All the Brains I Can Borrow: Woodrow Wilson and Intelligence Gathering in Mexico, 1913-15
By Mark E. Benbow
Wilson's efforts to cobble together information about Mexico's revolution illustrate some of the difficulties presidents faced when gathering intelligence before a more formal intelligence-gathering structure was established
A mere two weeks before Woodrow Wilson
became president of the United States, Mexico's Gen. Victoriano Huerta
overthrew his country's elected president, Francisco Madero, who would later be
assassinated. Wilson was concerned because he feared that foreign policy issues
might prove a distraction from the domestic reform measures he wanted to pass
through Congress. In fact, during the period 1913-15, Mexico was one of
Wilson's main foreign policy concerns, and after June 1914 it was second only
to the war in Europe.1
Throughout this period, Wilson
struggled not only with forming a policy toward Mexico but more fundamentally
with learning what was happening in Mexico's revolution. Wilson did not believe
he could trust his usually primary source of information, the Department of
State. Instead of relying on diplomatic reporting, Wilson cobbled together a
network of formal and informal sources to observe and report on events.
In the process, Wilson's efforts
illustrate some of the difficulties presidents faced when gathering
intelligence for policymaking before a more formal intelligence-gathering
structure was established with the Coordinator of Information in 1941.2
Confronted with the revolution in a
neighboring country, Wilson had to judge numerous parties in an ever-changing
political and military situation as each faction vied for support inside Mexico
and from the United States. In this paper, I will examine the types of
intelligence Wilson used to evaluate events in Mexico, their limitations and
their strengths, and how Wilson identified and dealt with bias among his
sources. I will also examine how Wilson evaluated the information from his
various informants. In short, how did Wilson, as a consumer of intelligence,
deal with the issues normally presented to intelligence collectors and
Of the numerous types of intelligence,
or "INTs," as they are recognized by the Intelligence Community
today, some, such as MASINT (Measurement And Signatures Intelligence) rely on
technology that did not exist in 1913 while others, IMINT (Imagery
Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) were of limited use during the
crisis in Mexico. SIGINT was used for counterintelligence purposes during this
period, and it would be useful again later, in 1916 during Pershing's
intervention to catch Pancho Villa, but it was of little value in supporting
the political analysis Wilson needed during 1913-15. The other major INTs,
HUMINT (Human Intelligence) and OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) both played
important roles in Wilson's informal intelligence network. But how useful were
these types of sources, and how reliable did they prove to be for Wilson?3
HUMINT was Wilson's most valuable
source. Traditionally, presidents before Wilson received their information
about overseas events through the State Department. This took the form of
reports from ambassadors, ministers, and consuls. Consuls were often US
citizens already living overseas, usually for business purposes, rather than
foreign service professionals. Consuls received stipends, official titles, and
reported on events in their regions and promoted US businesses in their area.
- President Wilson (seated) with his private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, a key gatekeeper in passing information to the president. (© CORBIS)<br />
Cables sent by US diplomats in Mexico
City and by consuls around the country were received in the State Department,
then located in the Executive Office Building next to the White House. In the
department they would be hand-carried to the geographical divisions within the
building and to the Division of Information, a predecessor of the current
Bureau of Intelligence and Research. If judged to be of sufficient importance,
a cable could then be forwarded to the secretary of state or to an
undersecretary, or even to the president.4
The many conflicting perspectives
flowing into Washington from US representatives in Mexico during the crisis
only clouded the president's view of events there. The ambassador and the
consuls all had their own interpretations of what was happening. Some praised
Huerta. Others lauded the revolutionaries, known as the
"Constitutionalists." As a result, President Wilson came to distrust
much of the diplomatic reporting from Mexico. But he especially distrusted the
reports of his ambassador.
The US ambassador in Mexico City, Henry
Lane Wilson, was a conservative Republican and an appointee of Wilson's
predecessor, William Howard Taft. Ambassador Wilson strongly advocated US
recognition of the Huerta government. He also actively assisted the plotters
who overthrew President Madero in February 1913.
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Just three days after President Wilson
was inaugurated on 4 March 1913, the New York World published a front page
story revealing Ambassador Wilson's role in Huerta's coup. The World was the
president's strongest supporter in the press and it was the newspaper he most
trusted. The World's report reinforced the president's decision to delay
recognition of Huerta's government, despite the ambassador's strenuous
lobbying. Also as a result of the World's reports, President Wilson considered
any information coming from the US embassy in Mexico to be tainted.5
Presented with conflicting information
and distrustful of State reporting, Wilson looked for more reliable sources.
