4th of July Special: “The Wall of Spies Experience” – Espionage, Sabotage and Betrayal in America with John Gise
Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to "SpyCast." I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "SpyCast's" sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors to explore the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: To coincide with the 4 of July, this week's episode is all about the Wall of Spies Experience, an online exhibit that examines individuals who have spied on the United States. Isn't it strange, you may ask, to have an episode on spies among us, individuals who have often harmed the country or who have been enemies, opponents, traitors and turncoats? Well, I think the Wall of Spies underlines that espionage and intelligence have been involved in every major juncture in American history since 1776 and have been part of how we got to July the 4, 2022, when that ongoing independence is celebrated.
Andrew Hammond: I also think it underlines what is at stake. Think about what America fundamentally, as an imagined community of people drawn from every corner of the world, built around a set of ideas. Those ideas have scared those opposed to them in the past and the present and will continue to do so into the future. Right now there will be spies trying to undermine those ideas. This isn't scaremongering - merely a statement of fact. This episode is also about a labor of love under laborer John Gise. I have never seen anyone get so excited about spies as John. It was a real pleasure to speak to him. The Wall of Spies Experience can be viewed online at ww.intelligence.gov/wall-of-spies (ph). In this episode, we discuss John Jay as the founding father of American counterintelligence, Benedict Arnold and the Culper Spy Ring, Kit Warren, Charlie Wright and Harriet Tubman and how the Wall of Spies came to be and the next digital installment. Hint - it's connected to the Zimmermann Telegram.
Andrew Hammond: I'm so pleased to be able to speak to you about this topic, John, because I really loved it when you gave me your briefing on the Wall of Spies. So I just wondered for our listeners, the Wall of Spies - it sounds fascinating. I've seen it. It's great. Tell our listeners what it is, where it is and where it came from.
John Gise: First of all, mostly, it's an honor and a pleasure to be here with you today, Andrew. So the Wall of Spies initiative goes back about five years. When I joined the National Counterintelligence Security Center, leadership had asked that we put up a display to show the history and evolution of espionage. And you start in the United States from its founding to contemporary times. The wall is located at ICC-B, Bethesda, Intelligence Committee Campus-Bethesda. It's on the fourth floor of the facility. It's a - literally a 75-foot wall with about 130 spies, 118 images, all part of the display. It encompasses Revolutionary War spies, Civil War spies, World War I German saboteurs, World War II German and Japanese espionage and sabotage operations. And a great chunk of the wall, about half of the wall, is what we call the golden age of Soviet espionage. Following the golden age of Soviet espionage is the Cold War, and then we have the post-Cold War.
John Gise: This is obviously not all the spies that had spied or betrayed the United States, spied against the United States or betrayed the United States, but it's some of the most damaging. We have for each section a threshold of damage done to U.S. national security interests. Accompanying the wall of spies, we have other walls, as we call it, that fall under the Wall of Spies Experience. And that is a wall to one of our great founding fathers, John Jay, considered by many to be the - really, the founding father of counterintelligence for an operation that he led early in the Revolutionary War to counter British loyalist efforts to undermine the Continental Army and even threaten General George Washington's life.
John Gise: There is a collage wall that consists of several of the spies of the Wall of Spies and two spy site maps, one of New York City and the other of Washington, D.C., about 20 or so sites that are of interest to the public and, once again, with our - keeping with the threshold theory that some of the most damaging spies operated in those areas. There's another wall that we have, what we call the Soviet wall of shame. And the Soviet wall of shame consists of six Soviet spies that spied for the West - Great Britain and the United States - that had a significant impact and literally changed the course of the Cold War. Five of those spies were caught and executed by the Soviet Union, and one of them did escape and literally escaped from the Soviet Union in an incredible operation led by British intelligence, MI6, to get him out of the Soviet Union.
Andrew Hammond: This is Gordievsky?
John Gise: Gordievsky - yes, yes, Oleg Gordievsky - incredible story. And these stories are literally displayed with write-ups and images and documents that support each story. So that is the Wall of Spies Experience. There's other aspects of it, but that's the highlights.
Andrew Hammond: And the Intelligence Community Campus-Bethesda - that's in Maryland, right? It's just outside the District of Columbia. It's by the Potomac River, and the National Intelligence University and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center are based there. Is there other parts of the IC that are based out there?
John Gise: Other elements of the ODNI are based out there and, yes, other elements of the IC. DIA has a presence there as well, among others.
Andrew Hammond: It's a gorgeous campus. I'll say that.
John Gise: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. It initially was the - I believe the National Mapping Center and then was converted into an Intelligence Committee campus about a decade ago.
Andrew Hammond: And just out of interest, who are the other Soviets that are up there? I'm assuming, like, Penkovsky, Tolkachev, Polyakov.
John Gise: Yes, yes. Those are some of the spies that are on the Soviet Wall of Shame, those that had a significant impact and who, once again - well, who we consider to have changed the course of the Cold War in our favor. There are other Soviets that are actually on the main wall - William Fisher, aka, also known as Rudolf Abel, famous for spying after the golden age of Soviet espionage, arriving in New York in 1948, literally operating for 10 years an espionage ring in New York City for 10 years in 1957, '58. And he's, of course, famous for being caught and then being exchanged for U2 pilot Gary - Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960, and the two of them were exchanged several years later. And of course, there's a great movie - a great book and a great movie about him, "The Bridge of Spies." And he's also displayed on the main wall starring in the Cold War section.
