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Rusty Greaves

US Dept of State Special Agent's Badge 1917

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Gentlemen, I am seeking some additional information or research source suggestions about the earliest form of the US Dept of State Special Agent's Badge. The first badge was created in 1917, and I am curious about the final date this badge was used before the design was changed. I also am interested in determining whether it is possible to find listings of Special Agents by their badge numbers. The badge I have is the is the 1917 design and is badge No. 12, but I do not have any of the associated paperwork that originally accompanied this badge. I have had minimal luck with internet searches or initial keyword searching through a couple of University library catalogues. I do not find any examples on auction sites to get a sense of whether this is a common item or its relative value. Any information and research suggestions are greatly appreciated. 

US Dpt State badge obverse .JPGlarge.5841c8df7e0db_USDptStatebadgereverse.JPG

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I have completed some of my research on this Dept of State Special Agents’ Division badge, with help from many generous people in the collecting community. This is apparently an authentic and extremely rare original badge of the 1917 design. This badge, numbered 12, probably came out of the New York office of the US Dept. of State, set up by first Chief Special Agent Joseph M. “Bill” Nye in ~ 1917 or 1918 (approximately contemporaneous with the establishment of their office in Washington, D.C.), and overseen by the first Special Agent of the NY office, Robert S. Sharp. Almost all (all?) examples most folks have seen are restrikes, possibly made as early as the 1970s, but more likely from 1989 when the Dept of State probably authorized a restrike for the bicentennial celebration of the 1789 ratification of the US Constitution and establishment of the Dep. of State. Many (most?) of these were encased in Lucite, at least some with the obverse obscured by a colored backing. The restrike design of the obverse differs somewhat from the original (see first illustration below) and the quality of the engraving is not as fine as the orignals’. The style and wording of the reverse markings also are different on the restrike, although I have not seen an illustration of that face. There is no enamel in the “US” or anywhere else on obverse of the original badge, while it appears that at least some restrikes may have enamel. The image on the internet Dept. of State history document (History of the Bureau of Diplomtic Security of the United Sate Department of State, October 2011, Global Publishing Solutions; Figure: Service Badges used by Special Agents (1917-present), and by DS Diplomatic Couriers and DS Security Engineers (present) on pg v.; https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/176589.pdf) appears also to show this restrike rather than an original example (second illustration below). I was sent a single image of the obverse and reverse of another original example by a researcher (the third and fourth illustrations below), this badge’s precise current whereabouts is unknown in the US collector community. The low-resolution image does not show the badge number. The consensus on the period when this design was in use is probably from 1917 until ~1930, and its termination may have coincided approximately with the end of Frank B. Kellogg's term as Secretary of State in March, 1929. There is some ambiguity about what precisely represents a commission document that would have been the position authorization and sanction to wear this badge. There may be large “diploma-sized” documents that represent a commission number associated with a particular badge number (see reverse image of this badge on the original post of 12/2/2016) that may not change for any particular agent continuing to serve as a Special Agent under new Secretaries of State. Alternatively, new commissions may have been issued as smaller documents in leather cases with new numbers assigned following the appointment of new Secretaries of State. Because the badge’s reverse state that the badge and commission numbers must match, if these smaller documents are the authorization, then badges might have been re-assigned after each change of Secretary. One collector shared images of these smaller documents that carry signatures of the Chief Special Agent and the Secretary of State. If these are the Commissions, then it suggests that badge #12 predates 1920. Images I was sent of those original credentials are for the first Special Agent (Robert S. Sharp) put in charge of the New York office (probably in 1917-18) by the first Chief Special Agent Joseph M. “Bill” Nye during the term of Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Sharp was one of the first 3 recruits Nye selected, who were all former Postal Inspectors. Sharp’s cancelled credentials from 1920 and 1925 (both would be renewals of his first commission that would have been signed by Nye and Lansing) were signed by Chief Special Agent Joseph Nye (1920), and a renewal of those credentials for Sharp in 1925 by the second Chief Special Agent, Robert C. Bannerman. Interestingly, these cancelled commissions would also show that with the new terms of at least two Secretaries of State (Bainbridge Colby in March 1920, and Kellogg in March 1925) badges may have been re-issued to Special Agents continuing to serve the Special Agents’ Division. The rarity of these badges may argue against the re-issue and proliferation of new badge numbers. It is unclear whether new commission numbers may have issued to Special Agents, as the wording on the reverse of the original states that badge and commission numbers needed to match, so either badges might either have been re-assigned or new ones issued. Currently, there is variation between federal agencies about which credential documents match badge numbers issued to agents. Although the round hinge and machine-made safety catch of the attachment on the badge I initially illustrated are more common in the late 1920s-30s, several examples from 1900-1910+ federal, state, and city law enforcement badges are shown in several well-illustrated internet photographic morgues for auction sites. My research indicates that although the collector community is aware of one other original example, no other originals have come to light other than the one I have illustrated in my first post on this badge. The final image below is another photo of the obverse of this very rare badge. 