First he turned to a reporter, William Bayard Hale, who had been an
Episcopalian priest. Hale wrote for the progressive journal World's Work and
had written Wilson's campaign biography in 1912. Hale would become the first of
several reporters, or "confidential men," picked to go to Mexico to
get the "exact facts." The president asked Hale to "tour"
the Latin American states--even though he spoke no Spanish--"ostensibly on
your own hook" and report "just what is going on down there."6
Hale reached Mexico City on 24 May,
accompanied by rumors that he was there to investigate the New York World's
reports. Hale denied the rumors and claimed that he was only there to research
a series of magazine articles. President Wilson also issued a statement denying
that Hale was investigating Ambassador Wilson's role in the coup. The type of
information Hale reported to the president indicated that he probably did seek
information about Ambassador Wilson's role in the February 1913 coup, but the president
also sought information on Huerta's legitimacy.
Hale sent his first report to the
President Wilson on 18 June 1913. His conclusions confirmed Wilson's worst
fears. President Madero was overthrown in a coup begun by those opposed to his
reforms. The coup would have failed if Gen. Huerta, Madero's own commander, had
not betrayed him. To make matters worse, Huerta acted only because he had the
active support of Ambassador Wilson. Hale's report indicated that the official
US representative, in fact, had engaged in a plot against an elected government
and was directly responsible for the coup's success. As Hale wrote,
- The US ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson (© CORBIS)
There was not a moment during [the
coup] when it would not have been possible to end the distressing situation
[and] put a stop to this unnecessary bloodshed by a stern warning from the
American embassy to the traitorous army officers that the United States would
countenance no methods but peaceful constitutional ones.... President Madero
was not betrayed and arrested by his officers until it had been asserted that
the American ambassador had no objection.
Hale concluded that "thousands of
Mexicans believe that the Ambassador acted on instructions from Washington and
looked upon his retention under the new American President as a mark of approval,
blaming the United States for the chaos into which [Mexico] has fallen.7
Hale also sought to undermine the Wilson administration's policy by trying to create the specter of armed intervention.
Hale also revealed how the ambassador
sought to undermine the Wilson administration's policy by trying to create the
specter of armed intervention by suggesting that Wilson's policies would
inevitably lead to a war in Mexico. Moreover, Hale reported, Ambassador Wilson
was noisily attacking President Wilson's administration calling it "a pack
of vicious fools." As for Huerta, Hale described him as "an ape-like
old man...said to subsist on alcohol8 and interested in holding power only for the abuses the position allowed him to
Suspecting what the reporter was doing,
Ambassador Wilson attacked Hales' reports in embassy cables to Washington.
Falling back on the tactic he used against Madero in his messages to the Taft
administration, the ambassador attacked his adversary's [Hale's] sanity:
"His mind appears to me to be unevenly balanced." Furthermore, the
ambassador continued, while "some" [like Hale] were trying to
describe Madero as "a martyr to democratic ideals," the former
Mexican president had actually been corrupt and robbed his own government,
emptying the country's treasury. The ambassador concluded one of his messages
by claiming that "all of the true and secret history of [Madero's] brief
rule in Mexico and prior thereto is known to no one but to me."10
On the basis of Hale's reports,
President Wilson recalled Ambassador Wilson in mid-July 1913 to confer with him
and Secretary of State Bryan. The ambassador arrived in Washington ready to
personally lobby the administration to extend formal recognition to Huerta's regime.
Wilson and Bryan listened for an hour to the man the president once called
"that unspeakable person." As he spoke, Ambassador Wilson realized
that his audience was only giving him cursory attention, and he resigned soon
after the meeting. His resignation left Nelson O'Shaughnessy as the US
representative in charge at the embassy. However, O'Shaughnessy was also on
friendly terms with Huerta, and his reporting remained tainted in the
president's estimation, although Wilson considered him "honest," if
Hale remained in Mexico, reporting
first from Mexico City and then from Constitutionalist territory in northern
Mexico, until January 1914.
Hale had been joined in August 1913 by
John Lind, a former governor of Minnesota and member of the US House of
Representatives. Like Hale, Lind spoke no Spanish and carried strong
Protestant, anti-Catholic prejudices into the overwhelmingly Catholic Mexico.
Unlike Hale, however, Lind was empowered to negotiate with Mexican officials.
