Know Your Enemy


Michael Ledeen has written a wonderful tribute to a friend of his, Peter Malchin, “Zvika,” who recently died after a lifetime of unsung service to our country as an undercover agent. Among his many accomplishments, Zvika was the man who captured Adolph Eichmann in Buenos Aires.

Michael tells the story of Zvika’s capture of 30 Soviet agents in Israel. When Michael asked him how he tracked them, Zvika’s reply was:

“I didn’t track them at all,” he chuckled. “I just asked myself, if I were a Russian spy, where would I be right now? And once I had that answer, I went there and waited for him. It wasn’t hard to spot the guy.

What a great reminder of Sun Tzu’s admonition to “Know Your Enemy.” He said that “if you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

I learned this lesson from David Cook. I had the opportunity to ‘read’ philosophy and ethics with him at Oxford. On one occasion, he asked me to explain my position on abortion. As I began outlining why I am pro-life, he smiled and cut me off gently. Then he gave me an assignment to write a paper supporting the “right to choose.”

In the business world, they teach the concept of “mirroring” — we tend to see in other people that which we ourselves are, or believe. But that can be a strategic error in negotiation. And in policy debates. My paper on abortion was probably not one of my better efforts, but I am forever grateful to David for teaching me the wisdom behind “know your enemy.”

And I am forever grateful to Zvika, and the men and women like him whose names we will never know, who have served our country well. Much has been made of intelligence failures that may or may not have contributed to 9/11. But the only evidence of intelligence successes is, well, nothing. The nothing that didn’t happen . . .


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