Vienna is a fabled city for spying and now its cloak-and-dagger legend has a 21st-century twist.
A stately villa in a leafy district of the Austrian capital is at the centre of a ruckus over whether the NSA is snooping on the city’s residents, with allegations flying that the building serves as a sophisticated a 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.
Many are sceptical in a country shocked by revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that the organisation has been able to spy on the online activities of millions around the world.
The Viennese are also mindful of the city’s Cold War reputation as the spying capital of the world.
Austria’s Kurier newspaper reported this week that the U.S. government had decided to end operations at the site within a year or two and suggested that was because its cover was blown. CIA spokesman Edward Price refused comment in an email to The Associated Press Thursday.
Meanwhile, the allegations have turned into an Austrian affair of state.
Green party member Peter Pilz says Austria’s National Security Council will convene soon to discuss what went on inside the building after opposition parties and even some government coalition members called for such a meeting.
The affair is also straining the government coalition, comprised of centre-right and centre-left forces.
The conservative-run Interior Ministry denies cooperation with the NSA.