Andrew Hammond: And I was interested when you were speaking about the maps there because in the United States, certainly in the past, New York City and Washington, D.C. - those were the two epicenters of espionage, right?
John Gise: Yeah - to our founding, those two cities, probably with the most acts of espionage, if I may - and of course, Philadelphia in - earlier in our founding, Revolutionary War - there's a lot of sites there as well. But really, when you think about it, so much went on throughout our history, both in New York and in Washington, D.C. Most of what the - what we call the golden age of Soviet espionage - right? - this period from the late 1920s to 1945 or '46, when the Cold War starts - most of that espionage activity literally took place in New York City, some of it also in Washington, D.C., as well.
Andrew Hammond: And just before we dig more into the Wall of Spies, John, the - when we use the term spies here, we're thinking of a more strictly applied or more - many would say more accurately applied use of the term - right? - because you have a broader use of the term spy like spy satellite, spy museum, spy chief, etc., but we are talking about a specific type of person - right? - on the Wall of Spies. Can you just let our listeners know, like, what we're actually thinking of when we're thinking about spies because for people that aren't in the business, we're not talking about just your average CIA officer. They are not a spy in the context of the Wall of Spies, right?
John Gise: Yeah. In the context of Wall of Spies, the physical Wall of Spies at ICC-B Bethesda right now, there's 130 or so individuals. These are those that had performed what we called human intelligence against the United States' interest. So they spied against the United States. These are Americans who literally betrayed the United States, that had spied against the United States - right? - against our interest. Going earlier on - and we could include in that category looking early on in the Revolutionary War and especially the Civil War - that not only spies collected information that was against United States national security interests, but it would be scouts as well, especially more so in the Civil War.
John Gise: Scouts would also conduct reconnaissance operations, intelligence operations behind enemy lines, and they would be collecting information, intelligence that would be useful for their side. This comes more paramount in when we're discussing what we've - an extension of the physical Wall of Spies. We've now posted online the Revolutionary War spies and just released on Monday the digital Civil War spies. The digital Revolutionary War spies, the digital Civil War spies have now both been posted online. And we're talking in the Revolutionary War about 30 Continental Army spies and British spies - 30 total. For the Civil War, it's about 25 Union Army spies and Confederate Army spies. And many of those spies are also scouts - right? - collecting information, going behind enemy lines, conducting reconnaissance missions and collecting intelligence for their superiors.
Andrew Hammond: And they're going undercover. They're not wearing uniforms like Rogers' Rangers or something like that?
John Gise: All of the above.
Andrew Hammond: All of the above? OK.
John Gise: Yes, yeah. So they're going - dressing up - a man spy or a scout would, at times, dress up as women. And these are noted within the vignettes or the write-ups on each individual one. But they would - some would be disguised in chaplain's gear in order to affect their espionage operations. So literally in uniform, out of uniform and using various disguises depending upon the individual.
Andrew Hammond: And all of this, with the Wall of Spies, it's really the evolution of espionage in America, right? So it's chronological. We start with the Revolutionary War...
John Gise: Yes. Yes.
Andrew Hammond: ...And we go through to the present day. So the Wall of Spies - the physical Wall of Spies is all out there. But digitally, it's installment by installment. And at the moment, the Revolutionary War is up there, and now the Civil War is up there. So let's dig into each of those chapters. We can't - unfortunately, we can't discuss every one of them. But tell us about the Revolutionary War. Like, who are some of the spies that are up there, and what do they tell you about the evolution of espionage in America?
John Gise: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So going through the different eras, we'll highlight them. As you mentioned and I said, we have the different eras on the physical wall. And it is our objective to put all that's on the physical wall in the digital space, but adding more spies because we obviously - we have more room to do that.
John Gise: So in the Revolutionary War, just mentioning some notorious famous spies on the British side - of course, if you mention spy, Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold would be the first and foremost, a name synonymous with treason. When you mention Benedict Arnold, people are going to think of the treason of him almost handing over the garrison at West Point to the British late in the war. What most people don't know about Benedict Arnold, he was also General George Washington's best fighting general. And he also was a good naval commander as well, having led an operation on Lake George early in the war. Other spies on the American side, most famously, would be the Culper Spy Ring, led by Major Benjamin Tallmadge - six core spies that worked with him and other subagents that worked with him in what we know as the Culper Spy Ring, created in 1778 and actually worked till the end of the war.
Andrew Hammond: And this is around New York City and Long Island.
John Gise: Yes, yes, yes, principally, principally. A lot of the espionage operations for the Revolutionary War espionage is mainly the northern area - New York, Philadelphia, to some extent. Then, of course, when we get later on to the war, the Virginia Yorktown area, espionage operations that went on in that area, leading to the battle of Yorktown. In fact, the forementioned Culper Spy Ring, one of their achievements was stealing the British Naval code prior to the Battle of the Chesapeake, which preceded the battle of Yorktown. And with the British Naval codes in hand, the British - the French fleet was able to easily hold off the vaunted British fleet, thus aiding the Americans that were sieging Yorktown at the time. So many a spy - like I said, at least 20 Continental Army spies are noted or written upon in the digital Wall of Spies and 10 British spies, as well. Moving on to the Civil War...