Wilson had instructed Lind to press Huerta's government for "an immediate
cessation of fighting throughout Mexico," an "early and free
election" in which all parties could participate, a promise from Huerta
not to be a candidate, and an agreement by all parties to respect the results
of the election. In return, the United States promised to recognize the newly
elected government. The Huerta regime met with Lind but refused to accede to
The Material Wilson received was a blend of analysis and raw data. His representatives not only told him what they had learned but also included their judgments and recommendations.
Lind left Mexico City for the port of
Veracruz, where he continued to gather information and report to Washington.
Lind sent his reports to Wilson via official cable channels. His reports were a
mixture of HUMINT and OSINT. Lind's data came from human sources, including
some who did not wish to be identified, and from the Mexican press. Lind also
met with diplomats of other countries anxious to pass their impressions of
Mexico to Washington.
Lind was prone to trying to influence
policy by suggesting courses of action; seeking to direct, in addition to
informing. In the spring of 1914, Lind urged Wilson to intervene militarily in
Veracruz, assuring Wilson that US troops would be greeted as liberators. Wilson
usually disregarded such suggestions and concentrated on the information his
Veracruz proved to be an exception,
however. Wilson accepted Lind's judgment that "To dispose of the present
regular army will be an easy task. If the officers in command `break ranks' and
say `shoo' they will scatter and never be heard of again except as inmates of
jails and almshouses," and the president authorized an occupation of
Veracruz. When Mexican civilians resisted the occupation, which resulted in the
deaths of 19 Americans and several hundred Mexicans, Wilson was shocked. After
that experience, he viewed such analysis more skeptically, and Lind's influence
was sharply curtailed.13
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Wilson's other "confidential
men" were openly known to be US representatives, despite some like Hale,
who acted under a thin cover story. They all solicited information from
official and unofficial sources alike, meeting with Mexican government
officials and revolutionary leaders as well as with unofficial supporters and opponents
of the Huerta regime. The material they sent to Wilson was a blend of analysis
and raw data. His representatives not only told him what they had learned but
also included their judgments and sometimes recommendations for action.
Wilson did not rely solely on his
confidential men. He also sought information from businessmen and friends with
contacts in Mexico. He read unsolicited reports from people trying to influence
his policies. He received a flood of mail from many unofficially credentialed, self-credentialed,
and non-credentialed representatives, all aimed at garnering Wilson's support
for the Mexican leader of their choice. Potentially useful material flooded the
White House mail room along with a profusion of crank mail. The president's secretary,
Joseph Tumulty, sorted through it all and forwarded a large representative
sample to Wilson.14
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Wilson used all his sources to search for consistent elements in a plethora of information to eliminate his own uncertainties.
Wilson used all these sources to search
for consistent elements in a plethora of information to eliminate his own
uncertainties about which Mexican revolutionary faction to support. He believed
that pieces of truth would fit together as a whole. The trick was to tease the
facts from the propaganda and lies in a rudimentary form of content analysis.
As he noted in early 1915,
Things that are not so do not match.
If you hear enough of them, you see there is no pattern whatever; it is a crazy
quilt, whereas the truth always matches, piece by piece, with other parts of
the truth. No man can lie consistently, and he cannot lie about everything if
he talks to you too long. I would guarantee that if enough liars talked to you,
you would get the truth; because the parts that they did not invent would match
each other, and the parts that they did invent would not match one another. Talk
long enough, therefore, and see the connections clearly enough, and you can
patch together the case as a whole. I had somewhat that experience about
Mexico, and that was about the only way in which I learned anything that was
true about it, for there had been vivid imaginations and many special interests
which depicted things as they wished me to believe them to be.15
This sorting of information for
consistency applied to the press as well as to the mail Wilson received. He
distrusted much of the Washington press corps. As he wrote to a friend in
Do not believe anything you read in
the papers. If you read the papers I see, they are utterly untrustworthy....
Read the editorial page and you will know what you will find in the news
columns. For unless they are grossly careless the two always support each
other. Their lying is shameless and colossal!16
Wilson held the press of William
Randolph Hearst in particular contempt. The Hearst papers were among the
loudest of those trying to influence Wilson's Mexico policy, with the New York
American and the San Francisco Examiner leading the way. These papers regularly
brandished lurid headlines to discredit the Constitutionalists, accusing them
of a wide range of atrocities, including murder, looting and rape. At one
point, Hearst's New York American published photos of children playing on a
beach in British Honduras-photos that had originally appeared in the New York
Tribune in 1912-with a caption falsely claiming they were children in Mexico
lined up to be shot by revolutionaries, "proof of an almost unbelievable
state of barbarity." Wilson ignored such reports. He had little use for
Hearst, but the stories contaminated the public debate and so may have
influenced reports Wilson received from other sources.17
Throughout the crisis, the notable
exception to Wilson's attitude toward the press remained the New York World.
