Tag Archives: The Art of War

The NSA, the Use of Spies and The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

I reviewed yesterday the book The Art of War (by Sun Tzu) from the point of view teamwork, communication and leadership as that was the interest I had when I have read it this second time. However, there was another chapter that called my attention given the ongoing NSA spying scandal (PRISM surveillance programme) disclosed by The Guardian and The Washington Post in 2013, that was the last on of the book “The Use of Spies“:

Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. […] There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. […] 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 honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory. 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. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

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. 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. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes. 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. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp.

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. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. 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.

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. 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. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions. 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.

[…] 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.

And then comes the scandal, the reaction of global leaders subjected to espionage, of private companies, etc.

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The Art of War

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

I recently finished reading The Art of War for a second time. The book in itself verses on tactics, strategies and concepts related to war. However, today it is recommended for and applied to several fields, from politics, to business management and sports.

The first time I read it I was fresh from having completed an MBA and soon joined the strategy department of Airbus Military, the company I work for. I then took an interest to it from the strategy point of view. However, this time I wanted to read it framing myself from the teamwork, communication and leadership point of view. I found it again, a very enjoyable and useful read.

The book is attributed to Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who lived in the ancient China (544-496 BC). The version I read is a Spanish translation (by Alfonso Colodrón) from the English translation by Thomas Cleary. If you’re an avid reader of business literature you’ll probably have found some quotes from the book. The ones I remarked this time from the point of view I approached it (the emphasis and comments between brackets are mine):

The Army on the March

If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell victory.

Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. [think of inter-departament relationships]

If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. [indecision]

The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file. [engagement]

Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources; too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress. [rewards vs. engagement; purpose; self-realization]

To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy’s numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.

If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. [reminded me of Jack Welch and the need to discriminate]

Terrain

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

Take a look at the book. It can be read in no more than one afternoon. Depending from what perspective you take you will draw some conclusions or others. Some passages will not relate much to your current situation, but several others will.

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