Thursday, 23 June 2011

Ancient Intelligence Apparatus: On Spycraft and Foreign Affairs

Book 1, Chapter 11

This is the final post on this chapter and apologies that it has taken so long. Other writing, work and life intervened, as they often do.

The final verses of this chapter deal specifically with the use of the state intelligence apparatus as an essential instrument of foreign policy. Once again, there are indications that either the verses have been modified either in their order of appearance or their context, or both over the intervening centuries. However the usual level of coherence which identifies Chanakya's political theories remains at the core.

Chanakya appears to suggest that foreign spies would also follow the categories set for and maintained by domestic intelligence apparatus (explained earlier in three parts: in general and specifically here and here) , with some key differences.

He recommends a sort of deep embedded sleeper cell system where spies are sent off to settle and become citizens of the target state. At the same time, he also ruthlessly recommends that such a spy's family and dear loved one be maintained at home and their care be in charge of the state. This very modern use of inducement (state cares for family) with threat (state retains control of the safety of the same) is typically Chanakya. Although harder to practice in the modern day scenario by most democratic states, this is still used widely by authoritarian nation-states.

Interestingly enough, Chanakya also points out that some of these spies can - and even ought to - receive wages from both their own state and the one where they are deployed. This suggests both an early idea of "double agent" although the text also suggests that this - in some cases at least - be a necessary corollary of the spy finding employment in a sensitive area, office or industry of the target nation. The need to maintain long term "hostages" to ensure loyalty and productivity thus becomes even more crucial on a tactical level.

More interesting from a contemporary viewpoint is Chanakya's injunction that foreign intelligence apparatus be extended to both friendly, unfriendly and even indifferent foreign kingdoms and states.

Meanwhile, ever the strategician, Chanakya also points out that the state must also maintain a close watch on the foreign spies other nations will have deployed at home. This cloak-and-dagger chapter becomes very modern as he points to not only a counter-intelligence organisation geared to monitoring foreign spies on domestic soil but also indicates how these foreign spies may be utilised as aspects of state policy.

Interestingly, he points to the utilisation of these foreign spies fors not only feeding information and disinformation, but also for testing the loyalty and efficacy of one's own spies based abroad.

In addition to spying on the king, Chanakya is clear that the spies deployed abroad must also gather information on and penetrate into the inner circles of the government and social elite of foreign nations.

As in the earlier sections of the two chapters, he points to the use of craftsmen, tradesmen, the physically challenged, women and others as personnel for this foreign spy network. But most intriguing - and very practical - in this verse is Chanakya's inclusion of the "melechchha" who may also be recruited for foreign espionage.

NOTE: This is interesting given Chanakya's historical location, having lived through the Greek invasion of 326 B.C. but also because it suggests a pragmatic cultural stance towards the social outsiders. A key point ought to be noted: melechchha is often translated as "non-caste" or "untouchable" but a more apt translation would be "unclean." Classical Indic traditions do not differentiate between sacred/profane or us/them but rather between clean and unclean. Any person not of the society by jati, varna and/or gotra would be considered unclean. However, at the same time, the potential for change is also embedded within the concept: so a melechchha may become "clean" and thus part of society. Records of intermarriage with the Greeks - considered by Indic traditions as melechchha - are examples of this social fluidity.

The final verses of the chapter are rather prosaic as the texts explicitly lists the potential categories and places of deployment for spies:

1. Spies can be introduced within fort walls as traders and businessmen,

2. Used at the outskirts of towns and beyond fort walls in guise of ascetics and religious

3. Forests ought to be monitored by spies in guise of forest dwellers, although here again
Chanakya shows his basic inclusivity by pointing out that forest-dwellers should also be
inducted into the intelligence apparatus as serving personnel (Btw, this reminds me of how
the initial Kargil alert was apparently sounded by shepherds along the high ranges).

4. Border spies must be posted and closely monitored for their ability to resist lures of fame,
money, honours or women (Chanakya was very aware of "honey traps" as part of tradecraft, as
is obvious by his use of women for espionage)

A final note must be made before ending: Chanakya also suggests monitoring cultivating relatives of the king and/or other targets, suggesting that these may serve as a weak point, either through their ability to betray the target, being trapped by a clever plot or arrested and held hostage by an enemy state.

This weak point is also to be monitored amongst the spies, with only those capable of withstanding these promoted and maintained to highest levels of confidentiality.

Having dealt extensively with the setting up and organisation of the state intelligence apparatus, Chanakya next moves onto the way these may be used. The next chapter considers both the use of spies for internal and external monitoring and information gathering, as well as for influencing public opinions and moods. I shall try to tackle that as soon as possible.

In the meantime, thanks for reading.

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.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

More On An Ancient Intelligence Apparatus

Book 1, Chapter 10

Before launching into this chapter, I would like to thank all those who read and comment on this blog, as well as those who email their thoughts and reactions to me.

Also, a clarification: this blog is not a translation; nor is it in any way meant to be an “authoritative” study or analysis of Chanakya’s text. I am using various translations and versions to do one simple thing: record my personal responses to this seminal political text. In the process, I hope that more people are made aware of the incredible worth and value of this book.

Far too often, in contemporary India, we treat our classical texts either with a Macauley-ist disdain or with unwarranted reverence. The unfortunate result of both these responses is that many of us no longer have access to these incredible documents of our ancient culture. This blog attempts to do something very personal: demystify and thus decolonise ancient political thought through an individual reading and thus bring it to more modern readers.

