Thursday, December 18, 2014

Succeeding in the Field Game with the Moscow Rules or the Sunzi's Victory Temple Model

(updated on 12/27/14 11:18.11)

It has been rumored that the some or most covert field operators have usually function under some aspects of the Moscow rules especially in chaotic times. Whether one could use this set in a complex setting is quite questionable.

The Moscow Rules
Following is an abbreviated list of the probably-fictional Moscow Rules that has circulated around the Internet and in fiction:
  • Assume nothing.
  • Murphy is right.
  • Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
  • Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  • Go with the flow, blend in.
  • Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  • Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  • Maintain a natural pace.
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  • Build in (the) opportunity, but use it sparingly.
  • Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (borrowed from Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Clay.)
  • Don't harass the opposition.
  • There is no limit to a human being's ability to rationalize the truth.
  • Pick the time and place for action.
  • Keep your options open.
  • Technology will always let you down.
  • Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action. (taken from Ian Fleming's novel Goldfinger)
  • Don't attract attention, even by being too careful
Click here for another version of the rules.  

Following is the International Spy Museum (Washington, D.C.,) version of the Moscow Rules are given as:[2]
  1. Assume nothing.
  2. Never go against your gut.
  3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  4. Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
  5. Go with the flow, blend in.
  6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  8. Don't harass the opposition.
  9. Pick the time and place for action.
  10. Keep your options open.
"Although no one had written them down, they were the precepts we all understood ... By the time they got to Moscow, everyone knew these rules. They were dead simple and full of common sense...".[1]  
- Tony Mendez

Regardless of the political change of our global economy, the Moscow Rules are still utilized by some field strategists. ... Whether it is effective in a complex setting, is questionable? 

So, do you think it is important to learn the the Moscow Rules before going on the field?

Comments From The Compass Desk
So, what is wrong with using these rules?  They lacked the tactical specifics on how to utilize it and when to employ it. 

To be strategically effective, the field operators must possessed proper training and practical experience.   Having the strategic instinct is an asset. 

  • Do you know when should one "assume nothing?"   ... 
  • Do you know when the Murphy Law is applied?   ... 
  • Do you know when to go against your instinct and when to go with your instinct?
  • Do you know why one should vary their pattern of operation and stay within their cover?
  • Do you know when and how to lull them into a sense of complacency?
  • Do you know why harassing the opposition is a bad idea? 
  • Do you know when is a good time to harass the opposition?
  • Do you know when to pick the time and the place for action?
  • Do you know when to keep your options open?
  • Better yet, do you know when to go with the flow and blend in?
Those who are deep in the strategy game, usually mindfully understand the notion of assessing the configuration of their Big Tangible Picture instead of just using the rules, for the obvious reason of minimizing negative after-effects.  When the factors of risk, uncertainty and volatility are numerous, applying this result-oriented process model becomes relevant.

Operating on simple rules and/or on base instinct could only go so far. Those who succeed with that approach usually succeed in simple strategic settings. But they frequently grinded toward their target in unique complex situations.

The Victory Temple Model
“These are the ways that successful strategists are victorious. They cannot be spoken or transmitted in advance. ... Before the confrontation, they resolve in their temple (or conference room) that they will be victorious, have determined that the majority of factors are in their favor. Before the confrontation they resolve in their temple (or conference room) that they will not be victorious, have determined a few factors are in their favor.  

If those who find that the majority of factors favor them, will be victorious while those who have found few factors favor them will be defeated, what about someone who finds no factors in their favor? 

When observing from this viewpoint, victory and defeat will be apparent.”

- Art of War 1 (Paraphrased from the Sawyer's translation)

Click here for more information on the Sunzi's Victory Temple Model.

# One of the best books for understanding this perspective is Dr. Ralph D. Sawyer's Tao of Spycraft.
Ralph Sawyer's first book on the history of Chinese intelligence, The Tao of Spycraft, was written to help correct what he perceived to be a general "lack of interest in China's achievements in the thorny field of intelligence." He adds that a detailed historical treatment is needed for two reasons. First, "no nation has practiced the craft of intelligence or theorized about it more extensively than China." Second, the current government in China employs the ancient precedents and practices that have proved successful for thousands of years.15 The result was a very detailed account of the techniques employed long before the Christian era by Chinese warring states. These methods were informed by the principles elucidated in Sun Tzu's Art of War and concentrated on the theory of agents, evaluating men, and the importance of terrain. In The Tao of Deception, or the way of the unorthodox,16 Sawyer extends his approach to espionage, surprise and deception in warfare.
Since Chinese warfare is and has been guided by fundamentally different principles--with the emphasis on the unorthodox--from those applied by European military tacticians, Westerners must learn the oriental approach, and Sawyer provides examples drawn from events throughout the dynastic periods (2853 BCE-1911). Sawyer acknowledges the use of deception in the West, but he contends it is not yet as integrated into military thinking and planning as it is in China. The final chapter discusses deception's applicability to intelligence operations in today's Peoples Republic of China, including their implications for possible future conflict. The book is extensively documented with both Chinese and English sources, many of the latter translations from Chinese.
Neither of Sawyer's volumes is easy reading--they are not introductory texts. And for readers unfamiliar with Chinese history and language, the task is doubly difficult. The names and relationships require considerable concentration. Nevertheless, for those who are concerned about China's historic and contemporary approaches to intelligence and deception operations, it is worth the effort.
Source: intel. central

This book espouses many intelligence gathering concepts, that does not directly connect to the topic of strategic and tactical factors. You just have to discover it and take the time to connect it to your situational setting or you can wait for us to publish some aspects of the Victory Temple algorithm.

There are other great books to this thematic subject. We will discussed this topic in a later post.

Click here for more information on the Sunzi's Victory Temple model.

Side Note: Then there are those who preferred to operate in the field by using the Phoenix List.

Comments From the Compass Desk
So, which strategic approach would you choose?

Knowing the rules and using simplified models in a complex and chaotic setting, could only go so far.   In most cases, grinding one step at a time is psychologically tasking.

In the Chinese strategy game, one focuses on the singularity (the Dao) of the situation before deciding on whether to pursue the obvious move or the exceptional move (non-obvious move). 

None of us are field operators. Nonetheless, we are just good observers who understand how the strategic process of properly assessing the Big Tangible Picture and the levels within it, could offer a slight advantage. 

The Dao Of The Compass 
Assess your grand setting by using the macro principles from the Seven Military Classics  of Ancient China.

Position by deciding the specifics of your strategic view (priority objectives, approach, condition guidelines and escapative guidelines) before developing your script of moves and counter moves 

Influence the setting with your script of moves while quietly assessing and positioning forward.


When or if you are residing in a chaotic field, carrying your copy of Sunzi's essay and/or a list of the Moscow rules is not going to help at all.

Wear your hoodie, carry your "Go Bag" and keep on moving while staying mindfully aware of your settings and beyond. Reflectively know what is the Big Tangible Picture before assessing its configuration in terms of threats, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths.

Positioning yourself forward with your script

Influencing your setting of the Big Tangible Picture with the macro concepts from the Sunzi classic.

Good luck!

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