The Secret Service

: Winning A Cause World War Stories

The United States did not declare war till nearly three years after the

war had begun in Europe. During most of that time the situation was

this: Germany, to win at all, must win at once. The longer the Allies

could stave Germany off, the more time they would have to collect arms

and armies, powder, food, and ships, and the more certain they would be

of winning in the end. Therefore they sent to America, which was rich

/> and had many factories, for tremendous quantities of every sort of war

provisions. Of course it was necessary for Germany to prevent the

Allies from getting these supplies. It was in the effort to do this

that the German spy system became so widespread in the United States.

The German government had always kept in direct touch with a number of

Germans in America, and in indirect touch with a great many more. So

when Germany needed help in America, she called on the German-Americans

to hinder in every way possible the sending of aid to Great Britain and

France. The United States could not allow any one to blow up American

factories and railroads and start strikes among American workmen.

Consequently the United States Secret Service and its fellow agencies

set to work, and the great fight was on.

The opponents, the German Intelligence Office and the American Secret

Service, were not so unevenly matched as one might imagine. What

advantage the Germans lost by being in the enemy's country they made up

by being prepared far in advance, and by knowing just what they wanted

to do. And there is always an advantage on the side of the hunted

animal. Let us see briefly just what each organization was like.

The German service in its heyday was a fearful and wonderful thing.

Little by little, as spies were shadowed, captured, and their papers

examined, the whole far-reaching tangle was revealed. One can tell

only a little here about this tangle--for to tell it all would take

more books than one.

In the German system there were five or six names to be remembered.

Count von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador and chief plotter; Dr.

Heinrich Albert, his assistant and treasurer; Franz von Rintelen,

reported to be a near relative to the Kaiser; Captain Franz von Papen,

the military attache; and his partner, Captain Boy-Ed, the naval

attache. From this group at the top, the lines spread down, through

business men, doctors, editors, clerks, butlers, and every rank and

class in America. Big Bill Flynn, for many years the clever chief of

the Secret Service, said that he thought there were 250,000 men and

women in this country who were working for Germany. Sad to say, not

all of them were German by birth; a few, the most dangerous, were

native Americans, although they were Germans at heart. Everywhere, in

the most unexpected places, these German agents were found, always

busily carrying out their orders with regular German blindness, and

never questioning or knowing anything about the hideous acts of their

superiors. The German machine was, in short, like a huge wheel, with

the brains at the hub.

The United States fought this contemptible creation with several

weapons. The Secret Service was of course the most active; but it was

very greatly helped by the Department of Justice, the Naval

Intelligence, and the Military Intelligence, as well as by the police

departments in the various cities. In fact, one of the greatest

troubles at times was that too many agencies would be working on the

same case. They stepped on each other's heels.

All these branches grew in size during the war, but especially the

Naval and Military Intelligence offices. As early as January, 1916,

patriotic citizens were quietly serving their government, all unknown

even to their own friends, and were collecting pieces of information

and hints here and there that, in the end, were of great value. If the

Germans had spies in every nook and cranny of our nation, so did

we--business men, secretaries, cooks, doctors, and laborers. The

Secret Service was everywhere. Again and again, when some devoted

German was busily doing his duty to his Fatherland, an American Secret

Service agent would lay a hand on his shoulder and show him a ticket to

a prison camp. And then, so curious is the German way of thinking,

nine times out of ten the German, intensely surprised and very cross at

being caught in the act, would insist that he was doing nothing, and

that he had a perfect right to do it!

Now watch the two forces at war. The German machine was working

quietly along, now and then blowing up a factory and now and then being

caught red-handed. It had already suffered a severe loss, for Captain

von Papen, the military attache, had been discovered in his work by the

British and had been deported. When he reached Germany, by the way, he

was given the Order of the Red Eagle by the Kaiser, who doubtless

recognized in the bungling plotter a fellow spirit. Thanks to the

information gained from von Papen's papers, the United States had a

very good idea of what the other Germans in America were doing and

began to make arrests.