And so, onwards:

The first of two chapters on establishing an intelligence system explains the five kinds of spies who occupy relatively stationary, long term posts and are primarily used for gathering internal intelligence.

The fascinating point that Chanakya emphasises repeatedly is that the contact of government officials with spies must be limited as much as possible. Only the ruler or a very small number of trusted advisors should have contact with the spies, and must do so in complete secrecy. This is especially important as Chanakya suggests the use of spies for purposes of not only gathering information but also as an aspect of statecraft which may be deployed to entrap opposition, convince populace of specific aims and ideas, as well as use them as agent provocateurs to create controlled disturbances which may be of benefit to the state.

What is also intriguing in this chapter is Chanakya’s very modern use of the varieties of potential spies. The five explicit categories include students and/or intellectuals, unsuccessful businessmen, farmers, ascetics (or at least spies disguised as these), and women.

The first of these categories, according to Chanakya, include students. These, in addition to their intellectual capacities, should be bold even brash, argumentative and capable of eliciting information from others. These may include students or those involved in research, teaching, intellectual activity at a university or institute of higher learning.

Chanakya suggests that such students be recruited directly by the chief of intelligence services and only report to the chief and the ruler. Moreover, these spies ought to be regularly rewarded in cash and in honours. This seems very modern of Chanakya and throws open an entire possibility of ancient scholars not only working at universities but also benefitting from intelligence sharing, a practice quite prevalent in many western nations. Indian intelligence establishment could benefit from a revival of this ancient practice!

Interestingly, these students are intended to report on discontent and conspiracies developing amongst the youth. It seems that regardless of Europe’s soixante huitards, political analysts have long viewed students with suspicion, most likely with probably cause.

I must confess that suddenly the ancient Nalanda university gains a political science dimension that I had not considered before. Of course, given Chanakya’s own apparent link with the university at Takshashila, this comes as no surprise.

The second category of the five extends the intelligence apparatus to ascetics, especially those renowned for their intelligence and knowledge. Most curious, however, is Chanakya’s role for these. He recommends that such an ascetic be aided by the state in setting up a network of other ascetics who report on matters across the land. In return, these informants are paid in cash and material comforts. Indeed, the chief ascetic of the operation ought to have access not only to funds but also know-how in areas of animal husbandry, farming and small business, especially through the use of earlier mentioned student spies.

This is fascinating not only for the use of ascetics and religious figures for purposes of the state, but also for its absolutely pragmatic view that these may serve as apt conduits of information.

A secondary aspect that is quite impressive is the cohesion of network that emerges – despite the textual disruptions – in the organisation. University students provide the know-how in their fields to ascetics, just as other farmers, traders and craftsmen benefit from the information. What emerges in this description is a seamless understanding of how various aspects of the society may be linked and interconnected for purposes of gathering information.

The third category – and a logical one for an ancient agrarian society – includes spies who are drawn from ranks of impoverished farmers or disguise themselves as such. These farmer-spies are again paid by the state and expected to report on the loyalties and discontents of the farming communities. In addition, the farmer-spy is expected to create a network of informants drawn not only from amongst the farmers (and thus, presumedly, landowners) but also amongst the farm labourers.

The fourth category links up to the farmers, as it draws on the traders and business communities. Here, Chanakya again suggests recruiting an impoverished or unsuccessful trader and/or businessman. These spies are not only expected to recruit a network of business informants but also use their travels for business to gather intelligence on other entrepreneurs, market conditions and discontents.

The final category links back to the role of ascetics and are concerned with religious leaders who live in ashrams. However, here the instructions are far more specific: these religious leaders are expected to establish a peaceful and attractive ashram near major urban centres.

Initially, they should at least provide the impression of austerity. This practice of visible austerity is meant not for any spiritual purpose but rather to impress the local populace and diminish the respect they have for any other local ashram or teacher.

Interestingly enough, the ashram should make use of other spies to not only discover secrets of the populace but also the weakness of other religious institutions and leaders. These secrets can then be utilised for fortune-telling, counselling and persuasion (sounds like blackmail, but if it works…). The guru ought to also conspire with the state in order to predict accidents and calamities which can then be ‘proven’ by action on part of the state. From some of the commentaries on the text, these predicted acts seem to include acts of arson, poisoning and mysterious deaths which are obviously assassinations carried out by the state.

Within the text itself, the examples of ‘fortune-telling’ include predicting government honours and rewards for specific citizens which have been agreed upon earlier with the state. This may appear devious but logical if convoluted pragmatism embodied by the text.

Indeed the pragmatism of the text extends to the final verses of this chapter which explain the suggested course of action based on the internal intelligence provided by this spy network.

Chanakya suggests that should intelligence reveal that a citizen or organisation has been upset unintentionally by the ruler or the state, there must be an honest attempt made to address these complaints and bring the discontent elements back into the fold. The state may use rewards, economic reparations, or honours to allay a justifiable grievance.

However, in case of those who are discontent without justifiable reason, or cannot be persuaded otherwise, the state must use the intelligence apparatus to dispatch them. For this brutal if expedient remedy, the text suggests using accidents, apparently criminal assault or a confrontation between two opposing groups which may serve as cover for the assassination. (More on the art of assassination later as Chanakya goes into vast detail further on).

Before ending the chapter, Chanakya points out that a ruler ought to learn from the spies about those who are trustworthy and reward them appropriately. In contrast, the disloyal ought to be removed with as little fuss as possible as the ruler should not waste resources on them, and instead should focus on matter of the state and welfare of the people.

The next chapter deals with the second category of itinerant spies, with four specific classifications. Hope to get to that soon.

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.