Andrew Hammond: Sorry, just briefly on Benedict Arnold, I find him such a fascinating figure. Like you said, he was a successful general. If he hadn't have done what he'd done, there would probably be statues of him in Washington, D.C., right?
John Gise: No ifs, ands or buts about it. General Benedict Arnold was George Washington's best fighting general from the start of the war till his betrayal in 1780. One instance, if I may, very early on in the war, as General George Washington - 1775 - arrives in Boston, and there's the - literally what is called the Siege of Boston is ongoing at that time. The Continental Army - early, mid-1775 - only had about 16 cannon to its name against the British. Getting closer to winter of 1775, and Washington and the Continental Army is aware that, at some point, the British are going to break that siege and attack the Continental Army.
John Gise: But the army is fortunate in that Benedict Arnold, along with Ethan Allen of the Green Mountain Boys, have - had attacked - gotten information from - ironically, from a British spy about Fort Ticonderoga out in West New York having a storage of about a hundred and fifty-nine or a hundred and sixty cannon that were potentially of use to the Continental Army. Benedict Arnold takes Fort Ticonderoga. Famously, months later, General Henry Knox retrieves that cannon, brings it in time for spring, and Washington is able to use that cannon in breaking the siege and defeating the British in Boston. One can imagine if they did not - if Benedict Arnold did not have - discovered the cannon in Fort Ticonderoga, if Knox did not get to Boston in time, the war could have started off very differently than it did before, and it might not have gone on too long without that cannon. So you're talking about a general who had an impact, Arnold was.
Andrew Hammond: And if I remember correctly, part of the reason why Arnold was disgruntled is because he felt that Ethan Allen stole a lot of the glory from - for the - some of these actions that you've discussed. He felt that it was a case of stolen valor almost.
John Gise: Yeah. Yeah. Bigger than that - not just Ethan Allen, who is looking for a lot more credit, but Arnold went on to win several more victories after Fort Ticonderoga. He was inspirational in a naval battle on Lake Champlain when the British were moving south from Canada through Lake Champlain, south to the Hudson River, to literally cut the continental states in half at that time. Benedict Arnold built his own fleet of galleys - mainly of galleys - and built this fleet to prevent the British from moving any further south. The - this is against the greatest navy in the world at the time. Right? He is defeated in the battle on Lake Champlain, but he accomplishes the objective of preventing the British from moving any further south towards New York City, which literally could - once again, could have been one of those turning points in the war for the British if they'd accomplished that. Interestingly enough, one of the ships from that battle was discovered intact, sunk in Lake Champlain, discovered intact in 1934. And it's actually on display to this day in the Museum of American History. You can see one of Benedict Arnold's ships.
John Gise: Another heroic episode of Benedict Arnold, of course, and probably his biggest - what he's most known for, is the Battle of Saratoga in September of 1777. It was Arnold, who actually was under house arrest at the time, but who was able to break free and rally his troops to defeat the British at the Battle of Saratoga. And he's - without Benedict Arnold's heroism and actions there, that - it could have been a different turn of events. Of course, the Battle of Saratoga was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. In light of that victory, the French would then recognize the Continental Army and provide military support to the army, which was a major turning point in the war.
John Gise: So Arnold - given all these achievements, he felt bitter that he was not getting sufficient recognition for all that he had done, and complicating that with an expensive lifestyle of his wife, Peggy Shippen, who happened to be at the time very close with the head of British intelligence, with General Clinton, the commander of the British army at the time. John Andre, Major John Andre, close to Peggy Shippen, is the one who introduces Major Andre - his wife - to Benedict Arnold. And that starts - he basically turns because he feels that he's not getting sufficient recognition, and then it also - he's having money problems at the time as well. So he takes advantage of that.
Andrew Hammond: And that's one of the things that we can maybe discuss a little about later, the motivation behind some of the reasons why some of the people on the Wall of Spies became spies. But just before we get there, and just briefly, a plug - that part of the Northeast is just absolutely beautiful, isn't it? Like, if you go to Fort Ticonderoga, it's really fascinating. And Lake George, Lake Champlain - that whole region is just gorgeous. And I should note that I've not been paid by the New York Tourist Society for that.
John Gise: Especially in the fall.
Andrew Hammond: But before we move on to the Civil War, John, just gave us one other spy from the Revolutionary War that particularly catches your interest or you think is quite unusual or speaks to you in some way.
John Gise: They all speak to me, having literally lived and worked with them for now over five years. So we put about five years of research investment into this. I think John Jay's story is worth mentioning. There's so many I would like to have talked about, but John Jay - so John Jay is well known as one of America's great founding fathers. Right? He had served in all three branches of government, unique in that sense. He's most famously known as the first chief Supreme Court justice. That's what most people will recognize John Jay from. On the legislative side, he was a member of the New York - a member of the Continental Congress from New York. He actually rises to become one of the presidents of the Continental Congress. He's a writer of the Federalist Papers, having written five Federalist Papers to include a document that would be - and we could talk about this - one of the founding - a foundational document for the creation of the intelligence community is what John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 64. We'll talk more if you want me to elaborate about that. On the executive branch side, he was an ambassador to Spain. He was involved in the Jay Treaty, which ended the Revolutionary War - I'm sorry, the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. And then following that was the Jay Treaty to prevent another war.
