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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 13.7-13: Five Classes of Spies)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 13.7-13: Five Classes of Spies

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XIII. The Use of Spies


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.

There are five ways to spy, as described in the paragraphs below.

Spying in business can border on unethical and easily cross the line. It can also become illegal. Having said this, gaining information on competitors in legal ways that are within company rules can give a significant advantage.

8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called "divine manipulation of the threads." It is the sovereign's most precious faculty. One of the most secret types of knowledge is about your spies. This should be known only by a very few at the top.

If word leaks out, your enemy will be extra cautious and may put out false information. If they catch your spies then they may be tortured for information, may be turned against your and will likely be killed.

9. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district. Most people are just trying to get on with their daily lives. Wars are troublesome for them and can make life much harder.

If the people where the enemy is residing do not like the enemy, then it should be easy to persuade bold individuals, especially those who have been wronged, to spy for you. This is the best type of local spy.

If the local people are suffering hardship, then rewards of money or food may make it worth them taking risks for you.

Worst is to coerce them into spying for you, for example by threatening to 'expose' them.

10. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy. A good spy, if you can turn him or her, is one who is trusted and who works within the enemy forces. Best of all is when they have access to plans and can overhear important discussions.

Many people working in wars are co-opted into their position. Administrators, especially are not natural warriors and may resent being held under strict command.

Inward spies may be gained by simple payment or, better, their simmering resentment may be amplified so they decide to side with you. This can be especially powerful if they believe you will win the war (so persuade them of such).

11. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy's spies and using them for our own purposes. If you can catch and turn the enemies spies, you then have a double-agent who you can get to send back false information and to tell you critical information, in particular about other spies (although spy networks are often organized to prevent such information being passed on).

You may be able to persuade the spy to turn, or you may need to use a more coercive approach. The threat of harsh punishment may be sufficient for some.

Beware of enemy spies pretending to be double agents or acting as triple agents. This is a murky world and you can never fully trust double agents.

12. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy. When one of your spies is lost, for example when they are compromised, you can still use this to your advantage, such as having deeper spies 'whisper' information about them to the enemy. In this way you may lose one spy but another gains greater confidence and access to better information.
13. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy's camp. Spying is not a game for the faint of heart nor is it one where escaping detection and survival is likely to be gained, especially over the longer term.

The only useful spies are those that provide information. The most useful ones are those who help you win the war in a shorter period and with less expenditure of resources.



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