The Americas 59.1 (2002) 65-85
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The Mexican Secret Service in The United States, 1910-1920*
Michael M. Smith
Oklahoma State University
Throughout the era of the Mexican Revolution, the United States provided sanctuary for thousands of political exiles who opposed the regimes of Porfirio Díaz, Francisco Madero, Victoriano Huerta, and Venustiano Carranza. Persecuted enemies of Don Porfirio and losers in the bloody war of factions that followed the ouster of the old regime continued their struggle for power from bases of operation north of the international boundary in such places as San Francisco, Los Angeles, El Paso, San Antonio, New Orleans, and New York. As a consequence, Mexican regimes were compelled not only to combat their enemies on domestic battlefields but also to wage more subtle campaigns against their adversaries north of the Río Bravo. The weapons in this shadowy war included general intelligence gathering, surveillance, espionage, counter-espionage, and propaganda; the agency most responsible for these activities was the Mexican Secret Service.
Although the studies of such scholars as W. Dirk Raat, Charles Harris and Louis Sadler, Douglas Richmond, Jacinto Barrera Bassols, Enrique Placencia de la Parra, and Victoria Lerner Sigal provide valuable insights into this covert side of the Revolution, none have focused on the role of the Secret Service and the activities of its individual agents and other operatives. 1 The [End Page 65] purpose of the present study is to provide a brief overview of the origins, goals, structure, and dynamics of the Mexican Secret Service in the United States during the revolution and regime of Venustiano Carranza, 1913-1920, and its efforts to defend the Constitutionalist government against the machinations of its Mexican enemies and their collaborators in the United States.
Until mid-1916, the Secret Service was not an independent intelligence agency but rather an appendage of the Mexican consular system. In the early 1900s, Enrique Creel, Don Porfirio's Minister of Foreign Relations, organized and directed an "international detective agency" to combat Ricardo Flores Magón and other members of the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) seeking to overthrow the Díaz regime. 2 Although regulations governing the role of consuls limited their official duties to encouraging trade and commerce, promoting friendly relations, and assisting compatriots, revolutionary conditions had transformed them into the key components of a network of bi-national clandestine operations. 3 In the last days of his regime, Díaz created the Office of the Inspector General of Consulates, located in San Antonio or El Paso. The ostensible duty of this official was to oversee consular administrative and financial affairs, but his confidential, and principal, responsibility was to direct Mexico's covert activities against magonistas, maderistas, and others who challenged Don Porfirio's authority from the United States. 4
Throughout the United States, and particularly along the border, Mexican consuls recruited and ran their own agents, informants, and other operatives and hired international private detective agencies to shadow revoltosos, expose their conspiracies, and bring them to justice. They became proficient at sending and decoding ciphered messages, intercepting postal and telegraphic [End Page 66] communications, suborning public officials and journalists, infiltrating rival groups, and directing propaganda and disinformation efforts. Consuls reported directly to the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Relations, where analysts interpreted the data, made policy recommendations, and shared intelligence with other departments.
Consuls also exchanged information and conducted joint operations with local, state, and federal authorities to facilitate the apprehension of conspirators suspected of violating United States laws. Prior to 1908, U.S. Treasury secret service agents, whose principal official duties were suppressing counterfeiting and protecting the President, served as a source of manpower for other branches of the federal government investigating matters related to internal security. After Congress prohibited the use of these agents by departments other than Treasury, the Department of Justice created its own investigative unit, the Bureau of Investigation, and deployed a number of agents along the border to combat violations of U.S. neutrality laws.
Between 1908 and 1910, U.S. Consul Luther T. Ellsworth, stationed at Ciudad Porfirio...