1913: Gay Spy Scandal Rocks Vienna

As the centennial of World War I approaches, Erik Sass is giving us a series on the events that led to the conflict, each story posted 100 years after it occurred. In the latest installment, we learn of the Colonel Alfred Redl, head of Vienna's military intelligence, who was uncovered as a spy for Russia.

Redl was unusual all around: the son of a poor railway clerk in the eastern Austrian province of Galicia (now Ukraine), his brilliant intellect propelled him into the top ranks of the army, usually an aristocratic preserve, where he served as chief of counter-intelligence from 1903-1907, then head of all intelligence operations from 1907-1912. In a conservative institution he embraced modern, innovative techniques like telephone and wireless eavesdropping, hidden cameras and recording devices, and dusting for fingerprints.

But Redl had more secrets than anyone could have guessed: in an era when homosexuality was a deviant crime punishable with prison time or worse, Redl’s double life was a huge liability that left him vulnerable to blackmail. During a visit to Russia to polish his Russian in 1889, Russian intelligence discovered his secret via a woman Redl employed as his “beard,” then supplied Redl with a series of young lovers to further incriminate him. Beginning in 1902 the Russians threatened to uncover Redl while also offering him huge sums of money for top secret information. The combination of carrot and stick was enough to convince Redl to turn traitor.

When Redl was caught, his shocked fellow officers attempted to avoid scandal by giving Redl the opportunity to commit suicide, averting a full investigation. But it didn't matter, as a strange series of circumstances brought the investigation to the Viennese press. Read the while story at mental_floss. Link


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