Vienna, June 29: On June 12, a museum called '007 Elements' was opened atop the Austrian Alps to commemorate the fine appeals of the films of James Bond, the fictional spy who through the years, has left a loyal breed of admirers around the world. But although Austria, or rather its capital Vienna, is considered more apt a place to commemorate Bond because of the high concentration of spies there in the real life, recently, Belgium's capital Brussels has replaced it as the new spy capital of Europe, an IntelNews report said on Friday, June 29.
We're no more No.1, says Austrian intelligence chief
According to the report, the chief of none other than Austria's counter-intelligence agency BVT (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism) Peter Gridling has revealed that Brussels is now home to more number of spies than Vienna. Even as recent as in 2009, Vienna was known to have the maximum density of foreign intelligence agents and there are historical, logistical and other reasons for that.
While Vienna's central location between the Cold War rivals - the East and West -- made it strategically important for the spies to make base their to keep monitoring the other side, it also has an efficient transportation network which made it convenient for accessing both eastern and western Europe.
Moreover, Vienna is home to the headquarters of a number of key international bodies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which naturally makes it a hub for deploying all things diplomatic.
"...it is estimated that the Austrian capital today hosts nearly 20,000 foreign diplomats, which is a substantial number for such a small country with a permanent population of less than 9 million. Experts believe that around half of these foreign diplomats are in fact connected to a foreign intelligence agency," the IntelNews report said.
Brussels has gone ahead of the rest
According to the report, Gridling, in a rare public appearance on Thursday, June 28, conceded that Vienna no more topped the list as the most preferred destinations for the world's species. Speaking at the official presentation of the BVT's annual Constitutional Protection Report for 2017 held at the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior. The intelligence agency chief told reporters that though the number of foreign spies pretending to be diplomats posted in the Austrian capital remained high and Austria continued to be a preferred location for operations, Brussels has gone ahead of Vienna or for that matter, any other European capital, in terms of concentration of spies.
Gridling' acknowledgment was in alignment with Alain Winants, chief of Belgium's State Security Service (SV/SE) and other intelligence experts and sources who claimed that Brussels overtook all other cities as the favourite base for spies since 2009, the IntelNews report added.
Winants had put forward his claim of Brussels as the most spy-populated city in the world way back in September 2012 during a rare interview to the city-based newspaper EU Observer, saying there were several important international organisations that have their headquarters in the city like the EU and Nato and resultantly, it turned into a hub for diplomats and spies, just as it has been with the case with Vienna in the past.
But how many foreign agents are active in Vienna now? According to Grindling, it was "fewer than 1,000," the IntelNews report said.
Time to commemorate the reel Bond in the Cockpit of Europe as well?