Image of the obverse of a restrike of the original 1917 design of this badge, probably struck ~1989. Note the less fine engraving than the original, some design element differences - especially the shield on the eagle's chest, length and thickness of the rays emanating from the eagle;  the enamel in the "US"; and the background areas between the scrollwork of the "US" shield and the stylized scroll reading "DEPARTMENT OF STATE".


Image from the US Dept of State document (History of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the United State Department of State, October 2011, Global Publishing Solutions; figure "Service Badges used by Special Agents (1917-present), and by DS Diplomatic Couriers and DS Security Engineers (present)" on pg v.) that appears to illustrate a restrike version of this badge rather than an original.   https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/176589.pdf



This is one of the few other examples known of an authentic 1917 design US Dept. of State Special Agents' Division badge, provided by a collector.


This is an image of an authentic original 1917 design US Dept of State Special Agents' Division badge's reverse provided by a collector showing the same marking on the reverse referring to the Commission document as in my original post of 12/2/26.


Another obverse image of the authentic 1917 design U.S. Dept. of State Special Agents' Division badge # 12. Note the fine engraving and design element differences compared with the ~1989 restrike.

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You know -i would have thought this is something friends of mine would have known about - but this is a completely new subject area for me. I smell PHD. thesis to be honest. Have you asked over at USMiliteria? 

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Ulsterman, Thanks for the suggestion about the US Militeria forum, I'll see if that uncovers anything. Given the difficulty in getting info about this badge online and the scarcity of solid knowledge even in the collector community, it seems that this is a job for document research sleuthing. I am planning on a visit to some of the National Archives to look for potential agent lists. Not sure this is Ph.D. dissertation material (no original question), maybe an M.A. thesis, but more likely just a good story. Hanging out in the Widener reading room eh? Any position on removing puritans from the song "Fair Harvard? 


Yes. I hate it. Harvard  bureaucrats  since 2011 seem hell bent on trying to show how virtuous they are, whilst steadfastly refusing to honor the schools’ tax free status by making tuition free. Most Deans I know do very little, but earn $150,000 plus a year. 

Edited by Ulsterman

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I would like to illustrate a couple of the possible commission documents for the earliest period of the US Dept of State Special Agents' Division relevant to my post of March 25, 2017 summarizing some of my current research on this badge. These images were sent to me by a collector, and I have mentioned them in the March 25 post. Additional correspondence with other collectors of US Federal badges and individuals serving with the Diplomatic service indicate that it is very common, both historically and currently, for there to be mismatches between authentic commission documents for agents and the badges used by them. Apparently, the only exception is the US Customs service. This still does not resolve how thorough any past destruction of previously issued badges for the US Dept of State Special Agents' Division may have been, or whether they continued to be used with updated commission documents that appear to have been renewed with each appointment of new Secretaries of State.  I am especially interested in these credentials for Robert S, Sharp, the first Special Agent in charge of the New York Office of the US Dept of State Special Agent's Division who was appointed in 1917 or 1918. This office was set up by the first Chief Special Agent of the US Dept of State Joseph M. “Bill” Nye during the term of Secretary of State Robert Lansing. This was approximately contemporaneous with the establishment of their first office in Washington, D.C. The New York office interests me as this is the likely location where the agent who was assigned badge #12 worked from, given the source of this badge. 


