Law 14 Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

The 48 Laws of Power - Robert Greene 2000

Law 14 Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy


Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.


Joseph Duveen was undoubtedly the greatest art dealer of his timefrom 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.

Duveen's friends said this was an impossible dream. Mellon was a stiff, taciturn man. The stories he had heard about the congenial, talkative Duveen rubbed him die wrong wayhe had made it clear he had no desire to meet the man. Yet Duveen told his doubting friends, “Not only will Mellon buy from me but he will buy only from me.” For several years he tracked his prey, learning the man's habits, tastes, phobias. To do this, he secredy put several of Mellon's staff on his own payroll, worming valuable information out of them. By the time he moved into action, he knew Mellon about as well as Mellon's wife did.

In 1921 Mellon was visiting London, and staying in a palatial suite on the third floor of Claridge's Hotel. Duveen booked himself into the suite just below Mellon's, on the second floor. He had arranged for his valet to befriend Mellon's valet, and on the fateful day he had chosen to make his move, Mellon's valet told Duveen's valet, who told Duveen, that he had just helped Mellon on with his overcoat, and that the industrialist was making his way down the corridor to ring for the lift.

Duveen's valet hurriedly helped Duveen witii his own overcoat. Seconds later, Duveen entered the lift, and lo and behold, there was Mellon. “How do you do, Mr. Mellon” said Duveen, introducing himself. “I am on my way to die National Gallery to look at some pictures.” How uncanny diat was precisely where Mellon was headed. And so Duveen was able to accompany his prey to the one location that would ensure his success. He knew Mellon's taste inside and out, and while the two men wandered through the museum, he dazzled the magnate with his knowledge. Once again quite uncannily, they seemed to have remarkably similar tastes.

Mellon was pleasantiy surprised: This was not the Duveen he had expected. The man was charming and agreeable, and clearly had exquisite taste. When they returned to New York, Mellon visited Duveen's exclusive gallery and fell in love with the collection. Everything, surprisingly enough, seemed to be precisely the kind of work he wanted to collect. For the rest of his life he was Duveen's best and most generous client.


A man as ambitious and competitive as Joseph Duveen left nothing to chance. What's the point of winging it, of just hoping you may be able to charm this or that client It's like shooting ducks blindfolded. Arm yourself with a litde knowledge and your aim improves.

Mellon was the most spectacular of Duveen's catches, but he spied on many a millionaire. By secredy putting members of his clients' household staffs on his own payroll, he would gain constant access to valuable infor-

mation about dieir masters' comings and goings, changes in taste, and other such tidbits of information that would put him a step ahead. A rival of Duveen's who wanted to make Henry Frick a client noticed that whenever he visited this wealthy New Yorker, Duveen was there before him, as if he had a sixth sense. To otiier dealers Duveen seemed to be everywhere, and to know everything before they did. His powers discouraged and disheartened them, until many simply gave up going after the wealthy clients who could make a dealer rich.

Such is the power of artful spying: It makes you seem all-powerful, clairvoyant. Your knowledge of your mark can also make you seem charming, so well can you anticipate his desires. No one sees the source of your power, and what they cannot see they cannot fight.

Rulers see through spies, as cows through smell, Brahmins through scriptures and the rest oj the people through their normal eyes.

Knutilya, Indian philosopher, third century B.C.


In the realm of power, your goal is a degree of control over future events. Part of die problem you face, then, is that people won't tell you all their thoughts, emotions, and plans. Controlling what they say, they often keep the most critical parts of their character hiddentheir weaknesses, ulterior motives, obsessions. The result is that you cannot predict their moves, and are constandy in the dark. The trick is to find a way to probe them, to find out their secrets and hidden intentions, without letting them know what you are up to.

This is not as difficult as you might think. A friendly front will let you secredy gather information on friends and enemies alike. Let odiers consult the horoscope, or read tarot cards: You have more concrete means of seeing into the future.

The most common way of spying is to use other people, as Duveen did. The method is simple, powerful, but risky: You will certainly gamer information, but you have litde control over the people who are doing die work. Perhaps diey will inepdy reveal your spying, or even secretly turn against you. It is far better to be die spy yourself, to pose as a friend while secredy gathering information.

The French politician Talleyrand was one of the greatest practitioners of diis art. He had an uncanny ability to worm secrets out of people in polite conversation. A contemporary of his, Baron de Vitrolles, wrote, “Wit and grace marked his conversation. He possessed die art of concealing his thoughts or his malice beneath a transparent veil of insinuations, words diat imply something more than they express. Only when necessary did he inject his own personality.” The key here is Talleyrand's ability to suppress himself in the conversation, to make odiers talk endlessly about diemselves and inadvertendy reveal dieir intentions and plans.