Wilson wrote to the World's publisher, Ralph Pulitzer, in 1914,
Let me say that every day I open the
editorial page of the World expecting to find what I do, a real vision of
things as they are.
Wilson also held the Springfield
(Massachusetts) Republican in high regard. Secretary Tumulty pasted together
long sheets with selected editorials and stories from other newspapers for
Wilson's reading. But, while Wilson discounted much of the press coverage on
Mexico, a small group of reporters--perceived to be accurate--were called to Washington
for personal interviews with Wilson. In this select group was World reporter
John Reed, who met Wilson in 1914 to give the president his first hand
impressions. Reed emphasized the revolution as a justified fight against
powerful landowners and a corrupt Catholic Church, and he painted Pancho Villa
in a very positive light. Wilson told his ambassador to Britain to read Reed's
articles on Mexico because he "had it right."18
Wilson did not trust reporting from businessmen with interests in Mexico because of their biases.
Much less reliable as sources for Wilson
were American businessmen who tended to back whichever faction posed the least
threat to their property or whichever faction their business rivals opposed.
For example, American mine owners, the dominant US business in Mexico,
generally favored Pancho Villa because he controlled much of the area in which
US-owned mines were located and he had promised to protect the mines so long as
their owners advanced him large "loans."
The Phelps-Dodge Corporation, headed by
Wilson's good friend from Princeton, Cleveland Dodge, however, favored
Venustiano Carranza, head of the Constitutionalists, as did Samuel Gompers and
the American Federation of Labor. American oil interests also preferred
Carranza, who controlled many of the oil-producing areas in northeast Mexico.
They also hoped to benefit if Carranza ousted Huerta, who had the backing of
rival British oil companies. The expatriate American business community in
Mexico City supported Huerta, but Wilson largely ignored them because he did
not trust anyone who supported Huerta. No significant international business
group supported another contestant for power, Emiliano Zapata, most likely
because he controlled a region in which there was no significant US business
Although Wilson did not trust reporting
from businessmen with interests in Mexico because of their biases, he did read
some of the reports businessmen sent to him or to his cabinet members,
particularly if they came from men with ties to political allies or to
- Venustiano Carranza, the leader if the Constitutionalists. (© CORBIS)
Wilson had a strict view of his cabinet's role, and he expected its members to stay within the well-defined bounds of their parameters.
One Princetonian businessman, John
Silliman, actually enlisted as a representative. Silliman happened to be vice
consul in Coahuila and had known Carranza before the revolution. Unfortunately
for Wilson, his old colleague was a less-than-perfect choice. Silliman was
timid and spoke Spanish so poorly that Carranza never took him seriously. Some
of Carranza's staff began calling the envoy "silly man." In at least
one case, Carranza made Silliman read one of Wilson's messages in Spanish to
embarrass him. Nonetheless, Wilson kept him in his position, not wanting to
humiliate him with a recall. Wilson judged that Silliman was doing a capable
job just passing messages back and forth. The State Department, however, did
send a translator to work with him.20
The US military was notably absent from
Wilson's list of intelligence collectors. Their role, in the president's mind,
was to plan the tactical details of the military operations they were ordered
An important exception was Gen. Hugh
Scott, commander of the Army's Southern Department. Wilson consulted Scott, but
only about Villa and Carranza, especially since Scott had met Villa several
Wilson chose not to tap Scott's
superior, Secretary of War Lindley Garrison, an officer the president did not
know well. Garrison was chosen for the cabinet position only because Wilson's
secretary, Tumulty, knew Garrison from service in the New Jersey state
government. Garrison turned out to be a vocal hawk favoring military
intervention in cabinet meetings, basing his comments and reports on
information he received from officers stationed along the US-Mexican border.