John Gise: But what most people don't know about him is that early on, in 1776, when George Washington - coming off that siege of Boston, he moves his army to New York, Brooklyn area and New York City, or Long Island and New York City. And when he's there, he recognizes that there's a conspiracy by the British to undermine the Continental Army, literally by producing counterfeit money, which would weaken the Continental Army monetary system, threatening the army itself by penetrating it and causing uprisings within the army, and then even a threat to kill or capture General George Washington. Washington realizes this conspiracy, and he requests assistance from the Continental Congress, who request that the New York state delegation support George Washington against this British - this Loyalist threat. The state creates a committee on detecting and defeating conspiracies. And the head of that committee is John Jay. And the committee is given additional legal powers of arrest, even deportation, arresting and deporting people out from that area. It's given them a continental army and a militia of over 500. It's given special judges special powers to conduct counterintelligence operations. And Jay leads this committee, conducting over 500 counterintelligence operations in the New York City and the New York state area, and does identify the plot to kill General George Washington. And he's able to undermine the British efforts in that regard.
John Gise: In fact, one of the conspirators, a member of George Washington's bodyguard, the Life Guards, his elite bodyguards, the Life Guards, was actually in jail at the time but had admitted to assassinate or kill General Washington. Washington wanted to show him as an example to the army of what have those who want to overthrow it, has him executed in front of the entire Continental Army in the area of what would be the Bowery of New York at this time in front of 20,000 onlookers, to include the entire Continental Army.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Yeah, just thinking about John Jay, I've heard people say that James Angleton is the founding father of American counterintelligence. But you're saying that that's not the case. It's actually much earlier.
John Gise: Yeah. Yes.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah.
John Gise: It goes back to our founding. It goes back to our founding.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
John Gise: In fact, one of the displays I mentioned earlier at ICC-B is a display to John Jay as the founding father of counterintelligence. Yes.
Andrew Hammond: And that's up on - just for our listeners, that's up on the digital Wall of Spies as well.
John Gise: That is...
Andrew Hammond: The John Jay part.
John Gise: Yes. It's actually in two parts. So if you go into the site intel.gov/evolutionofespionage, you will actually see the physical Wall of Spies is displayed there. The different parts of the physical Wall of Spies, the collage, the spy site maps, the Soviet Wall of Shame section are displayed, and then the digital Revolutionary War spies and the digital Civil War spies are also displayed as well. So John Jay is not only seen on the physical wall display, but he's included in the digital Revolutionary War spies. There's literally an entire page of everything that we just talked about and more.
Andrew Hammond: And just briefly, tell us a little bit more about Federalist Paper 64.
John Gise: OK. Federalist Paper 64 - Federalist Papers, of course, are the most famous for what - James Madison and Alexander Hamilton writing over 80 of these. Most people don't know that actually, John Jay contributed to them. He only contributed five of the Federalist Papers. He would have probably done more, but he got ill when he was writing them. Federalist Paper No. 64 actually relates to the State Department. It makes sense when you're relating that to intelligence because at the time of the Revolutionary War, the only - the main sensitive thing that were - that governments were looking to protect were negotiations with other countries and treaties.
John Gise: By this time that the Federalist Papers are written, some 20 odd years after the war, John Jay has that intelligence experience of leading the committee on detecting and defeating conspiracies underneath his belt. And he's able - he understands intelligence, and within this portion of the entire Federalist Paper, he literally highlights the need for the executive branch to oversee and execute intelligence operations in secret. And he also mentions the importance of protecting sources and methods. So those three things are actually the foundation of what our intelligence community is today. And it's written in that Federalist Paper. And we actually have highlighted that paragraph as part of the John Jay wall, both seen on the physical wall and both seen on the digital wall.
Andrew Hammond: And on the web page for this episode, when it posts, I'll put up Federalist Paper 64 so that listeners can have it themselves.
John Gise: Yeah, yeah. The extract - you'll see the extract where it actually discusses those three intelligence sources.
Andrew Hammond: We'll be right back after this.
Andrew Hammond: It's also, like, separate to the Wall of Spies, but I just find it really interesting as well that it wasn't quite as clean-cut as just the Americans versus British. It was the people like John Wither (ph) - James Wilson are born in the U.K., but they signed the Declaration of Independence. And you have people like Thomas Paine, who's on the side of the revolution, but he's English, and there's sympathizers for the American cause back in the U.K. So it's almost like a trans-Atlantic kind of struggle over ideas and forms of government and so forth, or that's the way it seems to me.
John Gise: Yes, yes, yes. Fascinating.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah (laughter).
John Gise: Great period to study.
Andrew Hammond: So let's go to the Civil War. So the Civil War has recently been released as the latest in the digital Wall of Spies. So tell us a little bit more about the Civil War, John. Who are - tell us about it more generally about - tell us about a couple of the people that you find particularly interesting.
John Gise: I find them all interesting.
Andrew Hammond: I just mean...
John Gise: But for time, I'll try to prioritize, which will be challenging. Yes, the Civil War was released on Monday. As I mentioned before, there's about 25 or so Union army spies and Confederate army spies that are highlighted in the product. Image-wise, there's over 230 images that support the write-ups, and in each case, when we do have an image, there's a caption, so that adds to additional information that's in the write-up. We might provide other information related to the story in the caption itself. Both sides of the characters - the spies on both sides are fascinating. Where do I start? Why don't...
Andrew Hammond: Well, give us one of each to start.
John Gise: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Give us a Confederate and a Union.
