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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 13.14-20: Using Spies)

 

Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 13.14-20: Using Spies

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XIII. The Use of Spies

 

Sun Tzu said: Commentary
14. Hence it is that which 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.

Keep your spies close. Know all that is to be known about them. Treat them well and make them feel important. Pay them well also, for their exploits and find every way to keep them motivated and loyal.
15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. Wisdom is about making the right decisions right. Spies are sharp and expensive instruments, so spend them well.
16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness. Handling spies is a tricky business. While everyone knows that they could become double agents, they should not feel you suspect them of this. Look kindly on them with affection for their sacrifices.
17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. When spies make reports, they may not be accurate. They may have found weak information. They may have been discovered and fed false information. They may even have been turned to work against you.

Seek to find ways of verifying what your spies whisper. Look for confirmation to other spies that the first spy does not know about.

18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. Spies are delicate tool. Crass use will expose them and ruin you, so be very careful.

Spies can be used very creatively. You can use them in your own camp to seek out dissenters. You can use them with allies, to check on their loyalty. You can place them amongst the common folk to understand and nudge local populations.

Well-used, spies can plant and provide information that catalyze and tip the balance. With small actions they can make big differences.

Spying in business has the additional problem of possibly being illegal. If you step into this gray zone, you will need to be additionally careful.

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. Timing in war is all-important, and especially so with spies.

Secrecy is difficult to sustain and spies, who often hold critical information, can do great damage. Limiting damage may involve taking those who know out of the action. Killing may not be permitted now, but those who could ruin plans may be kept out of harm's way until the action is complete.

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, and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these. When on a secret mission, the 'unimportant' people who are present along the way can become very important. They may see or overhear you and report their findings. They may also be persuaded to help, or at least not interfere.

Such people often feel unloved and ignored. Using their names can by itself be enough to bring them to your side. Knowing them also gives opportunity for threat that can silence those who are too loyal to their own side to help you.

In business, you likewise get a lot of information from receptionists, janitors and so on, who hear much and say little.

 

 

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