U.S. Informed Austrians of Possible KGB Contact With Bloch
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Austrian officials said Friday the United States alerted them about a man who visited Vienna often and may have been a Soviet contact for Felix Bloch, the American diplomat suspected of spying for Moscow.
Robert Danzinger, the national police chief, said U.S. officials told Austria on June 23 about the man, who traveled on fake Finnish papers.
″We assume he worked for the KGB,″ Danzinger said. ″We have no information of our own that he is KGB. That information came solely from Washington.″
Danziger said the man, whom he did not identify, first visited Vienna in 1979 and often spent weeks or months at a time in the Austrian capital, using papers issued by the Finnish Embassy that were based on a false identity. Bloch began his seven-year tour at the U.S. Embassy in 1980.
The man who ″allegedly had contacts with Bloch″ left Austria June 11, supposedly for Helsinki, Danzinger said.
Whether Bloch might have met the man in the normal course of diplomatic duties was not known. Bloch, who served four years as deputy chief of mission, had many contacts and regularly attended diplomatic and other parties.
Danzinger said the visitor always registered with police in accordance with Austrian regulations and had not been the object of suspicion until the notice from Washington. Austrian authorities now believe he is the man U.S. authorities suspect of KGB activity, the police chief said.
In Paris, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said Friday his country never had any connection with Bloch and ″I’m surprised by the fuss over this affair. It’s not serious.″
At a news conference in Vienna, Danzinger and Interior Minister Franz Loeschnak said Austrian security authorities were told of a possible spy investigation June 23, when the tip arrived about the man with Finnish papers.
Chancellor Franz Vranitzky said earlier this week he learned of the Bloch investigation July 7 from U.S. Ambassador Henry A. Grunwald.
Loeschnak confirmed Friday that Bloch had a ″friendship″ with an Austrian woman over several years. Danzinger said she was questioned this week after returning from a vacation in Egypt and there was no evidence she had suspicions about Bloch.
The interior minister said the suspect visitor to Vienna also had a relationship with an Austrian woman, and the women apparently were not acquainted. Danzinger said authorities had to assume ″neither had any idea of a possible link between Bloch″ and the man with Finnish papers.
Bloch, 54, was economics chief in the Vienna embassy in 1980-83, then deputy chief of mission until he returned to Washington in July 1987. He is the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat ever investigated for espionage.
He was put on paid leave June 22 and is under constant surveillance by the FBI, but his travel has not been restricted.
Reports have said he refused to discuss any possible spying activities with the FBI, but The New York Times reported Friday he admitted in a brief interview with the FBI on June 22 to being paid ″a lot of money″ by the KGB over ″many years.″
A congressional source in Washington told The Associated Press the FBI believes the KGB recruited Bloch when he was stationed in East Berlin 14 years ago.
Loeschnak said preliminary Austrian investigations of Bloch had been completed and prosecutors received the report Friday. He said they would decide whether further action should be taken.
Suspicions about the diplomat are ″the affair of the United States,″ he said, but ″we have to see whether Austrian interests were affected.″
″Some things have been established which indicate the activity of a KGB man,″ Loeschnak said, but he would not say whether there was a direct link to Bloch.