Every afternoon at about five o'clock Dr. Albert, the ambassador's

assistant, would leave his office at 45 Broadway, New York, and take

the elevated railroad uptown to his luxurious rooms in the German Club.

He always carried with him a brown leather dispatch case. The Secret

Service men, who had been keeping an eye on him, determined to get that

case, because they knew from the way the doctor always held on to it,

that it must contain something important. A wise member of the Service

was chosen to make the coup.

He watched the German closely for many days, and saw that the doctor

took a train just at five o'clock every day; that, on the train, he

read his evening paper very intently (possibly to see which one of his

friends had been arrested last); and that he always walked through the

same streets from the railroad to his club. Finally one day the agent

decided that he was ready to try for that little brown case.

That evening a quiet, well-mannered gentleman, not noticeable in any

particular way, took the seat next to Dr. Albert on the train. The

doctor spread out his paper with true German disregard for the persons

on each side of him, and began to read. Always he held the flat brown

case clutched against his side. The train passed several stations and

still the doctor hugged his case. Although the car was packed with

people, the American carefully avoided crushing against the spy, for

fear of alarming him. More stations were left behind, and the doctor

had nearly finished his paper. The Secret Service man was getting

worried; would he fail? And there were the papers, so close to him.

Then the train stopped at the next to the last station. At the same

minute Dr. Albert completed his reading, and for the fraction of a

moment raised his arm to fold the sheets. With lightning quickness the

agent slid the dispatch case away from the doctor's side and stood up.

Two or three people jostled him, and he staggered against the doctor.

Then he lunged for the door. The doctor finished folding his paper and

felt for his case. It was gone. He jumped to his feet and glared

around him wildly.

Conductor! he shouted, My case! It is gone!

The gates of the car clanged shut and the train started slowly. Down

the stairs to the street went the American, quietly and confidently,

with the brown leather case under his arm. On the train, Dr. Albert,

white of face, was bitterly calling on his German Gott to find his case

for him!

The next day, and the next, and for many days thereafter, a few modest

lines of advertising appeared in New York papers, saying that a brown

leather case had been lost on an elevated train and that a small reward

would be paid for its return. The advertisement stated that the case

was of no value to anyone but the owner. The poor doctor did not dare

call attention to his loss by sounding too loud an alarm, for he knew

what was in the bag.

Of no value to anyone but the owner! Not to ninety-nine people out

of a hundred, perhaps; but the hundredth man had the case, and he and

his chief knew what to make of it.

On a windy morning in April, 1916, two American secret agents, dressed,

as always, in civilian clothes, were walking down Wall Street toward

number 60. From information obtained through the capture of several

spies, they knew that in an office at 60 Wall Street a big, polite

German, Wolf von Igel, was running an advertising agency that was not

an advertising agency. They knew further that Wolf was one of the

chief plotters, and that he kept many of the most important German

plans locked in a big burglar-proof safe, on which was painted the

Imperial German seal. Lastly, and this explains why the two agents

were walking to his office at exactly that hour, they knew that some

especially important plans would be in the safe and that another

dangerous spy would be talking to von Igel. This piece of knowledge

had come through one of the many underground ways which so puzzled the

Germans. It may have been a tip from some American agent who was

secretly working with the Germans to spy on them.

The Americans pushed open the door, hurried right past the clerk in the

outer office, and entered the inner room. Von Igel, who was bending

over a packet of papers, looked up.

I'll trouble you for those papers, von Igel, said one of the

Americans, stepping up to him.

The startled German shoved him back, leaped to the safe door, and

slammed it shut. But before he had time to give the knob a twirl, the

Secret Service men were upon him. In rushed the clerk, and for a few

minutes the four men wrestled and struggled madly all around the little

room. But the Americans were powerful, and they had help at hand.

They threw the Germans down and sat on them to rest, while the

frightened Germans protested.

