Captain Franz Dagobert Johannes von Rintelen (19 August 1878 – 30 May 1949) was a German Naval Intelligence officer in the United States during World War I.
He came from a banking family with good connections in American banking, having served with Deutsche Bank as well as acting as U.S. representative for Disconto-Gesellschaft, then Germany's number two bank, beginning in 1906. He also spoke excellent English.
He was sent to the neutral United States in 1915, at age 38, on a false Swiss passport in the name of Emil V. Gasche (the surname appropriated from his brother-in-law). Arriving on 3 April, Captain von Rintelen operated independently and received his funds and instructions directly from Berlin. His mission was to sabotage American ships carrying munitions and supplies to the Allies. Arriving in New York City, he posed as businessman Frederick Hansen and with Heinrich Albert, set up a dummy corporation called Bridgeport Projectile Company, through which he purchased gunpowder, which he then destroyed. The goal was to create shortages of smokeless powder on the American market which was to prevent the Entente from purchasing munitions. He also set up another company, the Austrian-subsidized Transatlantic Trust Company at 57 William Street in Manhattan, where he had deposited a large amount of money on his arrival from Germany. He also attempted to buy the du Pont powder factory, without success.
Von Rintelen worked with a chemist, Dr. Scheele, to develop time-delayed incendiary devices known as pencil bombs, which were then placed in the holds of merchant ships trading to Britain to cause fires in the ships' holds so that the crew would throw the munitions overboard. Several were planted successfully. He found enthusiastic support among Irish dock workers, who made much effort to sabotage British ships. However when they attempted to plant bombs on the passenger mail boat Ancona, von Rintelen looked for other supporters.
He also organized the Labor's National Peace Council to foster strikes and work slowdowns among munitions workers to inhibit American aid to the Allies. From offices at 55 Liberty Street in New York City (around the corner from Transatlantic Trust, where he was Hansen), he spent US$500,000 doing so, most of which went to his U.S. agent, David Lamar; known as the "Wolf of Wall Street", Lamar's reports of success were exaggerated.
During 1915, he negotiated with Victoriano Huerta for money to purchase weapons and U-boat landings to provide support, while hoping to persuade Mexico to make war on the U.S., which Germany hoped would end munitions supplies to the Allies. Their meetings, held at the Manhattan Hotel (as well as another New York hotel, "probably the Holland House" at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street) were observed by Secret Servicemen, and von Rintelen's telephone conversations were routinely intercepted and recorded. It is probable Room 40, which could read at least two of the ciphers he used, was also recording von Rintelen's activities.
His work was largely successful and probably included some part in the Black Tom explosion in 1916. Also in 1915 he bought ammunition and supplied money to the deposed Mexican dictator Huerta and encouraged him to try to seize back power in Mexico.
His colleagues were not all pleased with his success, and Franz von Papen (later Chancellor of Germany) sent a telegram to Berlin complaining about him. The telegram was intercepted and decrypted by Room 40. He received a telegram, ostensibly from his Admiralty (in a cypher Room 40 could read; it remains unclear if Room 40 originated it, or merely intercepted it), and sailed back to Germany on 3 August, on the neutral Holland America liner Noordam. He was arrested at Southampton, England, but protested his innocence so convincingly that both the Swiss Minister in London and Scotland Yard police were persuaded. At a further meeting, the head of Room 40, Admiral W. R. "Blinker" Hall, was not, and von Rintelen confessed; he was interned at Donnington Hall for twenty-one months. He was then extradited to the United States, tried and found guilty on Federal charges in New York, and imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia for three years, after the U.S. entered the war.
He returned to Germany in 1920, a forgotten man. He moved to England, where he died on 30 May 1949.
Von Rintelen wrote The Dark Invader: War-Time Reminiscences Of A German Naval Intelligence Officer which was published in 1933.
The scanned version of the original Penguin Books 1933 edition is available on line at Project Gutenberg Australia http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks08/0801121h.html