You can read part I here.

Ancient China and much of Asia saw widespread use of spies and espionage during its turbulent history. In fact, the use of these agents was so common that the final chapter of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” (Sunzi Bingfa) is dedicated to spies, spying, and their importance in battlefield and political tactics. One passage from the treatise actually equates the neglect in utilizing spies to a form of inhumanity, stating:

“Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.”

Military and political leaders heeded the advice, making extensive use of spies for everything from determining enemy position and status to rooting out (and sometimes launching) coups. In addition to advocating the utilization of spies and espionage, Sun Tzu even went so far as to break down the type of spies that a commander might have at his disposal, as well as advice for commanders on how to best handle them. The types of spies noted include:

  • Locals: Recruited from the enemy’s general population.
  • Insiders: Disaffected officials from the government of the enemy state, including relatives of persecuted officials (think John Walker Jr. and family). The treatise elaborates on ways to identify ‘inside spies’ from a host of situations, and whom to approach: the ambitious, the dejected, the suppressed, the punished, and the duplicitous.
  • Double agents: Enemy agents who have been turned (with bribes, promises, ideals, etc.), who are willing to spy against their old master or send back false information.
  • Expendables or Canary: Dispensable agents who are fed false information by the general. This false information is eventually found out and the spy is executed by the enemy.
  • Indispensables: These are the alpha spies—iron-willed but simple in appearance, they never let their guard down and operate effectively in enemy territory. They are allegedly immune to betrayal and seduction but practice it on others with ease.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan used spies to further their military and political operations, too, often with a much greater degree of ruthlessness. Prior to any military campaign, the Mongols carefully scouted out and spied on their enemies. Prior to the invasion of Europe, Batu (grandson of Genghis Khan) and Subutai (field commander) sent spies for almost 10 years into the heart of Europe, making maps of the old Roman roads, establishing trade routes, and determining the level of ability of each area to resist invasion.

They made tactical and strategic decisions based on reconnaissance and spies regarding the willingness of each city to aid the others, and their ability to resist alone or together. Also, when invading an area, the Mongols would do all that was necessary to completely conquer the town or cities.

When thinking of spying and espionage in ancient Asia, probably the most famous group that comes to mind are the Japanese ninja or shinobi (“to steal away”). The first written records of the ninja appeared in about the 15th and 16th centuries (the Sengoku, or “warring states,” Period), but some variation of the group is said to have existed in the 14th and perhaps even 12th centuries.

Probably the best description of the ninja was that of a mercenary, and their duties included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, assassination, and even open combat on rare occasions. It should be noted that there also existed dedicated “other-than-ninja” organizations, such as the Edo-Period secret police, some of which were initiated and commanded by Sengoku Jidai “veterans” who had commando/ninja/spy experience. Think of the ninja as the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) to the secret police’s more CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)-like role.