Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing

  • Vienna is in the grip of political storm over a police raid (Photo: Roderick Eime)

Germany is reviewing intelligence sharing ties with its Austrian counterparts over fears the sensitive data may be leaked or shared.

The move to reassess ties was made by Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency earlier this week in a written response to Andrej Hunko, a lawmaker from the leftist Die Linke party.

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The demand comes amid a brewing political storm in Vienna.

Austria's interior ministry is controlled by the far-right and anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO), a junior partner in the coalition government.

The FPO also operates a special police unit designed to crack down on street crime but which was then sent to raid the offices and homes of staff working for the Austrian BVT domestic intelligence agency in late February.

The police unit are said to have removed large amounts of sensitive and personal files, including information on far-right groups close to the FPO, in a stated claim to crack down on suspected corruption and abuse of office against BVT officials.

Austria's president Alexander Van der Bellen said the raids were "extremely unusual and irritating". But the FPO-led interior ministry described the media reports police were seeking to obtain access to data on right-wing extremism as "fake news". It then suspended the head of the BVT.

Austria's justice ministry has also said "extremism data... has not been seized" but only personal files. The ministry however has asked for explanations on why the street crime police unit, headed by an FPO town councillor, was selected to conduct the raids.

The fallout has led to demands of a parliamentary probe driven by the opposition Social Democratic Party. Earlier this week, opposition leader Christian Kern saught clarity from interior minister Herbert Kickl.

"Your actions intimidated those officials who are supposed to fight the extremist right, it's a signal that will embolden the rightist scene," he said.

It has also led to Germany now unsure if the intelligence it shares with the Austrians is in secure hands and has asked the BVT "on whether and if so what BfV information is affected". It also noted that a response from the BVT is still pending and that it may seek to review continued cooperation.

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