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Let the Enemy's Own Spies Sow Discord in the Enemy Camp


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Let the Enemy's Own Spies Sow Discord in the Enemy Camp

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 33

This group: Stratagems for Desperate Straits
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Work hard to discover the spies of your enemy, and then feed them false information.

Ways to identify their spies include:

  • Use your spies to steal lists from the enemy.
  • Bribe or blackmail enemy officials for the information.
  • Watch for information leakages and do careful detective work.
  • Use hidden monitoring of all information flows.
  • Plant your own agents to become 'spies' for the enemy and so get inside their network.
  • Catch spies and turn them into double agents.

Then make use of this to feed false information back to the enemy. Rather than capturing spies, you can just place things in their path (though beware of this being too obvious). You can also turn the spies to your cause.

Seek to create discord between generals, allies and other friends. Try to make their internal arguments so deep they become distracted from the battles with you and are unable to deploy optimum strategies.

To create discord, a powerful strategy is to invoke those things that people fear the most, such as humiliation, treachery and surprising defeat.

More broadly, provide false information by any means that will lead to confusion and unhappiness amongst the enemy, including its generals and its ordinary soldiers.


This is the thirty-third stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Desperate Straits

Alternative names

Scheme with Double Agents

Sow Discord in the Enemy's Camp

The Strategy of Sowing Discord

Or even:

Use Their Spies Against Them

Use Counter-Espionage for False Information 


In the struggles between the three kingdoms, Cao Cao sent Jiang Gan as an emissary to Zhu Yu, who had been at school with Jiang Gan. After carousing they fell asleep, but Jiang Gan secretly got up and rifled through Zhu Yu's desk, where he found a letter from two of Cao Cao's generals who were plotting to assassinate Cao Cao. On return, the generals were beheaded. Of course, the letter was a fake, placed there by Zhu Yu.

Spying and counter-spy activity was used to great effect in the second world war, where it was found that and manipulating spies was more effective than imprisoning or executing them. A lost spy would simply be replaced, while a managed spy could be used to influence enemy thinking and action.


Spying is not a new art and was well developed in Ancient China, where many of the 'modern' methods were widely used.

A big concern in warfare is the veracity of information gained. If you can gain important information about the other side which they do not know you have, then this can be turned to great advantage. The corollary of this is that if you can make your enemy think they have true and secret information you can mislead them and so gain significant advantage.

A way to learn what people fear (and so find the route to discord and discomfort) is to listen to them as they express concerns. These may be spoken as if they were mild, but in practice they may well run deeper, as therapists know well.

In business, watch for competitor snoopers at exhibitions and feed them false information. You can also let it slip that you are developing a new product in order to set them off on a wild goose chase. When confusing opponents, do beware of also confusing (and losing) customers.

See also

Five Classes of Spies, Using Spies, Using The Five Classes of Spies, Intelligence



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