Why German spies blew up this US island

And how they almost got away with it.

In the years leading up to the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917, the nation was neutral, profiting from the war by manufacturing munitions and selling them to both sides. But a British naval blockade around Germany made it impossible for the Central Powers to acquire American arms. As a result, Imperial Germany established a ring of saboteurs and spies within the US, secretly destroying munitions factories and ships, and trying to make it look like an accident.

The signature attack of this campaign occurred on July 30, 1916, when saboteurs set fire to a massive stockpile of munitions ready to ship from Black Tom Island, a munitions depot in New York Harbor. The explosion was felt for miles around, but because the US had no infrastructure of domestic intelligence at the times, it took decades to prove that it wasn’t just an unfortunate accident. This German sabotage campaign ultimately laid the groundwork for the establishment of domestic intelligence agencies specializing in counter-espionage in the US.

Sabotage at Black Tom, by Jules Witcover: https://www.worldcat.org/title/sabotage-at-black-tom-imperial-germanys-s...

The Detonators by Chad Millman: https://www.littlebrown.com/titles/chad-millman/the-detonators/978031607...

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