Monday, 3 January 2011

Structure and Role of the Intelligence Apparatus in Statecraft: Part 1

Chapter 10 and 11 of Book 1 comprise some of my favourites. However, they are very detailed and so require a short over view, especially as they cover so much ground that a straight reading and translation of the verses is not sufficient for understanding.

Both chapters cover the kinds of spies, their recruitment, roles, rewards, as well as structures of a king's espionage apparatus. Unfortunately either through time or due to loss of text, the sequence of discussion is particularly non-linear and therefore slightly confusing. But this may also be attributed to Chanakya's knowledge of certain activities and philosophies that he takes for granted and thus does not necessarily explain.

Chanakya begins by classifying nine different kinds of spies, each with a particular role and status. However, he also explains the structure of a state's intelligence apparatus, which he divides into two specific categories.

The first category is made up for five different kinds of spies that Chanakya describes as a king's five eyes. Interestingly enough, these first five are primarily deployed for internal intelligence and are meant to monitor the cabinet, influential persons of the realm as well as the general tendencies and levels of discontent in the populace. These first five are also distinguished by their primarily stationary deployment; that is, they are deployed for collecting intelligence in long-term, sometimes sleeper, capacities and are meant to report back to the king from their posts.

The second category, made up of four kinds of spies, are those who are deployed for short terms and in transitory capacity. These four kinds travel, move around, and may even be deployed in realms beyond their own.

Chanakya differentiates these two kinds of espionage by describing the first as "sanstha" and the second as "sanchaar." This may be considered an early form of dividing intelligence operators into headquarters vs field operatives, although Chanakya is quite clear that even the stationary, long term spies must have only limited knowledge of other parts of the intelligence apparatus. This, in many ways, is a function more of size than modernity, as maintaining a small core of intelligence analysts who could make sense of the information sent back is only possible when a small amount of data is generated.

However, Chanakya is quite modern on another aspect: he is quite emphatic about limiting the ways in which information is transmitted, as well as, on the paramount importance of maintaining minimum contact between different levels of espionage hierarchy. In practical terms, this means that the stationary spies communicate with only the layer above them and do not know of the various other members of the apparatus. Similarly, the high status spies - business leaders, aristocrats or intellectual - only communicate with the head of intelligence or directly with the king.

Moreover, Chanakya suggests that all kinds of people, including students, teachers, ascetics, entertainers, jugglers, beggars, traders, farmers, and so on can be recruited to serve as spies with different roles, inducements and rewards. Here it must be noted that Chanakya also makes a clear case for not only recruiting members of all classes and "castes" but also insists that spies be able to take on the necessary markers of other classes and "castes" as required (a prescient take on Rudyard Kipling's fantastic Kim here).

He is also surprisingly inclusive regarding the use of mentally and physically disabled people for gathering intelligence, acknowledging in a deeply practical manner, that many of these are least likely to be suspected. This also echoes Chanakya's organisation of the king's internal circles of protection which also include the physically and mentally challenged. In this second case, Chanakya is even more brutal in his reasoning, pointing out that gratitude may make such defenders more fierce in their loyalty to the king and thus better equipped than the able-bodied warriors.

One final point in this overview of the intelligence structure explained by Chanakya must be made as it again contradicts the simplistic notions that women were necessarily isolated or indeed marginalised in classical Indian society. Not only does Chanakya list women in the listing of nine kinds of spies, he also gives them an interesting and key mandate.

According to Chanakya, women spies must be the only conduit of information between the stationary and roaming branches of espionage, thus forming the sole crucial link between the two branches of intelligence gathering. Furthermore, in case of the "sanchaari" (roaming) spies, he insists that women spies have the responsibility of transmitting and/or transferring the gathered information to the king. In fact, Chanakya spends a fair amount of time explaining all the tactics by which the female spy can be contacted and given information by the other members of the espionage team.

This final point regarding the use of female spies flies in the face of modern (and primarily Western inspired) structures of intelligence agencies which use women for honey traps but have rarely given them executive power (the former MI5 chief is one exception). However, it echoes the view that informs the Russian security policy of "shoot the women first" in counter-insurgency operations. Chanakya makes the point elsewhere in the text which is shared at least in part by the modern Russian state that women warriors (and obviously spies) are more loyal and committed to the cause.

While I will take up the specifics of Chanakya's view on the intelligence apparatus in the next couple of posts, I believe that the most salient point raised by these chapters, is the inclusivity shown by the text which contradicts some of the post-imperialist ideas of ancient Indian history, developed over the past 200 years.


  1. What is your source? I mean a translation or the original Sanskrit version ? Bhishma Neeti is a good place to search for these as well (Look for Shanti Parva). Thanks for the info.
    Ragu Kattinakere

  2. Hi Ragu: I am using various versions in Sanskrit, Hindi and English. I have the old Ramashastry version from 1915. I am working with Ramachandra Shukla and Ramchandra Varma Shastri's translations in Hindi. I also have the RP Kangle edition for reference as well.
    Thanks for your suggestion.

  3. can u please tell me where can can u get some examples which shows chanikya is too intelligent..and how did he defeated the enemy's because i like to know how did he layed the politics..his tit for tat..statigies..where can i get these details.

  4. Sameer: this is only the first book. In later sections, Chanakya gets specific on tactics. Also if you read the history of Gupta period, you'll get specific examples of how Chanakya's ideas were put into practice

  5. Apart from Shri Ramashastry version of Arthashastra there is another latest edition by Penguin classics. (

  6. Thanks. Have that...not a new translation though.