Garrison soon realized, however, that Wilson did not often take his advice on
foreign policy questions. The secretary of war, like the generals he managed,
was consigned to tactical and administrative issues on Mexico.21
Another exception was Secretary of the
Navy Josephus Daniels, who was a member of Wilson's inner circle.22 Wilson knew him well and because Daniels, unlike
Garrison, was not an interventionist, Wilson trusted his judgment. In addition,
because the United States maintained a naval presence in Mexican ports, a
practice begun by President Taft, Daniels was getting information from navy
officers on the scene.23
Wilson had a strict view of his
cabinet's role, and he expected its members to stay within the well-defined
bounds of their departments. Thus, in keeping diplomatic and strategic
initiatives in his office, even members Wilson trusted were isolated from
decisionmaking on Mexico--and thus of no intelligence value to the president.
For example, he complained to his fiance, Edith Galt, that his son-in-law,
Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo, was trying to influence his Mexican
policies, which were, in the president's words, "none of his
business." Only Secretary of State Bryan and, to a lesser extent, Daniels
advised Wilson on Mexico. Bryan was included because US policy toward Mexico
was in his portfolio of duties.
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SIGINT, Lesser Players
Types of intelligence other than HUMINT
and OSINT had only minor roles in informing Wilson's policies. IMINT was
limited to ground photography used as tactical intelligence for the military.24 In preparation for possible armed intervention in 1914, the US Navy sent
officers into Mexico to photograph bridges and railways. One Marine officer
even passed himself off as a US businessman writing a guide book for Mexico
City and received a tour of the Mexican Presidential Palace and its defenses.
These missions played no role in White House decisions.25
SIGINT played an important part, but it
was largely a counterintelligence tool, used to monitor the activities of
foreign intelligence services in the United States.
SIGINT played an important part, but it
was largely a counterintelligence tool, used to monitor the activities of
foreign intelligence services in the United States. It was limited at the time
to tapping telephone lines and telegraph cables, and intercepting wireless
radio communications. SIGINT, in contrast to Wilson's HUMINT and OSINT, came
mostly through official channels, rather than through the informal ones Wilson
SIGINT turned out to be especially
useful in the spring of 1915 in preventing Huerta's return to Mexico from exile
in Spain, to which he had fled in July 1914. The Germans, eager to embroil the
United States in a war with Mexico, courted Huerta. In February 1915, a German
naval officer, Captain Franz von Rintelen, visited Huerta in Spain and offered
to back him in a counterrevolution. Encouraged by fighting then underway
between Villa and Carranza, Huerta agreed to consider the idea and went to New
York, landing on 12 April 1915. His reception by a crowd of Mexican supporters
bolstered the former dictator's plans. He was greeted by admirers everywhere he
went. The atmosphere, at least in the exile community, seemed to favor his
Treasury Secretary William McAdoo's men
tapped German and Austrian diplomatic telephones in Washington and New York and
relayed the reports to Wilson. These reports focused more on the activities of
German and Austrian diplomats and their possible complicity in sabotage in the
United States than they did on Mexico, but they did include information about
German plotting in Mexico.27
- Gen. Victoriano Huerta (center) on his arrival in New York City. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
By 24 June 1915, mistakenly thinking he
had shaken pursuers, Huerta boarded a train in New York bound for San
Francisco, switching later to one for El Paso. At the same time, Villa's
representative in Washington reported to the Wilson administration that numerous
former Huertista officers were on their way to El Paso from places of exile in
the United States. The next day, United States marshals arrested Huerta as he
stepped from his train in Newman, Texas, only a few miles from the border.
Supporters waiting in a car to drive him across the border were also arrested.28
Because Wilson insisted on concrete information before acting, he was frustrated by the lack of definitive information.
Officials in El Paso kept President
Wilson informed through frequent cables. Zach Lamar Cobb, the US customs
collector there, had built a small intelligence network of his own, including
railroad employees. These sources reported Huerta's movements, which Cobb
relayed to Washington. Cobb also organized the group that arrested Huerta. Once
Huerta was arrested, Wilson ordered the Justice Department to detained him and
keep him from returning to Mexico, orders the department followed until
Huerta's death in custody from complications of alcoholism.29
SIGINT thus provided
"actionable" information about Huerta's plotting just as Hale's
HUMINT had given the president the information he needed to dismiss a US
ambassador. Wilson's other sources provided less definitive information. Some
reports improved his awareness of key issues, most notably land reform.
However, much of the reporting simply made him cautious in choosing one
factional leader over another. In his notes to Secretary of State Bryan, Wilson
demonstrated a willingness to recognize whichever revolutionary faction could
demonstrate that it had gained Mexican public support.