John Gise: I'll - let's start with - I'd like, if I may, if there's time, maybe highlight two Union. Kate Warne - Kate Warne was - she was from New York. She was a New Yorker, right? And early on, prior to the Civil War, she joins the Allan Pinkerton Detective Agency. And she joins as a detective, and she's literally called, really, America's first detective. So she gets experience working with the Pinkerton Detective Agency early in - prior to the war, and she's even assigned to the South - I think, in Alabama. And she's able to penetrate movements, secessionist movements, in the South by blending in, if I may, and either adopting a Confederate slang, a Southern accent, even able to adopt a Southern accent at the time. And this is for a New Yorker, and being a New Yorker myself, that's not easy.
John Gise: But she's able to do this, and she becomes of use later on and important to our story in President Lincoln's pre-inaugural ride from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Prior to his inauguration in March of 1861, he goes on a journey from Illinois to Washington, D.C., of nearly 2,000 miles, 13 days, passing through eight states. Prior to his departure or on about the time of his departure in late February, information is received actually from a woman named Dorothea Dix about a secessionist movement in Baltimore and plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on his train ride from Illinois through Baltimore to Washington, D.C. Dorothea Dix passes this information to the head of the railroad line that is transporting Abraham Lincoln. The head of that railroad line hires Allan Pinkerton to actually penetrate this plot and see what - how serious it is and to advise any changes that need to be made based on what he discovers. Allan Pinkerton, his group of detectives, who literally are spread out throughout Maryland, but he actually uses Kate Warne to penetrate the secessionist movement within Baltimore.
John Gise: Kate Warne does penetrate the movement. And once again, she's got now experience underneath her belt of having worked in Alabama, having used the Southern accent to her benefit. She's got good creds. And when she gets into Baltimore, she does recognize the plot as being serious and does advise - if the train ride was to keep on time as it was scheduled, Lincoln probably would not make it through, that it was that serious. So Pinkerton ultimately advises President-elect Lincoln that he needs to change the itinerary of the train movement and to move it up so as not to fall into this ambush in Baltimore. Lincoln does do that. He moves it up and actually arrives - travels midnight through Baltimore. And the next day, the protesters - the secessionist movement is surprised that there's no train going through.
John Gise: So this is now we're talking about counterintelligence, counterespionage that she is involved in. And literally, when you think about it, her efforts saved President Lincoln's life. One can not only imagine the turmoil that will had taken place if the secessionists were successful and President Lincoln was not able to become the president of the United States, what would've been the ramifications for the country at the time. So I put Kate Warne on a high pedestal, and as somebody - and she's highlighted, yes, in the digital Wall of Spies so readers can learn more and more about her. And there's a lot of literature out there on her, and I think there's maybe even a movie now being made about her.
John Gise: Another individual on the Union side that I think is very interesting to talk about would be Charlie Wright. So Charlie Wright is probably not known to too many people out there - what I basically would call perhaps an injustice of history. But Charlie Wright was influential as he was a enslaved person for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at the time in early June of 1863. So this is all preceding the Battle of Gettysburg, which takes place July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863.
John Gise: Charlie Wright is once again an enslaved person with the Army of Northern Virginia. And on July 9, the Confederate Cavalry and the Union Cavalry fight what are the predominantly biggest cavalry engagements of the war at Brandy Station in Culpeper, Va. It is believed that Charlie Wright is able to use the turmoil of that battle to turn himself over, to escape Confederate lines and turn himself into the Union. And he is received by what we call the Union Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence, headed by Colonel George Sharpe, which was a literally an all-source intelligence operation that was created by General Joseph Hooker in January of 1863.
John Gise: The BMI receives Charlie Wright and debriefs Charlie Wright on the intelligence of the Confederate Army in Culpeper. And Charlie, having served as an enslaved person within the Confederate Army who was intimately familiar with all the units within the Army of Northern Virginia - his detail was so perfect that it is - he's quoted - or it's quoted in the literature that he was considered a walking order of battle chart of the detail that he provided. There had been information - what I consider to be chatter going on following the battle of Brandy Station that the Confederate Army was literally moving in the northern direction into the Shenandoah Valley, north towards Virginia and Maryland. But none of the information was confirmed, was reliable at the time.
John Gise: But when the BMI debriefs Charlie Wright, he is so knowledgeable down to the regimental level of the movement of two of Robert E. Lee's cores - two-thirds of his army through Culpeper - that the BMI considers that information reliable enough to recommend to the general commanding of the Army of the Potomac, General Joseph Hooker, that he move his army to follow, to trail, to shadow the Confederate Army as it's moving through the Shenandoah Valley. And Hooker does do that.
John Gise: The impact - when we talk about thresholds and impact - that intelligence, what Charlie Wright provided - one could say that, in my opinion, that without that intelligence, there likely would not have been a Battle of Gettysburg. Granted, the two armies were always destined to meet, but they perhaps could have met on terrain more favorable to the Confederacy.
John Gise: So it's - I think Charlie Wright - and his story goes on from there. Following his accomplishment - his intelligence accomplishment, acquiring this information intelligence to the Union army - Union military intelligence, the BMI wants to recruit him as an asset and keep him on. But the Union cavalry takes him. And we do not know - sadly, we do not know anything more about Charlie Wright from that point on. He's lost to history.
