Alfred Redl (March 14, 1864 – May 25, 1913) was an Austrian officer who rose to head the counter-intelligence efforts of Austria-Hungary. He was one of the leading figures of pre-World War I espionage. His term in office was marked by innovation, and he used very high technology for the time to ensnare foreign intelligence agents. But he was himself a spy for the Russians. Claims that Redl also worked for secret services of France and Italy have surfaced much later but they were neither confirmed nor disproved reliably.
Born in Lemberg, Galicia, Austrian Empire (now Lviv, Ukraine), Redl came from a relatively poor family, his father being a railway clerk. His ability enabled Redl to rise quickly within the officer ranks of the Austro-Hungarian Army, in spite of lacking the advantages of wealth or family connections. Redl attended the War School in Vienna, which normally accepted only 50 entrants a year from about a thousand applicants. Acquiring a specialist interest in Russian military issues, Redl joined the Intelligence Bureau of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff and in 1900 was assigned to the Russian Section.
By 1907 Redl had become head of the counter-intelligence branch of the Intelligence Bureau. Promoted to the rank of colonel, Redl greatly improved the methods used by the Austro-Hungarian counter-espionage service, introducing such technological innovations as the use of cameras and primitive recording devices, while creating a database of fingerprint records of persons of interest. However at the same time Redl himself became a spy for Russia and his exposure was largely due to the improvements he had developed himself.
Redl's motives for treason are still unclear. He may have been caught in a compromising position by Russian agents, since he was homosexual and being exposed as such would have been fatal to his career prospects. Actually, Russian military intelligence, based in Warsaw at the time, under the command of Colonel Nikolai Batyushin, had discovered Redl's homosexuality as early as 1901, information that was used to blackmail him into revealing classified information. In 1902 he reportedly passed a copy of Austro-Hungarian war plans to the Russians. General von Gieslingen, Head of Austro-Hungarian military intelligence delegated Redl himself to investigate the source of this leak. In consultation with his Russian contacts Redl identified several low-level agents as Tsarist spies, thereby protecting himself and enhancing his reputation for efficiency.
Redl was paid well by the Tsarist government for his services, and acquired a lifestyle far beyond what his official salary could cover. It would appear that there was also a strong element of vanity involved, as well as a taste for danger. A Russian report of 1907 describes Redl as "more sly and false than intelligent and talented", a cynic "who enjoys dissipation."
From 1903 to 1913, Redl was Russia's leading spy. Before World War I he gave the Russians Plan III, the entire Austrian invasion plan for Serbia. The Russians then informed the Serbian military command about Plan III. As a result, when the Austrians invaded Serbia, the Serbians were well prepared. Redl not only provided much of Austria's military secrets and plans, but he also supplied incorrect estimations of Russian military strength to his own military authorities. Redl has been called one of history's greatest traitors because his actions were responsible for the deaths of half a million of his countrymen.
Redl is thought to have sold to Russia one of Austria's principal attack plans, along with its order of battle, its mobilization plans (in an age when mobilization could be the key to victory) and detailed plans of Austrian fortifications soon to be overrun by Russia. He is known beyond question to have sent Austrian agents into Russia and then to have sold them out to St. Petersburg. He also had Austrian agents within the Russian Imperial Staff, but sold them out too, to be hanged or to commit suicide. He is also believed to have betrayed various Russian officers who contacted Austro-Hungarian intelligence.
When he left the counter-intelligence service Redl was succeeded by Major Maximilian Ronge, a man trained by Redl himself. Ronge instigated the practice of checking suspicious mail. One suspect envelope — a poste restante letter to be returned unclaimed — was found to contain a large sum of money as well as references to known espionage cover addresses.
On May 9, 1913, a duplicate letter with money was posted to the same cover name, "Nikon Nizetas". Police detectives were assigned to monitor the post office and follow whoever claimed it. When the letter was finally claimed on May 25, police pursued but lost contact when the person who had picked up the letter, left in a taxi. While the detectives stood wondering what to do, the taxi that the suspect had taken returned.
The police detectives took the taxi and asked to be driven to the address that the previous customer had been taken to. The taxi driver took them to the hotel "Klomser" and during the ride there they found a pen-knife sheath in the taxi. Arriving at the hotel, they told the management to ask the guests if any of them had lost the sheath and then waited in the lobby. When a guest arrived to claim the sheath, the detectives recognized their former boss, Colonel Alfred Redl.
When informed of his exposure, Redl committed suicide by gunshot, which was regretted both by Emperor Franz Josef, who would have preferred that Redl avoid dying in mortal sin, and by Austrian Intelligence, which would have preferred to interrogate him on the exact extent of his betrayal. The first reaction of Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who was the Austrian Chief of Staff, was that "Redl must be given a revolver to do the right thing."
In the political post-mortem one Hungarian newspaper noted that "the Redl affair cannot be seen as a private matter. Redl is not an individual but a system. Whilst soldiers elsewhere are taught to love their homelands, lack of patriotism is held to be the greatest military virtue in this unfortunate monarchy. With us military education culminates in all national feeling being driven out of our soldiers... In the Redl affair this spirit has had its revenge. The Austrian and the Hungarian soldiers possess no fatherland; they only have a war lord."
- Redl was played by Klaus Maria Brandauer in the 1985 István Szabó film Colonel Redl (see Oberst Redl at the Internet Movie Database)
- John Osborne's 1965 play A Patriot for Me is based on Redl's story
- A summary of Redl's career and its effect on the course of World War I is provided by Dennis Wheatley in his historical novel The Second Seal (1950). Redl's successor, Ronge, also appears as himself - chief of Austro-Hungarian Intelligence. He is trying to foil the attempts of British Intelligence to find out what Austria intends for Serbia in 1914.
- Buttar, Prit. Collusion of Empires. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-78200-648-0.
- Lorenz, Dagmar C. G; Weinberger, Gabriele (1994). Insides and Outsides: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria. Wayne State University Press. p. 264. ISBN 0-8143-2497-5.
- Buttar, Prit. Collusion of Empires. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-78200-648-0.
- Colonel Alfred Redl biography
- World War I Russian Spy Col. Alfred Redl
- Janusz Piekalkiewicz, World history of espionage: Agents, systems, operations. ISBN 978-3-517-00849-3
- "Alfred Redl". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2 May 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2009.
- MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace at 253 (New York: Random House 2013).
- RICHARD GRENIER (1985-10-13). "COLONEL REDL: THE MAN BEHIND THE SCREEN MYTH". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Georg Markus, Der Fall Redl, 1984. ISBN 3-85002-191-2
- Robert Asprey, The Panther's Feast, 1959. (Jonathan Cape)