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However, until late 1915 the
information Wilson was receiving could not help him come to a conclusion. For
example, Wilson once complained that US consuls reporting from Mexico
"sent me only a small batch of `flimsies' [telegrams printed on very thin
paper] and they contained nothing but multiplied details--and very small
details at that--of the chaos that is Mexico."
In all likelihood, Wilson's ambivalence
was also influenced by the efforts of those vying for power in Mexico. The
Mexicans were well aware of Wilson's actions and each political and military
faction did its best to influence his interpretation of events, through
lobbying, personal contacts, and in the US press. Huerta had considerable
support in the United States, especially among business leaders, but Wilson's
negative opinion of Huerta was firmly set. Carranza and Villa, however, both
had fairly sophisticated public relations campaigns aimed at the United States
and the White House. Carranza had a press office in New York and Washington DC,
which issued regular releases to reporters and to members of Congress. Villa
encouraged reporters, like Reed, who gave him favorable coverage, and his
military train included a press car in which reporters could sleep and eat. He
also allowed them to use the Mexican telegraph system, often free of charge, to
contact newspapers at home.
Because Wilson insisted on concrete
information before acting, he was frustrated by the lack of definitive
reporting. As he would tell Edith Galt, "The fact is, I never have had any
patience with `ifs' and conjectural cases. My mind insists always upon waiting
until something actually does happen and then discussing what is to be done
Wilson's frustration with the lack of
actionable intelligence is neither hard to understand not uncommon to
presidents, as they and other policymakers often expect and demand more from
intelligence than it can deliver.31 To be fair to
Wilson's sources, it was not until 1915 that any faction in Mexico gained
enough dominance to legitimately earn US recognition.
In the end, Wilson's system produced mixed results, with more problems than would be acceptable in a professionalized system.
Lack of definitive judgments on
Wilson's part reflected the lack of a stable reality on the ground. By late
summer 1915, however, it was clear that Carranza led the most powerful
revolutionary faction, and, in October 1915, Wilson extended recognition to
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of Wilson's System
In the end, Wilson's system produced mixed results, with more
problems than would be acceptable in a professionalized system. Wilson received
a lot of good information, particularly from American reporters in Mexico and
from the US consuls who had built personal ties to Mexico's revolutionary
leaders. Wilson did trust some official State Department reporting, but only
from sources that seemed to him to be accurate.
The informality of Wilson's system made
his method cumbersome, but, possibly worse, his approach to assessing the
reliability of reports by determining its consistency with other facts was
itself unreliable. As future intelligence failures would demonstrate, Wilson
was wrong to believe that only the truth could be consistent. Falsehoods we now
know can also seem logical and factually consistent if key contradictory
information remains unknown, ignored, or analyzed on the basis of faulty
Fortunately for Wilson, his initial
assumption that Huerta's government lacked popular support relative to the
Constitutionalist revolutionaries was based on accurate information--including
the New York World's reporting--and so provided a firm foundation for judging
later information. The quality of the World's reporting helped Wilson. In
hindsight it appears to have been accurate in comparison to other major US
newspapers, the Hearst chain in particular. Had Wilson based his judgments on
the reporting of Ambassador Wilson or on the Hearst newspapers, his system
would have served only to reinforce erroneous assumptions.32
Wilson tapped sources that were
diverse, decentralized, and with different kinds of expertise. Because of this
variety, no one source could dominate Wilson's thinking and he was able to
avoid the traps of groupthink. Because Wilson's policies were still forming, he
also heard different viewpoints about the Mexican factions, although he did
ignore most of Huerta's supporters. The end result of this information flow may
have been chaotic, but it gave Wilson a wide range of opinions and information.
Wilson was also sensitive to the
proclivity of his sources to suggest policy. Although he sometimes took that
advice--as he did Lind's urging to occupy Veracruz in early 1914--in general,
Wilson dismissed the policy suggestions of his reporters.
After World War I ended, Wilson took
another approach to gathering intelligence and created a new organization, the
Inquiry, to pull together information and provide analysis on the issues raised
at the Versailles Peace Conference. The Inquiry consisted of area experts--including
members of the military, academics, and reporters--who knew the different
regions and populations affected by the war.
In establishing the Inquiry, Wilson
elected to use a more formal structure of intelligence collection and analytic
expertise than he had employed in trying to understand Mexico. The Inquiry was
disbanded immediately after the Versailles conference ended, but it
demonstrated that Wilson had learned from his efforts to understand events in
Mexico, including the lesson that foreign information had to come from more
places than the usual State Department channels.33
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Stephenson, George M. John Lind of
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The New York World. 1913-1915.
