AoW: Ch. 13 – The use of spies

I am continuing with my interpretation of the book. Everything in italic is a direct quote from the book.

2. Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity. 3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory. 4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. 5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. 6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men. 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.

What allows the wise strategist to secure victory beyond that of an ordinary leader is the ability to find ways to obtain foreknowledge of the opponent’s plans and intentions. This foreknowledge cannot be obtained through intuition, experience, or calculation. It can be deduced by through logic. Knowledge of someone’s plans can be obtained only from someone with direct information about them. Therefore one of the most important part of understanding of your opponent’s conditions is the use of informants. There are 5 types of informants: 1) locals; 2) integrated informants; 3) flipped informants; 4) “misdirected” informants; 5) skilled informants

8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine┬ámanipulation of the threads”. It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty. 9. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district. 10. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy. 11. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes. 12. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our own spies to know of them and report them to the enemy. 13. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp.

If you can manage to use all five types of informants at once, no one will be able to understand your method of obtaining information. This is called “pulling on invisible strings,” and it is one of the most important jobs of the strategist.

  • Locals means someone who lives, works, or goes to the same places as your opponent
  • Integrated informants are those who are a part of the management or leadership of the opposing company
  • Flipped informants are those who initially were controlled by your opponent, but are now under your control
  • Misdirected informants are those whom you give false or misleading information that they can relay to your opponent, misdirecting his attention or actions as a result
  • Skilled informants are those that managed to get a hold of valuable and timely information and bring it back to you.

14. Hence it is that with none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved. 15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. 16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness. 17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. 18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. 19. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

20. Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, the door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these. 21. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service. 22. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. 23. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy. 24. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions.

The strategist is recommended to have closer relationship with informants than with anyone else, reward them more liberally than anyone else, and deal with them more secretly than with anyone else. They need to be managed with compassion and frankness, but with great caution. Doubt everything they say and verify it. Delicacy is the main approach.

Use informants in every aspect of the business. And be very aware of the possibility of informants being within your organization, as well. Whether trying to take over a territory, break up alliances, or to maneuver against an individual, always start with finding out who are the closest people to that person, whom do they work with, play with, who has access to information about them and their plans? First, find that info from skilled informants. If the informants from the opposing organization become known, be kind to them and tempt them to serve you, instead. If they agree, give them a generous reward. That is how they become flipped informants. Through the information provided by flipped informants you can identify local informants and integrated informants, give more research assignments to the skilled informants, as well as craft the misdirection campaign that would be carried to the opponent by the misdirected informants.

25. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality. 26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih who had served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to L├╝ Ya who had served under the Yin. 27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move

The main goal of the opponent is to obtained detailed knowledge of the opponent. This knowledge can only be obtained through a flipped informant, therefore, flipped informants need to be treated most generously. Informants are the most important element in the strategy. The ability to make successful decisions about moving or staying should be coming from the information they provide.

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