- from 'The War Illustrated', 2nd February, 1918
- 'German Spies in France'
- Facts And Fictions of Germany's Secret Service
- by Tighe Hopkins
How France Faced Hun Spies
- left - a spy being summarily executed
- right - suspected 'spies' in a French village being escorted by soldiers
With Some Consideration of Women's Part in a Despicable Business
Concerning the thoroughness of our anti-spy service at home I have probably said enough. There will be many revelations when the war is concluded, but the reader already perceives that the enemy overreached himself from the first.
Widely as it extended, we had the whole of his system in check before hostilities began ; and since then, in London and the chief provincial towns, at every port in the kingdom, and every point of significance on the coast, we have spoiled, anticipated, or confounded all his moves. As his cleverest agents failed to know the movements of British troops in the very earliest clash of arms; so have they failed these many, many months to send to Berlin tidings more secret than the rest of us have read in the day's newspaper. Stieber's ghost, revisiting the glimpses of the moon, has either chuckled over or bemoaned his fate.
At the front, when the campaign was shaping, the Germans tried many devices. A year or so before the war a young German cavalry officer, whose name I cannot recall, was on the jaunt in North America. He was studying, with practical intent, the ways of the declining Red Man, and quite early in the war the Germans were making some use of his knowledge.
Some Primitive Tricks
They tried, for instance, the. Red Man's smoke signals (volumes of smoke variously arranged on rising ground) ; but when these had been effectually "smoked" by our own people, it was observed that the enemy's gunners were less skilful in judging their distances. Other tricks adopted from primitive codes, such as chalk-marks, the breaking of trees or branches, the disposition of squares of turf, etc., were very soon discovered and, after all, most of them had been tried by that fairly astute commander Napoleon I.
Touching counter-espionage in France. I must be brief, and I pretend to no extraordinary sources of information. Little has been published here except what bears on a very few notorious cases ; but it will, in course of time, be known that the French methods of counter-espionage were not inferior to our own. They could not have been, for secret service in France is no modern organisation ; it is found very well developed in the days of the monarchy. In the present century the Third Division (acting independently of the Prefect of Police himself, who is politician rather than policeman) is at least as formidable, an institution as any similar one in Germany ; and, when need arises, as deadly and deadening in its modes of operation. Again, the French War Office had learned its lesson long before Germany took the field in 1914. The tragedy, swift and overwhelming, of 1870 was not forgotten, and into the innermost sanctum of the War Office every secret of importance had flowed in the hour of mobilisation. As the world has seen, there was no surprising France this time !
The Kaiser has had long to wait for his performance of Sudermann at the Francais. In one rather horrible example we have seen that in this war, at any rate, France will take no risks will, on the contrary, exact the last frightful penalty in the matter of espionage. I hardly fancy that Napoleon (who, to be sure, made no bones over the shooting of a d'Enghien) would have whisked that unhappy dancing-girl at dawn from her cell in a Paris prison to a courtyard in the Dungeon of Vincennes, there to gather in her breast the bullets of a firing-party ; but, if the facts lie open, the history comprised in them is still veiled to us.
Women as Spies
On the general question as regards France. I think the chronicles of the war will show : (1) That in the first few days the law of 1886, dealing with espionage, was revised from top to bottom (2) that this revised measure was followed almost immediately by a fresh one ; and (3) that in certain quiet districts where German spies, quartered on a business footing in shops and offices, had long lain under suspicion, there was lynch law here and there for a week or so.
Does any reader by chance recall in this connection a scene of the ghastliest in Zola's novel of the war of 1870 ? If he has the stomach for it, he may read the page again. There is, I think, an English version, "The Downfall,"
That rattle of musketry against a wall of Vincennes (where have smouldered, since, the fall of the Bastille, some of the most tragic memories of older France) brings into mind for a moment the part .of the woman as a spy in this war. It has been a very small one. It has been very small, I mean, in its results. This war has changed and revolutionised all the methods of fighting, extending down to the subterranean activities of the spy. So indiscriminately ruthless have the methods of Germany been that on every side the intelligence of her enemies has been sharpened against her, and in no other war has espionage been tackled on our side so cleverly, so determinedly, so closely.
In almost all of our wars up to now espionage has been regarded and treated as a part of the game that could not safely be neglected, but also as an incident chiefly of the theatre of battle from day to day. Germany taught us to look for the spy at home, to look for him before the war began, and to lay nets for him everywhere. We did this, and in doing it we undid the spy. Where the most cunning of the Kaiser's men came to grief, there was no peculiar chance for his women.
In Despicable Service
Spying has been in this war such a nerve-wrecking business as never before. Suspicion has been universal, pursuit has never slackened, conviction and penalty have been as one. In a drama as fierce as this only one or two women have come into the foreground. The French Government shot one at Versailles and one at Marseilles.
Scotland Yard will by and by tell what it thinks of the woman as a spy, and it will be an echo of one of the most famous of the asides of Napoleon, who put the sex to the test with a cynicism bred of experience. It is to the credit of the woman that she fails as a spy ; arid Stieber, the great, unblushing genius of the business, had an instinctive knowledge of her weakness for the part. "Is it a big affair you have, sire ?" Said Stieber to his old master. "Well, then, anybody but a woman ! "
The German experts have always made use of women, but almost always also in a subordinate capacity. For a career in spying, demanding steady and persistent nerve, they have usually chosen a woman of the type of the dancing-girl. In a service such as this a woman may touch the depths. I have referred once or twice to the book that carries the name of Olga von Kopf. There is, I think, a. touch of fraud in it throughout, but the writer has probably been in touch with spies of her sex. She says (and is careful to add that she is speaking of German women) : "One woman openly bragged before me that she had strangled a French woman spy. who had thwarted her in Constantinople; another admitted that she had poisoned a Russian officer, only meaning to drug him. On meeting these persons face to face, hearing their conversation, and observing their dress and manners, I could not help despising myself for ever entering the same service."
All Ciphers Discovered
We shall be a step to the good if no woman ever enters it again.
Missing his aim in every other field of espionage, there was yet, at the beginning of the war, one opening for an enemy who has trusted so much to the arts that flow from science. He ought at least to have discovered a new thing in cipher-writing. Naturally, it has been supposed that he has done so. Members of Parliament have risen in alarm in the House on this subject. Their fears have been unfounded. The Germans have invented no new code. No cipher employed in diplomacy, in war, in crime has stood for long the scrutiny of experts ; and Napoleon was right in saying (after he had put to the proof the best specimens of masters in the aft) that every trick of writing with figures, with letters, with hieroglyphics was valueless. At the War Office, the Home Office, Scotland Yard, or in that quiet place, "Somewhere, W.C.," to which no member of the public has penetrated, the measure has been taken of all the German ciphers. *
From A to Z the war has blown to pieces the German spy system. What of credit will remain .to Germany when the war is over we need not at present be too curious to ask. But with the spy system of the " All-Highest " some historian will certainly tickle the palate of posterity.
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