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Vienna nest of spies: Why Austria is still centre for espionage


I watched from a distance as a chartered maroon and white plane from New York, carrying 10 Russian spies, parked on the runway at Vienna airport next to a Russian plane with four more agents on board.

It was July 2010 and I was reporting on the biggest spy swap between Russia and the United States since the Cold War.

It came as little surprise that Vienna had been chosen as the site for the largest exchange of secret agents since the Cold War.

The city has a long tradition as a hotbed of international espionage, and it continues up to the present day.

The latest case has come as a particular embarrassment to Austria.

A retired Austrian colonel is being investigated by prosecutors on allegations that he spied for Russia since the 1990s.

Austria is seen as one of the few friends Russia has in the EU and only months ago Russian President Vladimir Putin flew in as a surprise guest for the wedding of Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.

Among the spies exchanged on the tarmac at Vienna airport in 2010 was Sergei Skripal, the poisoned in Salisbury this year.

A Russian military intelligence officer, he had been working as a British double agent.

Another was Anna Chapman, a glamorous red-headed Russian agent who had been deported from the United States.