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.



Throughout Talleyrand's life, people said he was a superb conversationalistyet he actually said very httle. He never talked about his own ideas; he got others to reveal theirs. He would organize friendly games of charades for foreign diplomats, social gatherings where, however, he would carefully weigh their words, cajole confidences out of them, and gather information invaluable to his work as France's foreign minister. At die Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) he did his spying in other ways: He would blurt out what seemed to be a secret (actually something he had made up), dien watch his listeners' reactions. He might tell a gathering of diplomats, for instance, mat a reliable source had revealed to him mat the czar of Russia was planning to arrest his top general for treason. By watching the diplomats' reactions to this made-up story, he would know which ones were most excited by the weakening of the Russian armyperhaps their goverments had designs on Russia As Baron von Stetten said, “Monsieur Talleyrand fires a pistol into the air to see who will jump out the window.”

During social gamerings and innocuous encounters, pay attention. This is when people's guards are down. By suppressing your own personality, you can make them reveal things. The brilliance of the maneuver is that they will mistake your interest in them for friendship, so that you not only learn, you make allies.

Nevertheless, you should practice this tactic with caution and care. If people begin to suspect you are worming secrets out of them under the cover of conversation, they will stricdy avoid you. Emphasize friendly chatter, not valuable information. Your search for gems of information cannot be too obvious, or your probing questions will reveal more about yourself and your intentions than about the information you hope to find.

A trick to try in spying comes from La Rochefoucauld, who wrote, “Sincerity is found in very few men, and is often the cleverest of ruses one is sincere in order to draw out the confidence and secrets of the other.” By pretending to bare your heart to another person, in other words, you make mem more likely to reveal their own secrets. Give them a false confession and they will give you a real one. Another trick was identified by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who suggested vehemendy contradicting people you're in conversation with as a way of irritating mem, stirring them up so that mey lose some of the control over dieir words. In their emotional reaction they will reveal all kinds of truths about themselves, truths you can later use against them.

Another method of indirect spying is to test people, to lay litde traps that make them reveal things about themselves. Chosroes II, a notoriously clever seventh-century king of the Persians, had many ways of seeing through his subjects without raising suspicion. If he noticed, for instance, mat two of his courtiers had become particularly friendly, he would call one of them aside and say he had information that the other was a traitor, and would soon be killed. The king would tell the courtier he trusted him more tiian anyone, and that he must keep this information secret. Then he

would watch the two men carefully. If he saw that the second courtier had not changed in his behavior toward the king, he would conclude that the first courtier had kept the secret, and he would quickly promote the man, later taking him aside to confess, “I meant to kill your friend because of certain information that had reached me, but, when I investigated the matter, I found it was untrue.” If, on the odier hand, the second courtier started to avoid the king, acting aloof and tense, Chosroes would know that the secret had been revealed. He would ban the second courtier from his court, letting him know that the whole business had only been a test, but that even though the man had done nothing wrong, he could no longer trust him. The first courtier, however, had revealed a secret, and him Chosroes would ban from his entire kingdom.

It may seem an odd form of spying that reveals not empirical information but a person's character. Often, however, it is the best way of solving problems before they arise.

By tempting people into certain acts, you learn about their loyalty, their honesty, and so on. And this kind of knowledge is often the most valuable of all: Armed with it, you can predict their actions in the future.


The Third Eye of

the Spy. In the land of

the two-eyed, the third eye

gives you the omniscience

of a god. You see further than

others, and you see deeper

into them. Nobody is

safe from the eye

but you.

Authority: 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 situationfrom spies. (Sun-tzu, The Art of War, fourth century B.C.)


Information is critical to power, but just as you spy on other people, you must be prepared for them to spy on you. One of the most potent weapons in the batde for information, dien, is giving out false information. As Winston Churchill said, “Truth is so precious mat she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” You must surround yourself with such a bodyguard, so that your truth cannot be penetrated. By planting the information of your choice, you control the game.

In 1944 the Nazis' rocket-bomb attacks on London suddenly escalated. Over two diousand V-l flying bombs fell on the city, killing more than five thousand people and wounding many more. Somehow, however, the Germans consistendy missed their targets. Bombs that were intended for Tower Bridge, or Piccadilly, would fall well short of the city, landing in die less populated suburbs. This was because, in fixing tfieir targets, the Germans relied on secret agents they had planted in England. They did not know that these agents had been discovered, and that in their place, English-controlled agents were feeding them subdy deceptive information.

The bombs would hit farther and farther from their targets every time they fell. By the end of the campaign they were landing on cows in the country. By feeding people wrong information, then, you gain a potent advantage. While spying gives you a third eye, disinformation puts out one of your enemy's eyes. A cyclops, he always misses his target.