Austria’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism released a report this month asserting that Iran’s regime spread its spy activities in the central European country and Austria is “attractive” for bad actors like China, Russia, Iran and Turkey because of weak criminal penalties for espionage.
“Over the years, the network of Iranian intelligence services has also spread in Austria. For civil domestic and foreign surveillance, the Ministry of Information (MOIS) is responsible,” according to the report, documenting the 2021 calendar year.
“The military home and foreign intelligence services emerge from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard (and is referred to as IRGC-IO – Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization). The military special unit Quds Force also plays a not insignificant role, which, in addition to extraterritorial military operations, is specialized in obtaining intelligence information.”
The US classified the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. Last week, The European Parliament voted for a non-binding resolution to sanction it as a terrorist entity. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday that the EU needs a court ruling declaring that the IRGC engages in terrorist activities before the 125,000-strong military force can be proscribed as a terrorist organization.
The Austrian intelligence report said cyber espionage in Austria was largely carried out by Russia, China and Iran.
In sharp contrast to previous reports that largely ignored Shi’ite terrorist and espionage activities from Tehran, the new report devoted analysis to the Islamic Republic.
According to the intelligence document, foreign spy services find it “attractive” to operate on Austrian national territory because of “the very low threat of punishment. It noted that “the Austrian intelligence services have, in contrast to European services, weak intelligence gathering powers.”
Austria is also a hotbed of spy activity, according to the report, because of its “good geo-political situation” and being home to a number of international organizations, as well as the economic strength of the Alpine county.
The Austrian Economic Chambers reported on its website that in “the first half of 2022, Austria exported goods worth 98.1 million euros to Iran – an increase of +113.1% compared to the same period of the previous year.”
The business group added that “In the year as a whole, Austria exported goods worth 117.8 m. euros to Iran (+17.6% compared to the previous year).”
Is Austria a spying paradise?
Espionage in Austria takes place under the disguise of diplomacy in foreign embassies and consulates, noted the report. Spies for foreign nationals also operate “in clubs, cultural centers, press agencies, airlines or other business locations,” wrote the Austrian intelligence officials.
“Austria is a spy paradise,” headlined the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation in its article on the new intelligence report.
The country is an important location for Turkey’s MIT intelligence service because of the large community of people of “Turkish origin” there, noted the intelligence agency report.
“The main focus of the Turkish intelligence services is particularly focused on critics of the regime and opponents and to clarify the Gülen movement and the PKK since these are classified by the Turkish government as extremist or terrorist,” it said.
China’s spy operation, according to the report, is dedicated to the collection of information on the “military capabilities of foreign military forces” as well as securing “military-related scientific and technological information.”
The Austrian report said that Russian intelligence has been operating unchanged in Austria with “high intensity” for “some time.” The Russian espionage operation targets “the recruitment of employees in institutions of special interest to the Russian Federation.”