To finance his “vicious passion,” Austro-Hungarian officer Alfred Redl sold sensitive information to enemies of the monarchy. 110 years ago the cage fell.
After graduating from cadet school, the son of a railway inspector from Galicia was in for a quick career progression. Great organizational skills, military talent and knowledge of six languages opened Redl’s way to the Intelligence Bureau (department of military espionage), where he rose to the rank of deputy chief. In 1912, in the rank of colonel, he became chief of staff VIII. army corps in Prague.
Redla was plagued by debt because he was known for his eccentric revelries. Newspapers wrote about his opulent sexual orgies with marketable women, but he needed money above all to support his lover, a young lieutenant. Perhaps already before 1903, but certainly from 1907, Alfred Redl (1864-1913) began to sell military secrets to potential enemies of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and its ally Germany – primarily Russia, but also France or Serbia.
However, modern historians generally reject the theory that the Russian secret service blackmailed him because of his homosexuality, which was a crime. “Sneaky, secretive, focused and conscientious. Good memory…, sweet, soft to tender expression, More cunning and fake than intelligent and talented. A cynic,” his Imperial commanding officer described him.
Redl was exposed when German intelligence intercepted a shipment full of money addressed poste restante to a non-existent person – a certain Nikon Nicetas. The agents were waiting for the addressee at the window and were not surprised when it was Redl – a dedicated soldier and spy hunter – who came to pick up the package.
Suicide 110 years ago
When someone knocked on the door of his room in Vienna’s Hotel Klomser on the night of May 25, 1913, Redl already knew who it was. “I know very well why you have come, gentlemen,” he is said to have said to the four officers. “I have become a victim of a vicious passion. I know that I have lost my life, and I am asking you for a weapon so that I can end it.” The greatest traitor of Austria-Hungary subsequently committed suicide at the age of 49.
In his luxury apartment in the Liechtenstein Palace, not only were “disgusting pictures” that left no doubt about Redl’s homosexual relationships, but also classified materials, cover addresses, espionage instructions and evidence of money transfers. In total, he allegedly earned a million crowns for passing on sensitive military information to the enemy (such as plans for fortresses, encryption systems or plans for military operations, including the preparation of the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Initially, the army leadership made dogged moves to sweep the case under the carpet. The colonel’s suicide was explained by his depression and he was given a funeral with military honors. Still, the truth eventually came out. After the disastrous defeats of the c. and k. armies in 1914 and 1915, Redl even became an ideal sacrificial lamb, about which Emperor Francis Joseph I said: “So this is supposed to be the new era? And these creatures she spawned?’
Was Redl responsible for the defeat of Austria-Hungary?
However, the effort of the army command to cover up the affair has since raised a number of questions. Taking down a spy without a trial and just hours after he was discovered is unusual to say the least, as is the fact that veteran agent Redl had money sent to him through the mail.
The theories according to which this biggest case of espionage in Austria-Hungary ultimately caused Austria’s defeat in the First World War are probably exaggerated. According to historians, Redl’s guilt in this regard is overestimated. Although Russian battle plans were based on Redl’s spy reports from 1909, they have undergone significant changes since then. And that covered a lot of other information as well.
According to experts, Redl’s guilt lay primarily in the fact that he betrayed people who were spying for Austria in Tsarist Russia, and that, on the contrary, he successfully prevented secret information from reaching Austria-Hungary from Tsarist Russia for many years.
Redl’s life story later became the subject of several literary and film works, for example a Hungarian film Colonel Redl from 1985.
Source: Zprávy – Tiscali.cz by zpravy.tiscali.cz.
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