BLTC Press Titles

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The German spy system from within

by William Le Queux


Stieber, seeming to throw in his lot with the workmen, was in reality waiting to see which way the cat would jump before he compromised himself beyond withdrawal from either side. In the meantime, he won the heart of a daughter of one of the directors of the firm, and displayed his abilities in the matter of espionage by compromising the other director—his future wife's uncle—in the Socialistic movement to such an extent that the unfortunate man was accused of plotting against the Government and inciting the workmen to revolt. By his denunciation of Schoeffel, who was sentenced to a year's imprisonment for acts which Stieber himself had committed, Stieber procured employ in the police service, entering the ranks of the revolutionary workmen ostensibly as one of the warmest adherents of the popular movement, but in reality its worst and most insidious enemy.

In this guise he succeeded, in the course of popular and excited demonstrations in Berlin, in attracting the attention of Frederick William, the then King of Prussia. The year 1848 was a time of revolutionary movements, and Stieber chose the right side. When, in 1850, the Prussian Government began the measures of repression which have been continued in the case of the Socialist element down to the present day, Frederick William appointed Stieber to the post of Polizierath, a position in which he was superior to and beyond control of the Commissioner of Police.

This was the inauguration of the system which Stieber perfected. Hitherto, military espionage had been in the hands of the military themselves, and, with their customary reverence for precedent, the military were inclined to resent this appointment of an outsider to the control of what had been especially their department. Further, the regular police viewed Stieber with disfavour—it was not to their liking that an informer such as he should be set over them, and able to work independently of their control. It speaks much for Stieber's genius for organization that he combated both these influences successfully, and established himself—with the aid of royal patronage and protection, of course—at the head of a special organization which was quite independent of either military or police control.

Up to 1853 the system grew—in his Memoirs Stieber tells, with a conceit quite in keeping with his other qualities, how he worked on the confidence of his sovereign with minute reports concerning the doings of court personages. He seems, in fact, to have taken pleasure in the recital of his meannesses, which his perverted moral sense caused him to see as exploits worthy of pride. It was as if, having nothing of moment on which to exercise his cunning, he kept himself in practice on anything or anybody that might be at hand. Thus until, in 1854, he was charged with the work of extending into neighbouring countries the system he had already perfected in Prussia. The cost of the business was charged against " service of the interior," and, in addition to the sum expended on internal espionage, a sum of £12,250 was set aside for the campaign which prepared the way for the wars in which Prussia rose to the standing of a first-class European Power.

Through the severity of his measures in Prussia itself, Stieber caused such a popular outcry that he was relieved of his post as chief of police, but Bismarck, then coming to power, employed his hound in equally useful work outside the bounds of the kingdom by sending him through Bohemia, where, by establishing spies all along the route that the army would have to traverse later, Stieber laid the foundations for the campaign that was to end so disastrously for Austria at Sadowa. By 1866, when the Prussian campaign against Austria opened, Stieber had Bohemia so thoroughly planted with spies that every step of the Austrian forces was known to their opponents before it was taken, every village had its informer ready for the Prussian troops when they entered, and, though the system of mapping out posts of defence and military positions had not then reached to the perfection it has since attained, it may be said that the campaign against Austria was half won by Stieber before it was entered on by the Prussian army. These things have so far passed into history that they have become general knowledge; but how Stieber enlisted and placed his spies—the actual routine and full secret of the work—he is careful not to tell. It may be assumed that, among other qualities, he possessed the power of reading his fellows; he was a genius in psychology, and knew his spy when he saw one. Hence his success, for which he was made chief of the " active service police," a force never recognized in this' way up to his time, and a post created practically by his own ability in his special line of work.

From his years of exile he had learned the lesson of dealing as lightly as possible with the people of his own country, and henceforth he associated himself with the development of systems of espionage in other countries, notably in France, where he made all preparations for the war of 1870, and made them so thoroughly that it is common knowledge now how the German invaders knew the country in which they were fighting better than did Napoleon's own troops. He worked quite independently of the diplomatic corps, established his own agencies in France, and set up his " fixed posts," in a manner which has survived to some extent up to the present day both as regards France and other countries. At this time the work which he was in process of organizing was a thing so new that it received little attention from the French authorities of that day, and the system may be said to have reached its zenith of perfection with the war of 1870, when in every French town and village of the north-east was a "fixed post," or, in plain English, a spy in the pay of the German secret service. So complete was the information furnished that the personal histories of individuals, their failings and eccentricities, were catalogued, and scandal was tabulated in the archives of Berlin for use in case it should be required, while fortifications and districts were mapped out with a thoroughness such as the military surveyors of France could not excel. When the war came the Prussian troops marched through the country and knew its resources and difficulties even better than the inhabitants themselves. How this was accomplished will be shown later in detail.

Meanwhile Stieber, as privy councillor and confidant of Bismarck, gradually overcame the antipathy of the military caste—an antipathy which his useful work in Bohemia had gone far to allay. According to the account given in his own Memoirs, he discovered that an attempt was to be made on the life of the Czar Alexander when the latter attended a grand review in company with Napoleon at Longchamps. It was Bismarck who conceived the idea of not only letting the attempt take place, but of frustrating it and having the would-be assassin arrested, since, as Bismarck planned, French justice would not impose the capital sentence for the merely attempted crime. The result justified the forecast, for the assassin was not executed—and Alexander remembered, when 1870 came, that France had let off lightly (from a Russian point of view) the man who would have murdered him. In consequence, Prussia had nothing to fear and Napoleon had nothing to hope from Russia when the war began. Stieber could have stopped the attempt at assassination, had he chosen; but, by allowing things to fall in the fashion that they did, Bismarck made certain that there would be no Franco-Russian alliance. It was characteristic of Prussian diplomacy and Prussian methods, and it was a trick after Stieber's own heart, as his Memoirs show.

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