The case of the Austrian Army colonel who spied for the GRU (Russian military intelligence) has finally come to a close. The colonel was a 25-year source for the GRU, including during his period of international assignment for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

espionage Sentencing

On June 9 the Austrian courts found the colonel guilty of espionage, and they sentenced him to three years in prison. The court then ordered him to be released for time served since his November 2018 arrest. Information shared with the GRU, according to Russia media, included personnel information on his colleagues at NATO and within the Austrian Army and Ministry of Defence.

This type of information is key to the hostile intelligence service’s long-term source acquisition efforts, as the insider is able to provide finite information on potential source access and perceived or real vulnerabilities. In addition, the colonel served as source on Austrian military aviation and artillery systems.

In determining the length of sentence the court took into account the defendant’s age and a lack of previous convictions as mitigating factors, lessening the severity of the colonel’s sentence. Clearly the Austrian courts aren’t using prospect of prison as a deterrent to espionage.

Arrest and Denial

In November 2018, when he was originally arrested, there was quite the flap, as the Russian Foreign Minister noted that he was blindsided by the Austrian Foreign Minister when the arrest was announced. The reality is that the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was blindsided by the GRU, who failed to tell their colleagues over at the Foreign Ministry that there had been a compromise in Austria.

The colonel, now 71-years of age, denied providing anything but “open source” materials to the GRU over the course of his 20-year formal relationship as a source. He admitted to having come into contact with the GRU during an unidentified foreign assignment in 1987, and that over the course of the 25-plus years, he was paid “hundreds of thousands of euros.

Impact on Cleared Employees

Facility Security Officers (FSO’s) should use the aforementioned as an example in their counterintelligence and insider threat briefs, since it demonstrates the continued interest by Russian intelligence in NATO and foreign military and defense sectors.

Knowing this spy, operating on behalf of the GRU, was providing spotting and assessing information on his colleagues in NATO, it stands to reason that other sources of the SVR (Russian foreign intelligence service) and GRU in the U.S. or elsewhere are engaging with their colleagues for similar purposes.

The FBI shares guidance on the “trained elicitor” who will saddle up against a target and try to obtain information informally or assess the individual for a potential recruitment scenario. These include:

  • Assumed knowledge
  • Bracketing
  • Can you top this
  • Feigned ignorance
  • Flattery
  • Good listener
  • Confidential bait
  • Criticism
  • Macro to micro
  • The leading question
  • Mutual interest
  • Oblique reference
  • Deliberate false statements/Denial of the obvious

While the Austrian colonel is back home after a brief hiatus in the Austrian hoosegow, and the GRU has a bit of egg on their face, the Russian espionage machine marches on and continues to target U.S. interests. Remember, you are the target.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of