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1. The title is drawn from Woodrow Wilson, "Remarks to
the National Press Club," 20 March 1914 in Arthur Link, ed., The Papers of
Woodrow Wilson. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979) 29:363.
Hereafter referred to as PWW followed by volume and page numbers. The full
quote reads, "I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can
2. The office was created by Franklin Roosevelt in July
1941. Headed by William J. Donovan, it was a civilian office attached to the
White House. It was succeeded by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in
3. Today, IMINT commonly brings to mind satellite
photography, but it also includes ground photography, which was well within
1913 technological capabilities. However, it was normally used by the War
Department for tactical planning in which Wilson did not engage.
4. The United States maintained approximately 20 consulates
in Mexico during this period.
5. In retrospect, the World's reporting on Ambassador
Wilson's activities was accurate, notwithstanding his denials. Compare New York
World, 7-9 March 1913 with Alan Knight's discussion of events in The Mexican
Revolution, Volume I, Porfirians, Liberals and Peasants (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1986), 484-90.
6. Woodrow Wilson to William Bayard Hale, 19 April 1913,
PWW 27:335. Unbeknownst to Wilson, Hale was employed by the Japanese government
in an effort to influence American press coverage of Japan. (Jessie Lyon,
"Diplomatic Relations Between the United States, Mexico, and Japan:
1913-1917," [Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont College, 1975], 6-7, 19.) This
relationship did not appear to have affected Hale's reporting on Mexico,
however. See Larry Hill, Emissaries to a Revolution: Woodrow Wilson's Executive
Agents in Mexico. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 25-26.
7. A Report by William Bayard Hale, 18 June 1913, PWW
27:536-552. Hale's sources included American businessmen in Mexico City,
members of the Mexican government, and several members of the US embassy staff.
Not all of his sources were identified. See Hill, 25-29.
8. There is no direct evidence of the reaction William
Jennings Bryan, Wilson's secretary of state and a dedicated prohibitionist,
might have had to this line. Hale may have aimed his statement at the
secretary, knowing it would influence his view of Huerta.
9. William Bayard Hale to Ben Davis, 15 July 1913, PWW,
Series 2; cable from William Bayard Hale, 15 July 1913, PWW, Series 2; Hale,
"Memoranda on Affairs in Mexico," 9 July 1913, PWW 28:31.
10. Henry Lane Wilson to Woodrow Wilson, 1 July 1913, WWP,
11. Woodrow Wilson to Cleveland Hoadley Dodge, 21 July 1913,
PWW 28:58; Woodrow Wilson to Ellen Axson Wilson, 25 July 1913, PWW 28:85; Henry
Lane Wilson, Diplomatic Episodes in Mexico and Chile (New York: Doubleday, Page
& Co. 1927), 312-14; Wilson to Bryan, 3 July 1913, PWW 28:22.
12. Instructions to John Lind, 4 August 1913, PWW
28:110-111; see also a copy of Lind's instructions with edits in Wilson's hand,
Ray S. Baker Papers, LC. Lind's instructions were leaked to the press,
apparently from within the State Department, and appeared in print before Lind
arrived in Mexico. See The New York Times, 5 August 1913. Reporters at the time
had easy access to State Department offices and often freely read cables from
overseas; Hill, 90-93.
13. John Lind to the Secretary of State, 4 November 1913,
Lind Papers, Reel 2; Lind to Bryan, 24 February 1914, PWW 29:287. An official
count was never made of Mexican casualties. Under the hot Veracruz sun, both
sides disposed of the dead as quickly as possible. The Americans piled Mexican
dead in public squares near the docks, and burned them. Robert E. Quirk, An
Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz (New York:
Norton, 1967), 53.
14. Some of the crank mail can still be found in Wilson's
papers with his notes on them. These provide the best evidence that he had
perused some of the letters himself. It is likely Tumulty gave him selected
material as entertainment as well as to improve the president's perspective on
Mexico. See for example, Sidney A. Witherbee to Wilson, 10 November 1913;
Witherbee to Wilson, 14 November 1913, both in WWP Series 4, Case 95. Witherbee,
who may have been an entrepreneur with interests in the country, tried
unsuccessfully to convince Secretary of State Bryan to send him to Mexico to
kill Huerta. There were also warnings to the president about a conspiracy by
the pope, protestants, Masons, or Jews, depending on the writer's personal
15. Woodrow Wilson, "An Address to the United States
Chamber of Commerce," 3 February 1915, PWW 32:180. Emphasis in the
16. Wilson to Mary Allen Hulbert, 21 September 1913, PWW
17. New York American, 22 December 1913: 2. The original
photo appeared in the New York Tribune, 1 September 1912, section 2. Details of
this hoax appeared in Ferdinand Lundberg, Imperial Hearst: A Social Biography.