Credentials (commission document?) for Robert S. Sharp (the first Special Agent in charge of the New York office of the US Dept of State Special Agents’ Division, 1917 or 18 though ?), 1920, signed by Joseph M. Nye (the first Chief Special Agent, 1917-20) and Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby (1920-21).


Higher resolution image of the signature page for Robert S. Sharp’s 1920 credentials.


Credentials (commission document?) for Robert S. Sharp (the first Special Agent in charge of the New York office of the US Dept of State Special Agents’ Division), 1925, signed by Robert C. Bannerman (the second Chief Special Agent 1920-40) and Secretary of State Frank Billings Kellogg (1925-29).


 Cover of Robert S. Sharp’s credentials from 1925


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Ulsterman, thanks for your continued visitation of this thread. Several folks on Pinterest with interest in law-enforcement badges borrow images of the first US Dept. of State badge, but they inevitably all choose the ~1989 restrike image with the enamel and less well-exectued engraving rather than the photo of the actual rare original 1917 badge. GMIC is a much more satisfying forum dedicated to accurate information, background data, and not just "pretty" pictures. 

The Dept. of State Special Agents originated in the early WWI period with government concerns about abuse of the US neutrality by visiting diplomats, especially Germans. The war created significant new security problems not experienced by the US Government previously, and these became even more complex in the aftermath of WWI as the US emerged from a relatively isolated nation to a world power. 

In the early phase of WWI, the US was subjected to an array of espionage events that violated the tenants of diplomatic immunity and placed US neutrality in danger. These included abuses on US soil as well as the treatment of US (and other countries') diplomats oversees. Violence against the British embassy in Berlin, attacks on trains carrying diplomats, and rampant interception of diplomatic communications often confused Americans with the British, although the German government tried to get the populace to distinguish neutral Americans from the British who were at war with Germany. Interestingly, this may be where the wearing of US flags on diplomats lapels originated, as Americans tried to distinguish themselves from the British. The security of diplomatic pouches was a critical issue, and the US Postal service implemented a number of security measures that made them leaders in counter-espionage as it was experienced in relation to communications. This is one of the reasons that the first US Dept. of State Special Agent, Joseph "Bill" Nye selected postal inspectors as his initial Special Agents for the Washington and New York offices. The German Embassy in Washington ran a number of espionage, propaganda, and sabotage efforts (i.e., the realized plot that resulted in a 1915 attack on 10 US factories that produced munitions for Allied countries), in defiance of US neutrality. Passport fraud also was a major problem. Prior to 1914, passports were not required for travel in most parts of Europe, however this changed and new restrictions were implemented for the issuance of US passports. Despite these efforts, abuse of the passport system was rife. The German espionage & sabotage efforts were overwhelming challenges to the US government that lacked effective experience for these challenges. 

Robert Lansing, the US Secretary of State, was responsible for realizing and acting to try and combat these threats to US neutrality and sovereignty. He instituted a strict pass system and escort protocol for foreigners and US citizens (including Congressmen and reporters) visiting the Dept. of State. He created a "secret service" to meet these challenges, and moved to coordinate the various agencies trying to implement better security against concerted espionage. President Wilson was reluctant to authorize Lansing's proposed overseeing agency, and he created the "Secret Intelligence Bureau" in April 1916, under the direction of Leland Harrison from the Latin American Division. Harrison coordinated collection of intelligence form various US govt and military agencies (although it was recognized this work was "extra-legal"), and had regular contact with comparable British agencies. Surveillance of the German Embassy in Washington and the German Consulate in NewYork uncovered a number of German plots. Joseph M. Nye, a Secret Service squad leader, was one of the investigators who provided significant wire-tap information from the German Embassy, specifically in relation to the German intentions to continue unrestricted submarine warfare, one of the actions that led to US involvement in WWI. Nye was assigned as the Special Assistant to the Secretary in 1917, and subsequently Lansing  made him the Dept. of State's first Special Agent. 

