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Bogus Foreign Spies

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Bogus Foreign Spies

Post by Karen on Tue 12 Apr 2011 - 20:46

The following article mentions a play about Jack the Ripper, which was based on a story that had been circulating for years, that the Ripper was an elderly multimillionaire peer with an eccentric disposition:


"Secret Agents" Swarm in New York and Other Large Cities, Some of Them Merely Swindlers, Others Patriotic Busybodies, More Actuated by Vanity - How To Distinguish Imposters. Embassy Notes Misused as Credentials.

"Who is he?" is the title of a rather unpleasant play by Horace Vachell, which has been drawing crowded houses at the Haymarket Theater in London, and which obviously is based on the story current for years in England, according to which the mysterious Jack the Ripper was an elderly multimillionaire peer, of eccentric disposition, and whose singular career bore some analogy to that of Stevenson's sinister hero, Dr. Jekyl, alias Mr. Hyde.
But it is not this play, at once macabre and comical, that I wish to briefly discuss in this letter, but the presence in New York, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington and, in fact, in most of the leading American cities of soi-distant secret agents of foreign governments. They are simply swarming in the United States just at present.

Thousands in New York.

In New York they may be counted by the thousands, and inasmuch as it is generally known that the various belligerent governments have a quantity of officials on this side of the Atlantic, it follows that the pseudo agent very frequently gets away with his lie.
As the bogus secret agents are usually rather resourceful, and possessed of unlimited assurance and impudence, it becomes a matter of some difficulty to distinguish the fraud from the simon-pure article. I receive so many letters of inquiry from persons in various parts of the country, who have been good enough to read these series of articles for years past, asking for information about this or that alleged secret agent of foreign governments, that it may be of timely interest to give here a few notes on the subject.
To begin with, any one who intimates his or her employment as the secret agent of some European power should be regarded with a considerable amount of distrust. They do not always put forward the claim to be an emissary in so many words.

Ask to Be Guarded.

Often, they attain their object by volunteering an unasked for denial of a rumour, existing only in their own mind, to the effect that they are engaged in secret service work, accompanying the denial with a very portentous wink, full of meaning. Or else they address themselves to the greatest gossip of their acquaintance, and entreat the latter, in the strictest confidence, to help in dispelling the popular impression on the subject, on the ground that it really interferes with the success of their mission.
Bona fide secret service agents endeavor by all the means in their power to conceal their activities and the purpose of their presence in the United States, since secrecy is essential to the success of the task which they have undertaken.
Bogus secret agents may be divided into three classes. First, there are those who practice this odd form of deception in order to extort money from dupes, and to perpetuate swindles.

Victims of Vanity.

Then there are the others who indulge - in this species of hoax for the purpose of endowing themselves with more importance and interest than they would otherwise possess, in the eyes of their acquaintances, and of strangers with whom they may be brought into contact.
Finally there are those well-meaning busybodies who with the kindly intention of assisting the one or the other of the belligerent nations that possess their sympathies, voluntarily devote much of their time, attention and money to the labor of ferreting out information about often wholly innocent persons, who have in some way excited their curiosity or their animosity. The information which they thus obtain, sometimes at a quite heavy cost, they communicate in the most portentous fashion to the embassies or consulates of the belligerent nation that enjoy their good will. But in 99 cases out of 100 the news turns out to be of no value.

Misused Envoys' Notes.

In the early stages of the war, the foreign ambassadors and ministers plenipotentiary at Washington were accustomed, in accordance with diplomatic usage, to send a few written words of courteous acknowledgment and thanks for every letter containing information, no matter how extravagant or foolish the letter might be. But they were obliged to abandon this practice when, somewhat late in the day, they ascertained that these brief and polite notes of theirs were used, not only by the well-meaning busybodies, but even by downright swindlers, as official credentials.
A note from an Ambassador, stamped with the address of the embassy, and with the heraldic device of its government, containing the acknowledgment of "information received," and "thanks for the same," was quite enough, in the hands of a clever rogue to create the impression that he was employed by the Ambassador in question.

No Official Confirmations.

It may possibly be argued that reference to the foreign embassies and consulates here regarding the authenticity and bona fides of this or that alleged secret service emissary would prove sufficient to dispel any doubt or misgiving. But the embassies are not always in a position to do this, and still less the consulates.
Moreover, if the individual inquired about was suspected of being a secret agent, is really so employed, it is not to his interest, nor to that of the embassy's government to lift, even by so much as a hint, the veil of secrecy with which he is endeavoring to shroud his operations, while if the man is a stranger to them, and they know nothing about him, they can never feel quite sure that he is not connected with some other branch of their government, unless they have been previously and specifically notified to the contrary from here, and warned against him.

Agents on Every Ship.

Secret agents are looked for on board every ocean liner reaching American ports. Those who really fill the bill in nearly every case manage to escape notice and observation. Other passengers, however, seem flattered by the imputation of having been intrusted with a secret mission, particularly if they happen to be undistinguished politicians, and obscure legislators.
Perhaps the French are the worst offenders, although there are quite a number of Englishmen, Belgians, Russians, Germans, Austrians and Italians who fill the bill. If I refer more particularly to the French it is because their government is in a measure to blame. In each government department the minister, or rather, I should say, his numerous private secretaries, have at their disposal quantities of printed forms, which are given to citizens visiting the western hemisphere.
The printed slip merely says that the bearer, whose name is given, is "charge de mission," by the department concerned, and requests that all courtesies and facilities be extended to him. The nature of the mission is not disclosed.

Unknown Often to Ministers.

In most cases the minister whose signature figures at the foot of the document knows nothing about the matter, which involves no obligation, financial or otherwise, on the part of the government, and once this precious document has been intrusted to the person whose name it bears no one is interested in his further movements and for all the department cares he may remain at home.
During the past few years I have known all sorts of individuals who have come to this country equipped with this kind of printed credentials, some of them journalists who have been a source of considerable trouble and annoyance to their embassy here, and also some minor politicians whose tactless activities have been a source of great embarrassment to the diplomatic representatives of their native land. Perhaps the most noted case of all was that of the late Claude Casimir-Penier, the son of that president, Casimir-Perier, who was elected to the chief magistracy of France on the assassination at Lyons, of the unfortunate Sadi-Carnot.

Accompanied Actress Wife.

Claude Casimir-Perier contracted, in defiance of his parent's wishes, a marriage with Mme. Simone, the well-known Parisian actress, after her divorce from the Comedie Francaise actor, Le Bardy. On the last occasion when Mme. Simone came to this country on a theatrical tour she was accompanied by her husband, Claude Casimir-Perier, in the capacity of manager. At the same time he brought with him one of these printed forms intimating that he was "charge de mission" by the department of public works and ports of France.
The result was that in San Francisco and in some of the other seacoast cities of the United States Mme. Simone, on her arrival to fulfill her theatrical engagements, was welcomed by the local theatrical people, while her husband and manager was accorded an official reception by the authorities of the city and port.

(Copyright, 1916, by the Brentwood Company.)

Source: The Washington Post, Sunday April 2, 1916, Page 1

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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