Friday, 8 April 2011

More on the State Intelligence Apparatus: Field Operatives and Women Spies!

Book 1, Chapter 11

This is the third and penultimate post of Chanakya's comprehensive discussion of the classical state intelligence structure. Having detailed the role of long-term established spies, Chanakya moves on to the field operatives or itinerant ones.

These are divided into four categories and are distinguished from the earlier five by their ability to move and short-term deployment. The four categories reference the original four purusharthas, by absence or presence or subversion of these ideals.

The first category includes a host of professions which are marked by their ability to move around as well as extensive contact with people. Professions suggested by Chanakya include: astrologers, medical practitioners, travelling veterinary and animal specialists, hypnotists (could they be equivalents of counselors or psychologists?), those able to identify birds by their sounds as well as have knowledge of their care (an early indication of the importance of birds in daily life and social status or perhaps something more magical?), magicians, entertainers, prostitutes, as well as artists (specifically dancers and musicians). Here, Chanakya also lists priests - as opposed to ascetics - with knowledge of rites and rituals.

This category seems to be motivated by a whole range of impulses, unlike the other three which have very clearly specified motivations. However I consider this category to be linked to the artha aspect of the purusharthas as it covers a wide range of material aspects, including wealth, fame, status etc.

Chanakya suggests that this first group of spies be categorised based on their abilities, knowledge, reputation, social status as well as talents. Based on this categorisation, these spies are then assigned to monitor cabinet members, army generals, aristocrats as well as other key officials and administrators.

The second category of spies is more specifically linked to artha as these are people eager to gather wealth without care for physical dangers. Specifically, Chanakya states these are people who would face down elephants, tigers and venomous snakes in order to gain material success. These spies ought to be placed in employments close to the target, including palanquin-bearers, grooms for chariots and horses, umbrella carriers, fan-bearers and any other professions requiring close physical proximity to the target of espionage.

The third category seems linked more closely to kama within the categorisation of the purusharthas, and is notable for the reversal of what may be considered aesthetic desires as well as a simultaneous facilitation of the same. Chanakya states that this category employs those with cruel, lazy, selfish and uncaring individuals, who may also be capable of subtle murder (he specifically mentions poisoning). Not surprisingly, this category includes cooks and chefs, masseurs, barbers, beauticians, and others providing domestic and personal services.

Here Chanakya inserts another sub-category, again highlighting his pragmatic inclusivity but also a rather coldly calculating view of statecraft. He suggests that in addition to these spies, the intelligence apparatus also include mentally and physically challenged beggars and poor, street singers, gypsies and other outcasts who may evoke pity from the elite. He recommends that these people be placed in the vicinity of the palace and if necessary gain occasional admittance to them. Furthermore, Chanakya also recommends these pity-raising disguises for other professional spies as a way of accessing information.

The fourth category is the most interesting as it is mostly linked to dharma although also bears elements of artha and kama and entirely composed of women. Chanakya recommends widows and impoverished single women who may be able to disguise themselves as beggars or itinerant nuns. He recommends that these women be drawn from educated backgrounds, not for reasons of class but for their abilities of easy social interaction that can help them access homes and wives of the elite. He further suggests that these women be able to pass themselves off in various disguises and thus access the different layers of society.

He recommends that the women spy gain access to queens, female members of the family as well as domestic servants, and cultivate their friendships in order to gather information. She should also make use of the other three categories who ought to report to her.

Most interesting aspect of this fourth category is Chanakya's express injunction that the other three categories must rely on the woman spy to communicate their information. Indeed he insists that this fourth category be the sole link between the headquarters or local centre of the established spies and the itinerant ones. This injunction comes at the end of a clear heirarchy of reporting that Chanakya sets up, with various lower level spies communicating their information solely to the rung above but no further.

He also explains various tactics spies could utilise to communicate between those within and without the palace walls, including feigning illness and passing off other spies as family members. Amusingly enough, he suggests the use of songs, poems and prayers in order to encode information. In a desperate, urgent situation, Chanakya suggests that a spy within a fort or palace may feign contagious illness or poison guards or even carry out arson in order to create the opportunity to communicate with his/her handler.

A final point must be mentioned: Chanakya insists that the spies not know each other for a particularly reasonable tactical purpose. Lack of knowledge of each other ensures that information reaching the handler is not doctored or agreed upon. Should the information from the three categories of spies reaching the woman-handler differ, Chanakya suggests investigating the matter further. Here he does not stop at investigating the information but also the trustworthiness of the source. He recommends that an untrustworthy spy be eliminated quietly from the ranks.

The final verses of this chapter deal with the use of espionage for gathering foreign intelligence. The next post - hopefully in the next few days - shall deal with that aspect.

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