A former head of German intelligence on Wednesday warned against sharing sensitive material with Austria, amid growing fears over the close links between senior Austrian ministers and Russia.
The warning comes amid concerns that a police raid on the headquarters of Austria’s BVT domestic intelligence agency earlier this year in which secret files were seized may have been politically motivated.
“Caution is necessary with a service which cannot protect its own secrets or the sources and sensitive information of its partners,” said Auguste Hanning, a former head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service.
Other Western intelligence agencies have already stopped sharing information with Austria in the wake of February’s raid on the BVT, the Washington Post claimed in a report last week.
“There is of course now extreme caution when sharing information,” Mr Hanning told Germany’s Bild newspaper.
“It is essential for the international intelligence cooperation that all sides can be sure their sensitive information is secure with a partner service. Secrecy must be maintained. That is of course incredibly difficult when you have such a situation in Austria.”
There was widespread shock when police raided the BVT’s main offices in February and took away classified files in plastic bags and open boxes.
Among the official reasons given for the raid was an investigation into a joint operation with South Korea to obtain blank North Korean passports which were being printed in Austria.
But there have been allegations the raid was ordered by the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) to send a message to the BVT and as a pretext to remove certain officials and replace them with loyalists.
There is growing concern in Western capitals at the close links between Russia and senior figures in the FPÖ ,which is junior partner in the coalition government of Sebastian Kurz.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, stopped off in Austria last week to attend the wedding of Karin Kneissl, the foreign minister, and was pictured dancing with her.
Ms Kneissl has been heavily criticised in Austria after video emerged of her curtseying to Mr Putin at the end of the dance.
Mr Kurz has said he wants Austria to be a “bridge between East and West and keep the lines of communication to Russia open”.
Austria’s location at the crossroads of Europe has long made it a hotbed of espionage and there are concerns Western security could be weakened if the country is frozen out of intelligence-sharing.
The BVT on Monday denied the Washington Post’s claims that it had been cut out of the loop by other intelligence agencies.
“Cooperation with partner intelligence services continues to work well in key areas such as the fight against terrorism,” Peter Gridling, the head of the BVT said in a statement. “There are no appreciable restrictions on cooperation with partner services.”