Commentary

January 19, 2013

Military Intelligence — this week in history: January 18, 2012

Black Tom Island Sabotage, July 30, 1916

Jan. 18, 1918: American intelligence agents arrest German spy in Nogales, Ariz.

While sources disagree on the exact date, when young Lothar Witzke crossed the international border into Nogales, Ariz., on January 18, 1918 carrying a Russian passport, he was already well-known to the Military Intelligence Division, or MID. He had been under surveillance as a known German spy and was suspected as an accomplice in the sabotage attack on Black Tom Island in New York Harbor that occurred on July 30, 1916. That explosion was described as a thunderous blast, felt as far away as Philadelphia and Maryland. It rocked the harbor, shattered skyscraper windows, and pelted the Statue of Liberty with shrapnel.

Black Tom Island was a wake-up call for many Americans. Many people, the president included, felt that their distance from Europe would buffer them from the violence over there. Germany was, after all, considered a friend, and thousands of her citizens lived productive, patriotic lives in America. Six months after the Black Tom explosion, British cryptographers would decode the Zimmermann Telegram, which is what propelled reluctant America into the War, but the Black Tom sabotage would elude justice for the next 23 years.

At the same time, people of Mexico were in the midst of revolution. The Punitive Expedition to chase down Pancho Villa had ended with no resolution and left many Mexicans with a dislike of American government. Ralph Van Deman, head of the fledgling MID in Washington, D.C., set up a number of listening posts along the Mexican border to monitor German communications and keep tabs on known espionage rings set up in that country.

One of these known agents was Lothar Witzke. A man of numerous aliases, Witzke was dispatched by his handlers in Mexico City to the United States. Little did he know that his companions were Allied double agents reporting Witzke’s every move to MID.

Dr. Paul Altendorf, known to American Intelligence as Operative A-1, reported his conversations with Witzke to Capt. Byron Butcher, a special agent with the Military Intelligence Division in Nogales, Ariz. Witzke was taken into custody, and a coded letter found in his luggage was sent to MI-8, the Army’s Code and Cipher Section, for decryption. It only took one night to decipher, and it read: “Strictly Secret! The bearer of this is a subject of the Empire who travels as a Russian under the name of Pablo Waberski. He is a German secret agent.”

After months of interrogation in a Texas prison, Lothar Witzke was sentenced to death — the only man thus sentenced in the U.S. during World War I. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison by President Woodrow Wilson.

For further reading:

“The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America,” by Capt. Henry Landau, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1937

“Sabotage at Black Tom: Imperial Germany’s Secret War in America,” 1914-1917, by Jules Witcover, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, 1989

“The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice”, by Chad Millman, Little, Brown, and Co., New York, 2006




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Celebrating Women’s Equality Day — 2014

The Nation’s Annual Observance of Women’s Equality Day commemorates the addition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote. This victory moved our Nation forward on the path towards equal civil and political rights for all Americans. The roles of women in the Army have changed dramatically since 1775....
 
 

2014 Antiterrorism Awareness Message

What are the dangers which menace us? If any exist they ought to be ascertained and guarded against. ~ James Monroe, 1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817 August marks the Army’s fifth annual observance of Antiterrorism Awareness Month. Each year, we improve our defenses through increased threat awareness and organizational and individual protection measures. Throughout...
 
 

Three things to know during Anti-terrorism Awareness Month

FORT EUSTIS, Va. — Each year, the Army sets aside August to raise awareness of its ongoing efforts to protect Soldiers and their Families, Department of the Army Civilians and contractors from terrorist threats. Here are a few things to always keep in mind: The threat is real According to a recent article by the...
 

 
J.D. Leipold

Army signs ‘Shifting Gears’ training partnership with GM, Raytheon

J.D. Leipold The Shifting Gears Automotive Technician Training Program proclamation is displayed after being signed by representatives from the Army, General Motors and Raytheon at a Pentagon ceremony, Tuesday. From left, the s...
 
 

Odierno: Information, instability travel at similar speeds

ASPEN, Colo. – As the world has become more interconnected and information travels faster than ever before, it also has become more unpredictable and dangerous, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said here last night. “People now understand more about what other people might have, what they might want, how much control they want...
 
 
Deutsches-Currywurst-Museum

Allied Soldiers influenced the creation of Berlin’s popular street food snack

It is a street food so iconic it has its own flavor of potato chips, a song, Google doodle and a museum. The Currywurst is a memorable part of most service members and their Families’ experience in Germany. But how many peopl...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin