After the June 18, 1914 assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie at the hand of a Serb nationalist, the coming conflict forced nations such as Germany, Russia, Britain, and France to honor treaties and mutual-protection agreements that had been made. By the time Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, a host of nations were already caught up in what came to be known as ‘The Great War’ and ‘The War To End All Wars.’ In the end, 16 million were dead and another 20 million were wounded. The years leading up to the outbreak of hostilities saw a decreased use of intelligence-gathering spies.
If the war officially began on July 28, then July 27 found most of the world’s nations with extremely weak or fledgling intelligence services—an issue that would become a pattern with many of the world’s so-called ‘superpowers’ between conflicts.
Russia operated a secret police and had agents of the czar for special internal circumstances, but its foreign intelligence capabilities were just about nonexistent. The French military and government both had trained intelligence services, but had no centralized agency to process and disseminate critical finished information. The United States had developed fairly robust domestic intelligence and investigative services in their naval and Army intelligence, and their Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Here is a bit of strange trivia: The Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) was established in 1908 out of concern that Secret Service agents were spying on members of Congress. President Woodrow Wilson’s policy of open diplomacy made him suspicious of intelligence and gave him a general disdain for spies. It was not until the U.S. finally entered the war in 1917 that a serious devotion to fully developing foreign intelligence operations was taken on.