Germany in the years up to and during World War I, had an extensive intelligence network; in the US in particular, even prior to that country's formal entry into the war, they engaged in not only espionage, but some rather aggressive action such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Tom_explosion

Did German spies also operate in any of the territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Bosnia, in the years running up to 1914? Or did they have a (tacit or explicit) policy of staying out of their ally's turf?

  • Please cite your sources for eg the assertion "had an extensive spy network"? What has your own research revealed on this so far? Jul 4, 2020 at 16:41
  • 1
    @LаngLаngС I cited a representative one above; basically it's clear they did a lot of spying, and more, in America. Though Mark Johnson's answer below is suggesting that this might have been something that was more ramped up quickly, than pre-existing?
    – rwallace
    Jul 4, 2020 at 17:08

1 Answer 1


Before 1914, the 2 organizations that existed were very small:

  • Army (Abteilung III b): 1908 3, 1914: 5 officers
  • Navy (Nachrichtenstelle (N)): 1897: 5, 1900: 2, 1914: unknown

Since 1910 there was an active cooperation with Austria (k.u.k. Evidenzbüro).

In August 1914, 21 spies were arrested in the United Kingdom and since no communications were possible, the spy network was abandoned.

The Navy attaché in Washington coordinated agent activities in the United States.

Both organizations concentrated on the collection of available information

  • Navy: worldwide ship movement
  • Army: Military cooperation France/Russia

There was no counter espionage department of the 2 services, allthough the Navy cooperated when cases of industrial spying in the area of shipbuilding became apparent.

Since a greater part of the documention was destroyed at the end of the war, not much more is known.

The situation before 1914 is not comparable with the situation before 1939.

General observations, impressions

Pre 1914, spy networks (in the sense of cloak and dagger and common place after the 1920's) really didn't exist. Gentlemen don't spy would be general attitude of the time. Agents were more observers on the ground collecting information that was, more or less, publicly available.

In many ways Sidney Reilly can be considered the 'father' of modern day spys.

His activities (1890's until his execution 1925) are well known, allthough some doubt his degree of participation in some of the otherwise true events. The 1932 book Memoirs of a British Agent by R. H. Bruce Lockhart, who was a British diplomat, worked with Reilly. Locharts son published 1967 the Ace of Spies, on which the 1983 miniseries Reilly, Ace of Spies was based.

This series shows the amount of destain that existed at the time for such methods and those that performed them. It also gives an impression on how small the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was, considering the geopolitical interest of the British Empire that existed at that time.

After August 1914, as with many things, all of this changed.


  • Ah, I was not expecting that! Hmm. The motive for my question was that I'm writing alternate history fiction with a point of departure in January 1914, in which a German agent might go to Sarajevo to try to stop the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and I wanted to check whether this is realistic. Is that something that could happen, of the surprisingly small number of German agents there were at that time?
    – rwallace
    Jul 4, 2020 at 17:10
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    @rwallace I have added some general observations that be helpful. Jul 5, 2020 at 5:38

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