Most of the first year of Nye's work was escorting foreign dignitaries, protecting them, and making all travel arrangements for them during their visits to the US. The first 3 new Special Agents he recruited were froth Postal Office Inspectors; James O'Connell, Robert S. Sharp, and Robert C. Bannerman. Postal Inspectors were widely trained in detecting fraud, theft, transportation of weapons, firearms, and other banned materials, identifying crimes affecting postal officials, and determining whether such activity was external or internal to the Postal Service. They had an array of investigative experiences  and skills critical to this new of the Dept. of State Special Agents Division. As I've noted elsewhere, they opened offices in Washington and New York, with Sharp overseeing the New York office.

The Special Agents Division was created just as President Wilson was preparing to declare war on Germany & Austria-Hungary. Lansing and his agency focused on diplomatic security particularly in communications as their principal WWI security  effort. They also provided security for US diplomats and foreign dignitaries. They surveilled various organizations whose wartime activities were considered "disloyal", and because of the perceived threat to Great Britain by groups being funded by the Germans to overthrow British colonial rule, they targeted Irish revolutionaries and Hindu nationalists. Nye was involved in the case agains the Hindu nationalists. The Hindu group was only trying to incite rebellion against British rule (in other areas of Asia and in Africa as well), but the Irish group was being funded through German agents in Mexico that also plotted sabotage attacks in the US. 

The post-WWI period resulted in even greater security and intelligence challenges as the US became an emergent world power, and target for more concerted espionage. The increase in the US diplomatic presence abroad resulted in even greater needs to maintain communications security, develop secure courier services, and counter-intelligence than during the war. Nye also continued the critical role of protecting foreign diplomats visiting the US. Special challenges included escorting Japanese royalty safely despite significant security threats, and, more delicately protecting diplomats from Liberia and other African countries while accommodating Jim Crow laws and explaining other racist conventions those diplomats were expected to practice with white officials and businessmen. 

After WWI, security responsibilities increase, but budgetary and personnel cuts were implemented. Joseph "Bill" Nye resigned in 1920, going to work for Guaranty Trust Company to improve detection of fraud. Nye was replaced by Robert C. Bannerman. Robert Sharp lost his commission as head of the New York office in 1920 following personnel cuts reducing the Special Agents Division from 10 to 2 Agents. However, the increased responsibilities of the Special Agents Division resulted in re-hiring several of those individuals in 1921 including Sharp, again overseeing the New York Office now with a staff of 25 people. The renewed duties included internal investigations of leaks of sensitive information, theft, background investigations of potential Dept of State employees, illicit importation of liquor by the British Embassy, and passport & visa fraud that became an important tool in deporting foreign agents involved in espionage during the 1920s and 30s.   


1916- Robert Lansing, 42nd US Secretary of State (1915-1920) under President Woodrow Wilson

(US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; Harris & Ewing Collection; File: Robert Lansing; digital ID: cph.3b47713.jpg; Created: 31 December 1918)


1917-Joseph “Bill” Nye, The Department of State’s first chief special agent, served from 1917 to 1920.

Library of Congress. "1917: The first Chief Special Agent of the U.S. Department of State, Joseph M. Nye, was appointed by U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing in 1917 and served until 1920. His principal duty initially was to monitor enemy diplomatic activities in Washington and to protect foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, during the period of the First World War." (Source: Library of Congress; direct quote from: https://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/c31108.htm) http://www.afsa.org/ds-100-tradition-vigilance


Joseph Nye's US Dept, of State Special Agents Division credentials, cancelled in 1920 when he left the Dept. of State. 




Cover of Joseph Nye's US Dept, of State Special Agents Division credentials




"1920: Robert C. Bannerman replaced Joseph M. Nye as Chief Special Agent in 1920 and served in that position until his death in 1940. He expanded the tasks of the office to include personnel background investigations, passport fraud, courier oversight, and internal investigations. His son Robert L. Bannerman was appointed head of the Department's Security Office in 1945." (Source: DS Records /1920) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/176705.pdf


Edited by Rusty Greaves

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