The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

44 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Robert C. Bannerman led the Office of the Chief Special Agent, the DSS predecessor organization at the U.S. Department of State, from 1920 to 1940. Bannerman expanded the Office of the Chief Special Agent’s duties to include many tasks still held by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security today: background investigations, passport fraud, oversight of couriers, protection of foreign dignitaries, and internal investigations. BUREAU OF DIPLOMATIC SECURITY Shortly thereafter, DSS/PA began systematically archiving and preserving boxes and boxes of VHS tapes, audio files, DVDs, and other files. As public affairs officers viewed these interviews, they realized DSS had decades of history, experience, and stories that ought to be shared with the American people. The complete archive is available at from-the-archives. Below are a few excerpts from those who witnessed history. —Angela French There at the Beginning My father [Robert C. Bannerman] was one of the original agents in the establishment of the Office of Security [which later became the Diplomatic Security Service]. … He was engaged in many special activities, covering, you might say, foreign agents working in the United States against the United States and against the German cause; British agents checking on German activity in the United States [focused on] trying to convince President [Woodrow] Wilson to stay in his neutral position. These and a number of other things were taking place, all highly sensitive. In February 1916, Secretary [Robert] Lansing directed the chief special agent and his staff to establish a tap on the German embassy [in Washington, D.C.] to get all possible information within the embassy, and outgoing and incoming calls. This was accomplished by the chief special agent’s office, in which my father was playing an important part. The taps were monitored, and daily, a report was written and placed on the desk of Secretary Lansing of the most important events over the tap for the past 24 hours. I am sure that Secretary Lansing passed this information on to President Wilson. He gave him an added element of information that he could not have obtained in any other way. I feel that in some small way, it may have convinced Wilson that the German overtures toward peace were unfounded, and not sincere. This led the president to go ahead and declare war on Germany in April 1917. … I didn’t enter [the Office of Security] until about 1936. But at that point, there were only about four of us, and we covered the whole United States. In this period—I call it the period of growth—we were growing in our responsibilities, but the other agencies were not. —Special Agent Robert L. Bannerman, active duty from 1936 to 1947, recorded in 1991. Robert L. Bannerman was director of the Security Office, a DSS predecessor organization at the U.S. Department of State, from 1945 to 1947. As a special agent he conducted hundreds of passport fraud and counterintelligence investigations and identified several high-profile incidents of German espionage. In 1941 Special Agent Bannerman coordinated the detention of more than 1,000 Axis diplomats until U.S. officials could negotiate an exchange with the Axis powers. BUREAU OF DIPLOMATIC SECURITY