John Gise: When you talk about intelligence impact, individuals having that impact, Charlie Wright's up there. And I wish maybe people listening to this - and I know from myself, and I've talked to others about this as well that I think we need to do more research and see what's out there so that we're able to find out what happened to Charlie Wright. And he's one of my favorite stories and clearly and an American hero.
Andrew Hammond: And another figure that's up on the wall that more of our listeners will have heard of is Harriet Tubman. I wonder if you could just briefly talk about her. I mean, she is just - I don't even know the best word. She's just a force of nature. She's like the Audie Murphy of covert operators, really.
John Gise: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Isn't she?
John Gise: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and another fascinating story. And more needs to be research and done on her as well, just like Charlie Wright - more as well. Harriet Tubman - and she's on the digital wall of spies that readers now can view - famous, of course, as a conductor - or the conductor of the Underground Railroad. And what she did for escaped enslaved Americans, helping save escaped enslaved Americans is just beyond compare, right? And that is what she is most well-known about. But most people don't know that she also contributed to the Union war effort serving as a nurse and serving as a scout for the Union Army and serving as a spy for the Union Army.
John Gise: And if I may, I'll jump to her greatest accomplishment when it comes to that. Mid-1863, the Union Army in the South Carolina area - right? - is confronted with a strong confederacy in South Carolina. And the Union Army is looking to move inwards and take over Confederate units, forts and plantations and to impact the economy within that area. And Harriet Tubman is assigned to that area. And on her own initiative, she conducts an operation of the Combahee River, one of the rivers - the main rivers in South Carolina. And she performs a reconnaissance of several Confederate rice plantations in that area. And she identifies where the Confederate military defenses are, what these plantations consist of. She's also able to identify what the Union Army considers the greatest threat in that area. And these would be what they called at the time torpedoes - were actually mines. The Union Army had had - and the Union Navy - had had bad experience in the Charleston area of Virginia at the time with these mines. And it was considered the biggest threat to the Union Navy and then in the rivers as well.
John Gise: So Tubman goes on this reconnaissance mission and is able to identify where the Union mines are located by literally using some of the former enslaved persons who had planted those mines to identify where they were planted. She takes this back to the Union commander - believe he was either on Hilton Head Island or Port Royal at the time - or his headquarters and briefs the commander, Major General David Hunter, on the operation, information that she has found from her scouting mission and, more importantly, the location of those mines. So the Union Army, as it moves up the Combahee River, is able to avoid them. Hunter does authorize that mission on that condition that we're able to identify where the mines are, and the go-ahead is given.
John Gise: So the mission is led by Colonel Montgomery, and Harriet Tubman is brought along to guide and advise the commander. He has a - literally a African American, all-colored unit, the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Cavalry - Volunteer Infantry Regiment, as a fighting force that is used in action to clear out these Confederate plantations and any Confederate resistance that they might come up against. Several plantations are destroyed, impacting the Confederate economy in that region. And over 750 slaves are rescued - enslaved people are rescued and brought back to safety. Many of those former enslaved persons join the Union Army and continue serving a cause. So this is just one example of Harriet Tubman's extraordinary experience in the Civil War and just can't talk enough about her.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Could you tell us about a Confederate spy, John?
John Gise: Yeah, a couple of interesting ones. I'd love to tell you about all of them, but I think the spy who actually has the most impact - the Confederate spy that has most impact - and of course, to make the wall itself, each of them had to have that impact their own way - but would be Benjamin Harrison. Benjamin Harrison. So Benjamin Harrison was a - actually a soldier earlier on. I think he's - a Confederate Army soldier early on. I think he gets an early discharge. And early in the war, he works for the Confederate secretary of war Seddon conducting espionage operations. Also, if I didn't mention - he's a former actor. So this kind of fits his role as what would be a spy. He's used as a spy for the Confederate secretary of war early on in the war. And then at some point, Harrison is transferred over to one of Robert E. Lee's premier corps commanders, General Pete Longstreet - Lieutenant General Pete Longstreet. Lee considers him his own war horse, I think was his nickname.
John Gise: And Longstreet utilizes Harrison as his own personal spy. Harrison comes to play - coincidentally also in the Battle of Gettysburg. So as we talked about before, Robert E. Lee's army, the army of Northern Virginia, is moving up through the Shenandoah Valley into Virginia and then ultimately into western Maryland and then moving on from there into southern Pennsylvania, right? He is moving on with the - now we know the Union army in pursuit because of Charlie Wright's information - thanks to Charlie Wright's intelligence, the Union army is pursuing. And Lee had earlier on given his head of his cavalry - the head of the army in Northern Virginia Cavalry, Major General JEB Stuart - leeway or freedom to conduct reconnaissance operations in advance of the army that Stuart maybe took the liberty of not being as close to the army as Lee would have wanted him to be. So as Lee - Robert E. Lee is moving from Maryland into Pennsylvania, Stuart - main force is occupied in another area. And Robert E. Lee is - literally he does have some of the Union cavalry, I think a brigade or two, but he doesn't have his main Union cavalry. And he had always used the Union cavalry - JEB Stuart's cavalry - as his eyes and ears.
John Gise: Some people considered it really - some people will consider JEB Stuart's cavalry literally as the eyes and ears of the Army in northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee's really chief of intelligence, if I may. But Stuart is not there at this critical juncture. And Robert E. Lee is actually - has dispersed his three corps that he's moving with into western Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania. And they are spread out. Those - the three corps that are being - are spread out are vulnerable - right? - to Union attack. Robert E. Lee, because he doesn't have his cavalry informing him that the Union Army actually is close on his heels because J.E.B. Stuart is occupied in another area - General Stuart is occupied in another area - he's blind, right?
