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.