Woodrow Wilson, 1913-21

"Our First Line of Defense" Presidential Reflections on US Intelligence (U)


World War I broke out during President Woodrow Wilson's first term, and the United States entered the war during his second administration. Wilson had little interest in or use for intelligence and found the idea of a national "secret service" abhorrent. To Wilson, "intelligence" was synonymous with "spy." After the Armistice in 1918, he would laugh at his own naiveté about intelligence, but did nothing to ensure that the modest American capability developed during the war would remain.


    "LET ME TESTIFY TO THIS, MY fellow citizens, I not only did not know it until we got into this war, but I did not believe it when I was told that it was true, that Germany was not the only country that maintained a secret service. Every country in Europe maintained it, because they had to be ready for Germany's spring upon them, and the only difference between the German secret service and the other secret services was that the German secret service found out more than the others did! (Applause and laughter) And therefore Germany sprang upon the other nations at unawares [sic], and they were not ready for it.

    President Woodrow Wilson, Speech, 5 September 1919


    "ONE OF THE THINGS THAT has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friend is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without, our industries and our commerce. Indeed it is now evident that its spies were here before the war began. . . That it means to stir up enemies at our very doors the intercepted note to the German Minister in Mexico City is eloquent evidence."

    President Woodrow Wilson, Address to Congress, 2 April 1917






Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:57 PM