(New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1936), 221.
18. Wilson to Ralph Pulitzer, 2 March 1914, quoted in Arthur
Link, Woodrow Wilson: The New Freedom (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1956), 83-84. Wilson also seemed to have liked the New York Evening Post. See
James D. Startt, Woodrow Wilson and the Press (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan,
2004), 17. Wilson to Walter H. Page, 18 May 1914, PWW 30:42. Jerry W. Knudson,
"John Reed: A Reporter in Revolutionary Mexico." Journalism History
29, 2 (Summer 2003): 60-61.
19. William K. Meyers, "Pancho Villa and the
Multinationals: United States Mining Interests in Villista Mexico,
1913-1915," Journal of Latin American Studies, 23 (1991):347; Robert L.
Daniel, "The Friendship of Woodrow Wilson and Cleveland H. Dodge,"
Mid-America 43 (1961):190-91; Gregg Andrews, Shoulder to Shoulder? The American
Federation of Labor, The United States, and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1924
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 34; Samuel Gompers, Seventy
Years of Life and Labor: An Autobiography (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1967)
20. Hill, 210-14. Silliman was promoted to full consul in
1914; Mexican Herald, Mexico City and Veracruz, 28 April 1914: 1;12 May 1914:
1; 13 May 1914: 1.
21. Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson, 31 August 1915, PWW
34:385; Wilson to Lansing, 31 August 1915, PWW 34:388; Richard D. Challener,
Admirals, Generals and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1973).
22. Daniels had been a leader in Wilson's 1912 presidential
23. Wilson to Mrs. Galt, 23 June 1915, PWW 33:446.
24. Aerial photography was possible and was under
development in Europe, but it was not used in Mexico. For a history of its
development, see Terrence J. Finnegan, Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial
Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front--World War
I (Washington, DC: National Defense Intelligence College Press, 2006).
25. Legendary Marine officer Smedley Butler played the
businessman in Mexico City. In effect, he was an early non-official cover
officer. The ground photographs of the areas around Tampico and Veracruz are in
the Office of Naval Intelligence files, Lot 2428, Library of Congress, Prints
and Photographs Division.
26. George J. Rausch, Jr., "The Exile and Death of
Victoriano Huerta," Hispanic American Historical Review 42 (1962):134-35.;
Franz Rintelen von Kleist, The Dark Invader: Wartime Reminiscences of a German
Naval Intelligence Officer (London: Lovat Dickson, 1933), 175-77. Captain Rintelen
claims to have walked up to Huerta in a New York hotel lobby and introduced
himself, but his self-aggrandizing memoirs are misleading. It is more likely he
met Huerta in Spain while arranging passage to the United States.
27. Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmerman Telegram (New York: Dell
Publishing, 1963), 77-80; Rausch, 134-37; Henry Landau, The Enemy Within: The
Inside Story of German Sabotage in America (New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 1937),
28. Rausch, 138-39; New York World, 28 June 1915: 1; Henry
Thayer Mahoney and Marjorie Locke Mahoney, Espionage in Mexico: The Twentieth
Century (San Francisco: Austin & Winfield, 1997), 96-99.
29. John F. Chalkley, "Zach Lamar Cobb,"
Southwestern Studies No. 103 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1998), 29-34;
Wilson to Rudolp Forster, 28 June 1915 and Wilson to William Bauchop Wilson, 5
July 1915, PWW 33, 456, 473.
30. Wilson to Mrs. Galt, 17 August 1915, PWW 34:231; Quoted
in Robert W. Tucker, "An Inner Circle of One," The National Interest
51 (1998): 25; See Revolution by Headline and Mark T. Gilderhus, Diplomacy and
Revolution: U.S.-Mexican Relations under Wilson and Carranza. (Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 1977), 6.
31. See Richard Betts, Enemies of Intelligence: Knowledge
and Power in American National Security (New York: Columbia University Press,
2007) and a review of the book in this issue by Nicholas Dujmovic.
32. Hill, 189-92, 212-15.
33. See Lawrence E. Glefand, "The Inquiry":
American Preparations for Peace, 1917-1919 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Reprint,
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