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‘A spy paradise’: Austria confirmed as a location for global espionage

After years of speculation that Austria is a hub for spies, a new report confirms what many already believed – that the Alpine Republic is the ‘preferred area’ for intelligence activity.

No, this is not a plot for a Bond film – Austria really has been confirmed as a “spy paradise” by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism. The main reasons for this are Austria’s neutrality, the low threat of legal punishment and the weakness of the domestic counterintelligence services, the office said. Additional factors are the presence of many international organisations and the economic strength of the country. 

The main states involved in espionage on Austrian soil are believed to be Russia, China, Iran and Turkey, reports Die Presse. The release of the report follows the unmasking of a Russian agent in Vienna in December 2022 who had reportedly been spying for the Russian intelligence services for several years.

Speaking after the arrest, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior said: “There is a suspicion that he was used as a source of information on foreign, social and security policy among the Austrian population, in the country and in the press, and was therefore brought to Moscow to gauge possible reactions from abroad in the run-up to the military operation.”

Back in March of 2022, a Financial Times article also alleged that Vienna was a “veritable aircraft carrier” of covert Russian activity, with the Russian Embassy in the capital named as a key site. Likewise, the recent report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism identifies embassies as key locations for spying activity. 

‘Nest of spies’

Allegations of spying in Austria, especially in Vienna, go back to the Cold War when its geographical location made it attractive to spies from the east and west. But recent concerns about espionage in Austria’s capital started in 2017 when a “friendly partner service” – reportedly British – warned Austria about an outflow of information from the BVT.

This was a time when the ministerial heads of all intelligence services were politicians from the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which was in a coalition with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Der Standard reports that the FPÖ signed a friendship treaty with United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s ruling political party.

The following year, rumours began circulating around Europe that Austria’s security services were compromised after a police raid on the BVT offices and the suspension of Austria’s anti-terror chief Peter Grindling. Back in 2018, the BBC also reported on Vienna’s reputation as a “nest of spies” and included a quote from Siegfried Beer, historian and founder of the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, who said espionage was still a business in the city.

Delving further into Austria’s espionage past (and present)

Espionage is often shrouded in mystery and has served as the inspiration for books, films and tours in Vienna.  Der Dritte Man (The Third Man) is a famous 1949 espionage film (adapted from a book of the same name by Graham Greene) that features Vienna’s network of underground tunnels in the post-World War II years. Vienna is also home to a tour inspired by the film and the Third Man Museum, which is dedicated to the story.

Additionally, there is the Secret Vienna Spy Tour that explores the role of the capital city during the Cold War and more recent spying scandals.  In the coming months documentary titled ‘Spy Capital’ would also be released charting the history of espionage in Vienna, with focus on Russia’s involvement in the capital.

Source: The Local

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