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.