John Gise: And enter Benjamin Harrison, who has - is aware of the Union Army's movement, having penetrated the Union Army as a spy. He's aware that the Union Army is actually much closer to the Confederate Army than initially believed. He tells this to Longstreet, and Longstreet, in turn, informs General Robert E. Lee. And Robert E. Lee is - who has his army, his three corps spread out in Maryland and in southern Pennsylvania, even one corps as far north as Harrison, Penn. - Harrisburg, Penn., he's able to recall them back, to call - recall the three corps and to consolidate that army and consolidate it at a town called Gettysburg. So one could imagine that if it wasn't for Benjamin Harrison's intelligence on the location of the Union Army being close on the army in Northern Virginia's heels, potentially the Union could have destroyed Robert Lee's army piecemeal, as spread out as it was. So there's another impact.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. This is so fascinating. And then the next installment is going to be World War I.
John Gise: One of my favorites, yes.
Andrew Hammond: And when is that going to be? Is that, like, every three months, or is it less programmatic? Is it just, when it's ready, it's ready?
John Gise: Yeah. So we're actually trying to get the World War I release by September.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
John Gise: So that is the goal. And we're working with our design colleagues - actually, the Office of Civil Liberties and Privacy and Transparency works with us on building the design. And our goal is to have it released to the public in September.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And I just want to look at the Wall of Spies and ask some more broad questions about...
John Gise: Want me to talk a little bit about World War I?
Andrew Hammond: Let's give the audience a little teaser and see what's to come in the World War I. And maybe we can talk about Black Tom if you want.
John Gise: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: OK. OK.
John Gise: I could do that. It'll be hard to do a little teaser because there's just so much to digest there. Yes. So what most people know about World War I is, yes, it starts in July of 1914. The United States really doesn't actively enter the war until April of 1917. And that's because of a - what we call the Zimmermann Telegram, where the Germans are reaching out to the Mexicans to try to get them to occupy the American army on the southern border so they're not able to interfere in European battle on the front lines, promising them that they would help them get back the states that they had lost during the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848. That's what's known out there.
John Gise: What is not known, and what the physical wall and now the digital Wall of Spies will teach the public, is that, literally, Germany had declared a undeclared war within the United States from the start of the war in 1914 - late 1914 - through our entry in April 1917. And that undeclared war was literally targeting the arms and the ammunition - all the arms and ammunition that the Allied powers were - that the United States was manufacturing for delivery to the - what we call the Triple Entente or Allied powers, Great Britain, France and Russia.
John Gise: You mentioned Black Tom. Three-quarters - about three-quarters of the arms and ammunition was on an island off of Jersey City called Black Tom, stored in a depot prior to being shipped overseas to the Triple Entente. And in late July of 1916, three German saboteurs - two include one former United States Marine and one former United States Army soldier - planted delayed incendiary devices and explosive devices and blew up Black Tom Island - Black Tom Island, so close to the Statue of Liberty, literally right behind it, so close to Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty was - shrapnel had ripped through it. Ellis Island came under - literally came under attack from the exploding ammunition falling down all over. Five hundred immigrants that escaped the horrors of World War I were once again being bombarded on Ellis Island. The explosion was felt in Philadelphia. It was felt in Baltimore. The Brooklyn Bridge shook. All the skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan were blown out. And if Richter was around at that time, scientists would have estimated that it would have been a 5.5 on the Richter scale.
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
John Gise: Incredible, incredible damage - incredible carnage that went on. And this is just one of the many stories that we will be telling in the World War I digital space. Two include the first use of anthrax in the United States. And this was to kill - as part of the campaign to prevent arms and ammunition going to United States - was to kill the horses and mules that moved that ammunition, going to the European powers, going to the Triple Entente, to kill them prior to getting over there.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And Black Tom, that's the reason why people that visit the Statue of Liberty, that's the reason why they can't go up to the torch - right? - because of Black Tom?
John Gise: The shrapnel...
Andrew Hammond: The shrapnel.
John Gise: ...Ripped through the torch arm. And that arm is still off limits to this day.
Andrew Hammond: Wow, really, really fascinating. So I just wanted to ask some questions about the Wall of Spies more generally. So how did you get involved with this? Like, where did your interest in spies come from? Because - you know, tell us a little bit more about maybe your background to lead us into this. I know you've got Special Force, Army Rangers and so forth, but help us understand how you became so passionate about this Wall of Spies.
John Gise: Thank you for that. So my passion actually is history. And ever since a young boy growing up in the New York and New Jersey area - by the way, living close to Black Tom, actually working in the Jersey City area for a while before I entered the Army and not even knowing about it. I mean, that's the amazing thing. And a lot of people I know from that area don't even know about it. So people will learn, right? But I've always been fascinated with United States military history - military history and have been studying since I was a kid. As you mentioned, I served in United States Army Special Forces, was Ranger-qualified and been with the government literally now for over 40 years - State Department, working with the drug czar's office or the Office of National Drug Control Policy, aka the drug czar's office, for several years. And then I've been now with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for 16 years.
