It is believed that Sun Tzu was a military leader in the ‘Spring and Autumn’ period in ancient China: the Art of War may be a compendium augmented by several authors. As with Machiavelli’s Italy, the time of writing was a period of extreme instability in China, with regional warlords vying for supremacy. The work is astonishingly modern in its analysis, and has garnered a mass modern following, in business as well as military circles. A key proposition is the primacy of intelligence and espionage. Sun Tzu terms this ‘divine manipulation of the threads’, a state’s most ‘precious faculty’. He describes five classes of spy, emphasizing the importance of informers in the enemy camp and the spreading of disinformation. He also comments shrewdly on the need for ‘subtle ingenuity of mind’ in the assessment of the veracity of intelligence, and the vigilance required to root out enemy agents, who can then be turned into ‘converted spies’.
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