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Cold War Flashback? Vienna Villa Alleged To Be NSA Post

Posted: September 14, 2013

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Austrian news reports say a stately villa in Vienna serves as a sophisticated listening post that spies on the city's residents. But the U.S. and Austrian governments say the facility is merely for gathering open source information.

The villa that allegedly belongs to the NSA in Vienna. News outlets, the government and opposition parties are battling it out over allegations that the stately villa in a leafy Vienna district served as a sophisticated a U.S. intelligence listening post keeping tabs on most of Vienna.

The villa that allegedly belongs to the NSA in Vienna. News outlets, the government and opposition parties are battling it out over allegations that the stately villa in a leafy Vienna district served as a sophisticated a U.S. intelligence listening post keeping tabs on most of Vienna. Hans Punz

For fans of Cold War-era spy stories, Vienna carries a certain allure — as seen in this YouTube video with scenes from the classic film The Third Man.

The Cold War may be long over, but Vienna's role in spying apparently isn't. The Associated Press reports:

"A stately villa in a leafy district of the Austrian capital is at the center of a ruckus over whether the NSA is snooping on the city's residents, with allegations flying that the building serves as a sophisticated U.S. intelligence listening post.

"Both the U.S. and Austrian governments deny reports claiming to expose a major surveillance operation by the National Security Agency from within the towers of the sprawling manor. They say the building is nothing more than an 'Open Source Center' evaluating information freely available in newspapers and on the Internet — albeit one run by the CIA."

The secret world's affinity for Vienna was most recently apparent in 2010 when the U.S. and Russia, in a swap reminiscent of their Soviet-era rivalry, exchanged spies in broad daylight.

The New York Times noted at the time that the exchange "served as a reminder of Vienna's prominent place for more than a century now in the shadowy European espionage game." Vienna, the paper observed, is home to major international organizations, including the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Here's more:

"And with émigré communities from all over the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Vienna is a good place to keep tabs on dissidents. ...

"The city's spy scene is best known from the years between 1945 and 1955 when, like Berlin, it was divided into occupation zones after World War II. ...

"Austria remained neutral after the occupation ended. Along with its location in the center of Europe and at the edge of the Iron Curtain, it was an ideal meeting place because of its neutrality.

"Austria's position as a magnet for spies is also encouraged by the fact that it is a crime here to spy against only Austria, not other countries."

But the nature of espionage in Vienna appears to have changed — moving from the political to the economic.

Nevertheless, the AP notes that news of the facility has upset many Austrians — and is straining the ruling coalition.

"Whatever it is," activist Rudolf Fussi told the news organization, "it's confirmation of intelligence agency activity in Vienna."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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