Saturday 2 August 2014

Ohhhhh ....... Viennaaaaaaa!

Need a spy? Try here
If you've missed this on The Telegraph website this week, neat little article reporting that, one century on from the first world war, Vienna - the capital of Austria - remains a centre for world spying. The recent upsurge in violence in Russia has thrown a light again on the strategic tensions in eastern Europe and the Russian capacity to spread its influence beyond its borders.

In the ever useful The Len Deighton Companion by Edward Milward-Oliver in 1987, he writes this about the entry 'Vienna':
"Vienna. Although no longer the capital of an empire, Vienna is unchanging. Sachers is still serving the Sacher Torte cake it served at the turn of the century - an era notably depicted in the beginning of Winter, in which we find Veronica Winter in the first stages of labour as her husband is summoned to a meeting with the secret police chief, Count Kupka. Thirty-eight years later, Paul Winter returns to the city of his birth, to find the restaurants and shops filled with German tourists who've arrived within hours of the German Army crossing the front to enforce the Nazi Anschluss."

Right throughout espionage literature, Vienna's always had a central spot as a location for intrigue, threats, exchanges and murder. Worth a read.


  1. “one century on from the first world war, Vienna - the capital of Austria - remains a centre for world spying. The recent upsurge in violence in Russia has thrown a light again on the strategic tensions in eastern Europe and the Russian capacity to spread its influence beyond its borders”
    Could be in the spy fiction as a written embodiment of author’s thinking resulting from a holiday visit to Vienna these days! There is no rational argument proposed to explain why Vienna should remain a “centre of spying”. The Czechs , Hungarians, Slovakians and Slovenians who are neighbours are happy to be out of Russian’s sphere of influence(hence their EU membership )- coming from the mouths of my friends in these countries. There is no reason to believe that Russians have established new influence in these countries in recent years.
    Yes, Vienna was in the focus during Nazi years, and a over a decade ago too, one could see the reverberations about Kurt Waldheim’s past ( the CIA is reported knew about his Nazi past, and USA did not object to his candidacy of UN Secretary general ship and he served 2 terms). Aside this, there could still be stronger right wing political elements there. Conversing with my friends who are professionals in Vienna, I have not detected their city being the citadel for world spying these days. Not the kind that I used to hear during my visits to West Berlin in 1970s and early 1980s. Vienna is a city soaked in tradition and that much I can accept.

    1. An update to the above. It is very hilarious to read what the posters have posted in the daily Telegraph artcile thread : I agree with them. the author of the article Damien McElroy seems to be both ignorant and naive to state "Vienna is the world leader in espionage with at least 7,000 spies plying their trade in the Austrian capital". Yes, this city hosts many international organisations which are mere bureaucratic edifices with plethora of paper-pushing officials,not worth bothering about. They like EU officials in Brussels have nice salaries, pension package etc.. but otherwise are hardly worth bothering to Russian /Chinese spooks. The latter would rather have some one "planted" in institutes in countries of their target where they can gather useful information such as reported in the BBC: My Viennese professional friends laugh at what is suggested in this article by Damien McElroy. Having said the above,I would recommend a tourism visit to this beautiful city for this:

    2. Just goes to show, doesn't it, there's always a different perspective to every article in the media! I imagine Kyiv currently must be crawling with KGB and GRU trying to destabilise the new government!

    3. The story of Ukraine and Kiev is totally different. Ukraine was very closely fused to Russia in the Soviet Union time for very long so much so that Leonid Brezhnev, an Ukrainian became the most powerful leader of the Soviet Union having succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as First Secretary. It contributed so much in the area of science, technology, arts and sports which Soviet Union boasted in1950s-1980s. Names of Ukrainians like Golda Meir ( Israel's first woman PM) Joseph Conrad ( talked often as Polish -was indeed born of Ukrainian parents), Isaac Stern ( the violinist), Igor Sikorsky ( the famed aeronautics engineer, whose name his helicopter design bears) should ring louder. It has a very thriving and advanced IT industry. Russia always considered it as its younger sibling. Hence, the unusual interest of Putin and other Russians in regards to Ukraine. I would put Vienna in a very very different and remote level.

    4. Worth reading Norman Berdichevsky, the distiguishhed historian here ( about Ukraine, and in particular the tinder box of Crimea. My Ukrainian students -all technologists like me have views similar to Norman Berdichevsky.

      Coming back to the main topic-in my opinion to DT author misrepresents the importamnce of Vienna in the wider "spook world".

    5. Fascinating book which I'm reading currently: The Last Empire by Serhii Plokhy, about the final days of the Soviet Union. Reading this, and then looking at today's current Ukraine conflict, you can join the dots back to how the SU broke up in 1991. One name that crops up from time to time in the new Russian Republic, initially hedging his bets after the coup, is one Vladimir Putin. Fascinating how this mighty state crumbled in the space of a few months into nothing, having been the enemy of the West for nearly 50 years

  2. I've just received my copy of the Len Deighton companion and have found it jolly interesting. And, seeing as it was published in 1987 I think it could do with a spot of updating and republishing.

    However there's at least one missing entry - Opera!

  3. Terry - what would you have written?

  4. Ukraine's role in the ending of the Soviet Union is fascinating and so utterly linked, even twenty three years later, with what's gone on earlier on this year, Putin having been high in the KGB around the time of the coup.