John Gise: The leadership at the National Counterterrorism Security Center knew of my interest and fascination with history. And they asked me to take upon this project of literally studying and researching and then ultimately displaying the history and evolution of espionage and sabotage in the United States since our founding and the - that has been realized in the first - when we started this in 1970 - 19 - see, I'm always thinking history. In 2017, we started doing the research and the physical wall was finished in 2019. And since - in October of 2019 - and since the finish of the physical wall, we've done obviously additional research for the digital wall, and that's still ongoing. And we're now wanting to share that information from the physical wall with the public through the release now of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War digital spies. And then we'll go through all the eras until they're all done.
Andrew Hammond: So you started off like the CIA Museum, where it was mainly for people within the organization, but now you want to be a bit more like the Spy Museum and spread the word to the masses.
John Gise: I think it's always been the intent to spread it and even though that the physical wall, yes, is within a intelligence community campus facility where not everybody can enter, we actually do outreach and we've had dozens, if not - local universities come and - for visits to the physical wall to get briefs on the wall. And so it's - in my mind, as many people as we can get to learn about this history, we all benefit from it. So as we have done outside visits, like I said, with colleges, with dignitaries that come through or any visitors come through, and the authors that are writing about espionage or intelligence history, I have briefed them on the physical Wall of Spies.
John Gise: The Wall of Spies brief, at a minimum, is an hour and a half, in order to do that 75-foot wall and the accompanying walls that we mentioned earlier. But I've gone as much as four hours in one brief, and that was with - and may he rest in peace and God bless - Peter Earnest, one of your founding fathers, who visited. It was an honor and a pleasure to have been able to meet him, to have briefed him. And it was one of those briefs where anything that I said, he was able to finish my sentence. He knew everything about every spy going back to the Revolutionary War on to contemporary times. So our objective is that we get this out, get this information, get this history, this great history of intelligence and espionage and - out, and sabotage of - to as much of the public as we can.
Andrew Hammond: And, yeah, he was a voracious reader. Actually, we brought some of his book collection to our research library here at the museum, and he had books on everything - really, really broad-ranging guy. Another thing I was going to ask about the Wall of Spies as well was for the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, for our listeners that don't know about that, they are trying to coordinate national security and counterintelligence policy, right? So the aim of the Wall of Spies was to educate the workforce and then the broader public about espionage in America because there's - this is something that goes on all the time. And the context might be different, the spies might be different, but a lot of the underlying dynamics, like the motivations, money, ego, power...
John Gise: Ideology.
Andrew Hammond: ...Ideology, a lot of them continue to this day. So just help us understand some of the kind of rationales behind the Wall of Spies.
John Gise: I think you hit the nail on the head, Andrew. It's like anything, learning from the past not to repeat the mistakes of the past as we go forward and understanding throughout our history the different motivations, whether it be in the case of Benedict Arnold, of bitterness and then - and greed - combined with greed. Moving on, a lot of the German saboteurs, German spies, German saboteurs that was fighting for an ideology in the golden age of Soviet espionage - that also was principally ideologically driven - right? - of the 300 to 500 Americans who spied for the Soviet Union during the golden age of Soviet espionage. And then moving on into the Cold War, that's more of greed, right? So learning about our past so as to prevent the mistakes from the past and be better for the future.
Andrew Hammond: And how common is this across the IC? So at the NCSC, you've got the Wall of Spies for the reasons that we've just discussed. Is this something that we can find at other parts of the IC, or is this the first type of interactive visual experience that's out there? And I guess the follow-up question to that is if anybody's listening that wants their own wall of X, are you available as a consultant?
John Gise: I can't - I actually worked with a lot of the IC historians - CIA historian, FBI historian, NSA historian, DIA historian - on the development of the Wall of Spies. I used their experience, their knowledge, expertise, etc. From a modeling perspective, I actually was inspired by the FBI Experience, that new museum that they had built over the last few years and their - the FBI's timeline, that timeline of - what? - of the FBI founding in 1908 to contemporary times. They walk through the different major law enforcement cases that they've had on a display. So that was kind of the motivation for NCSC, and NCSC leadership agreed with this, of let's do this from our - literally the country's founding. Right? The ODNI is a mere 16 years old, but our - we oversee an intelligence community of 17 different organizations that can trace its lineage to 1776.
Andrew Hammond: The Wall of Spies - has that been something that you've done when you have some spare time, or has this been your full-time kind of baby?
John Gise: It's been a full-time kind of baby and even more than full time, as I'm dreaming of these spies. So it's almost 24 hours a day. But I've lived with some fascinating characters on both sides for the last five years. And I have actually - you've seen it. As part of the Wall of Spies Experience display in Intelligence Community Campus Bethesda, we have a library. I'm old school, believe in books and seeing a book and reading a book and underlining in that book so you can go back and take notes from it. Right? We used literally a hundred and - now going about 140 books in the research of the physical wall and the digital wall. And that continues as we come across more information. I continue reading and read about three, four books a month to keep current.
Andrew Hammond: Keep current. Wow. I look forward to the World War I chapter coming out online, and I know that's something that you're really fascinated about. So maybe that's something that we can speak about in a future podcast. But for now, it's been really amazing to speak to you, John, and to just see the passion that you have for this project.
John Gise: Andrew, thank you. Thank you.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you.
John Gise: And your passion as well and what you're doing here in this great place I think motivates me even more.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Go to our web page where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter at @INTLSpyCast and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter at @spyhistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The "SpyCast" team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.