO-founding countries, last month announced plans to boost its military budget by 20 percent by 2023, citing Moscow’s military presence in the Baltic Sea. The boost will bring the country’s spending to 1.3 percent of GDP, which will still be lower than the 2-percent benchmark required by NATO.