You have no right to do this, panted von Igel. This is the property

of the Imperial German Government, and cannot be broken into this way!

That'll be all right, answered one American. You see it has been

broken into.

The papers, seventy pounds of them, were packed up and taken

away,--with the Germans. As the men were leaving the office, they met

the other spy, who was just arriving. It did not take much persuasion

to make him go along too.

The German Ambassador, von Bernstorff, raised a frightful uproar over

this, and claimed that the papers were his. This was a sad mistake on

his part, because, when the letters were opened and the plans read, he

was asked to remember that he had said they were his. There was enough

proof in that seventy pounds to convince even a German. Among other

things there came to light their conspiracies to undermine the

citizenship of other countries. But now all this was made worse than

useless, for its discovery not only laid bare the plot, but also told

the names of all the men who were taking part in it. It was the

biggest victory scored by either side, and the credit for it goes to

our regular Secret Service.

Three of the heads of the German beast in America had now been cut off.

There remained only von Bernstorff. He lasted nine months longer than

the others. The government has not yet told the world all the details

of the ambassador's last great defeat, but some were as follows--

Germany now knew that if she were to win at all, it must be

immediately. So she decided to carry on her ruthless submarine

warfare, and sink all the ships she could, no matter to whom they

belonged. She realized that it would make America declare war on her,

and in order to offset her coming in, she hit upon the idea of having

Mexico attack her on the South, and if possible, Japan on the West.

She did not stop to think (she had no time for that) that Japan was one

of the Allies, and of course would not make war against her. Perhaps

she believed Japan would not remain faithful to the Allies.

So the Foreign Office in Berlin wrote to von Bernstorff in Washington,

and he in turn was to write to Mexico. The success of the whole scheme

depended on secrecy. The arrangements must be made without the United

States knowing anything about it. Once again a heavy responsibility

was thrown upon our Secret Service. How did they carry it?

We have already seen that the Service had its agents in the most

unsuspected places. One of the most unsuspected of them all must have

gotten to work, for within a week the Service knew that something

unusually mysterious was going on inside the German Embassy. Patiently

the resourceful agents worked and worked, bit by bit, until at

last--they won. They secured the most necessary document of the whole

case, the one which Germany was most anxious to keep secret. When it

was made public, it caused the greatest sensation of years. Here it


Berlin, January 19, 1917.

(To von Eckhardt, the German Minister in Mexico.)

On the first of February we intend to begin submarine warfare

unrestricted. In spite of this it is our intention to endeavor to keep

neutral the United States of America.

If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the

following basis with Mexico: that we shall make war together and

together make peace. We shall give general financial support, and it

is understood that Mexico is to recover the lost territory in New

Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The details are left to you for settlement.

You are instructed to inform the President of Mexico of the above in

greatest confidence, as soon as it is certain that there will be an

outbreak of war with the United States, and suggest that the President

of Mexico on his own initiative should communicate with Japan,

suggesting adherence to this plan. At the same time offer to mediate

between Germany and Japan.

Please call to the attention of the President of Mexico that the

employment of ruthless submarine warfare now promises to compel England

to make peace in a few months.


Alfred Zimmermann was the German Foreign Minister.

The German defense to this piece of absolute proof was what we have

since learned to expect from Germans;--

We were not doing it. And anyway, it was not unfriendly, and we had a

perfect right to do it.

The once great German machine was now without its leaders, and all it

could do was to carry on a number of small local agitations, with no

directing intelligence. A very few months after the publication of the

Zimmermann letter, the United States itself went into the war. Then

the constant struggle between detectives and enemy-aliens became even

more serious. A new problem faced the Secret Service and its

co-workers. That was to keep the German spies over here from sending

to Germany information that would be of value to her in a military way.

