Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy 

It is critical to know your enemy.

Joseph Duveen was the greatest art dealer in the first half of the 20th century. He monopolized the millionaire art-collecting market. But one millionaire eluded him, Andrew Mellon. Duveen was determined to make Mellon a client even though his friends believed this was impossible. Melon was a stiff, reserved man – in contrast to Duveen. Melon didn’t like what he heard about the art dealer, and avoided meeting him.

Joseph Duveen was undoubtedly the greatest art dealer of his time—from 1904 to 1940 he almost single-handedly monopolized America’s millionaire art-collecting market. But one prize plum eluded him: the industrialist Andrew Mellon. Before he died, Duveen was determined to make Mellon a client.

Yet Duveen promised his friends that he would one day become Mellon’s only art dealer. He spent years tracking the millionaire, learning everything he could about him. His paid some of Mellon’s staff to get inside information. He attended the same art gallery that Mellon did one day, not by coincidence. Duveen dazzled the man with his knowledge. Mellon was pleasantly surprised at discovering how similar their tastes were. The impression Duveen made earned him his new client. Mellon became Duveen’s best and most generous client.

Talleyrand, the French politician was talented in getting people to reveal their secrets to him in polite conversation. His contemporary, Vitrolles wrote, “Wit and grace marked his conversation. He possessed the art of concealing his thoughts or his malice beneath a transparent veil of insinuations, words that imply something more than they express. Only when necessary did he inject his own personality.”

The secret behind Talleyrand’s success was uncanny ability to suppress his own thoughts, he got others to talk and this made them reveal their plans and intentions. People thought Talleyrand was a great conversationalist, even though he said very little.

At the Congress of Vienna, in 1814-1815, he would blurt out what seemed like a secret (something he made up) and watched how his listeners reacted. He would say that the Russians were going to arrest their top general for treason, and he would watch the reactions of the other diplomats, seeing who was most excited by the idea. Baron von Stetten said about Talleyrand, “Monsieur Talleyrand fires a pistol into the air to see who will jump out the window.”

If you have reason to suspect that a person is telling you a lie, look as though you believed every word he said. This will give him courage to go on; he will become more vehement in his assertions, and in the end betray himself. Again, if you perceive that a person is trying to conceal something from you, but with only partial success, look as though you did not believe him. The opposition on your part will provoke him into leading out his reserve of truth and bringing the whole force of it to bear upon your incredulity.

– Arthur Schopenhauer

During innocent social gatherings, pay attention. Others will try to pry for information. Instead of revealing your thoughts and intentions, take interest in theirs. People enjoy being listened to, so you will make allies and keep your own cards hidden. But you must do this cautiously. People will avoid you if this behavior becomes too overt. The point is not be invasive and force the other person to speak. The point is not to reveal your own secrets. By engaging in friendly chatter, you can gather important information if it is revealed, avoid saying the wrong things, and not be suspicious. One trick is to make a false confession to get a real one.

“Now, the reason a brilliant sovereign and a wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move, and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men, is their foreknowledge of the enemy situation. This “foreknowledge” cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor by astrologic calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation—from spies.”

-Sun-tzu, The Art of War


Information is critical to power, and that is why you should be alert to what you reveal to others. If you are not trying to spy, do not make the false assumption that others aren’t either. This is where false information is key.

“Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

– Winston Churchill

In 1944, the Nazis fired two thousand V-1 lying bombs at London. They killed  over five thousand people. Yet they constantly missed their targets.  The Germans relied on secret agents to fix their targets. The British disovered these agents and made them give out false information. By the end of the campaign, the bombs were landing further away from their targets, landing on cows in the country.

“While spying gives you a third eye, disinformation puts out one of your enemy’s eyes.”

– Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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