No knowledge of the movements of troops, of fleets, or of supplies must

be allowed to leave America. At all costs the war plans must be kept


The spies tried to send information to Germany by many different ways,

such as by cable to Denmark, Switzerland, or any other neutral European

nation, and then by telegraph into Germany; or by telegraph to Mexico,

and then by wireless to Germany; or by wireless to a neutral ship on

the ocean, which would relay to Germany by her wireless. The first and

most important thing for the spy in every case was to get his message

out of this country.

To prevent this, the United States established censorships. There were

telegraph censors, watching the wires into Mexico; there were postal

censors, examining the mails; but the most interesting was the cable

censor, who had to keep all the cables free from enemy use. Although

cable censorship was done by the Navy Department, its work very often

overlapped that of the Secret Service. Here is a typical example of

how these two worked together, not correct in details but accurately

showing the method followed in a great many cases:--

In June, 1917, some of General Pershing's first troops sailed from New

York, in number about 15,000 men, in 13 transports. On that very day a

Spanish firm in the city filed a cable to Spain, saying:--

Quote 13 millers at 15 per cent.

The censor's suspicious mind, always on the alert for something

unusual, saw that this message could easily be a code, which would mean

to the man receiving it, Sailed, 13 transports with 15,000 troops.

It was too probable to be an accident, thought the censor, and he

decided to watch Mendez & Co. A few days later two more transports

sailed, and Mendez filed three more cables, each containing the number

2, with other figures. The censor promptly put the detectives on the


The merciless grasp of the Secret Service, which always gets its man,

then settled about Mendez. The Spaniard could make no move, day or

night, that was not immediately known to the Service.

In the dead of an autumn night, two agents opened the door of Mendez'

office with a master key, and searched his desk. One man ran over all

the papers, reading them rapidly in a low voice, while his companion,

an expert stenographer, took down the words with lightning speed. This

done, they placed a dictagraph in the inner office, working quickly and

well. With a final glance around, they left, having completed the work

in a remarkably short time.

The next day Mendez' telephone was tapped. Then his secretary left,

and the new one he hired was a Secret Service agent. The Spaniard

never guessed it, for the secretary brought the most trustworthy

references. Every time Mendez held a meeting of his group of German

agents and talked of how to send information to Germany, the secretary

heard all they said, and at once reported it to his chief. Every time

Mendez telephoned, a Secret Service agent listened to what he said.

Every time he had a conference in his office, if the secretary by

chance was not there, the dictagraph made a record of the conversation,

and the Service knew about it.

Naturally such careful watching won in the end. Mendez, who had caught

the German habit of believing that no one was so clever as himself, did

not dream of the net that was being woven around him, and went on

filing his cable messages which, of course, were not sent. All the

information obtained by the Secret Service was sifted, arranged, and

confirmed, and Mendez was arrested. With his departure, his whole

following was helpless, and settled back to swear at the United States

for its tyranny. The patient Secret Service had scored again.

So it went. For every German spy or would-be spy in America, there was

an agent of the Secret Service, equally resourceful, and more likely to

succeed, because, no matter how clumsy his adversary seemed, he never

made the mistake of underrating him. Stupid Yankees, von Papen had

called us, while he went about his plotting with child-like faith in

his skill at hiding. Stupid Germans, the Secret Service might have

retorted, as it skillfully uncovered all his plotting and sent him back

to his Kaiser, where his stupidity was more appreciated.

But it took many months of patient, unceasing work, and far the

greatest part of it was dull, hard, steady grind. Rarely was there any

excitement for the industrious government agents, and more rarely was

there any glory, for the work had to be kept secret. Trailing,

watching, studying, thinking, always putting two and two together and

often finding that they made five instead of four; through day and

night, through sun and storm, the officers whose duty it was to catch

the spy before he could harm America worked steadily on.

That is why America won at home just as she won abroad. Had not the

silent army in the United States fought so unceasingly and so

skillfully, the army in France would have been paralyzed. When you

think of the Great Victory, remember those quiet, unknown men and women

at home who did so much to help win it, and give full credit to the

Secret Service.