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In The Lord of the Rings, the strategy is to infiltrate the One Ring into Mordor undetected and destroy it in Mount Doom.

However in "The Choices of Master Samwise", Shagrat and Gorbag have this conversation :

..."About an hour ago, just before you saw us. A message came: Nazgûl uneasy. Spies feared on Stairs. Double vigilance. Patrol to head of Stairs. I came at once."

Then later, they relate these orders that come from Lugbúrz (Barad-dûr) -

"Any trespasser found by the guard is to be held at the tower. Prisoner is to be stripped. Full description of every article, garment, weapon, letter, ring or trinket is to be sent to Lugbúrz at once and to Lugbúrz only. The prisoner is to be kept safe... until He sends or comes Himself".

The "He" here is clearly Sauron.

Does this imply Sauron had a suspicion the Ring was being smuggled in?

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    Still no guards near the Mount Doom Jul 21 at 10:56
  • The Ring would be useful for a "spy".
    – Eugene
    Jul 22 at 3:13
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    Your title regarding "destroyed" and your final question regarding "smuggled in" are different.
    – Lee Mosher
    Jul 22 at 13:58
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    Sauron fears the Ring will end up in Minas Tirith. The only reason to bring it to Mordor would be to destroy it, which Gandalf states would be fatal to the plan if Sauron knows it. Hence the question.
    – WOPR
    Jul 22 at 14:11
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    I think it's possible Sauron suspected they might have one of the Three, particularly since the spies were believed to consist of a halfling and a mighty Elf lord.
    – Shamshiel
    Jul 23 at 12:04

4 Answers 4

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Sauron is not stupid! But he--like all of us--is limited by his picture of what the world is like:

[H]e is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.'

Like anyone with more problems than resources to deal with them, planning is a matter of cost/benefit.

Sauron judges (for good, though incorrect, reason) that the chance of someone trying to destroy the Ring is negligible.

The Enemy, of course, has long known that the Ring is abroad, and that it is borne by a hobbit. He knows now the number of our Company that set out from Rivendell, and the kind of each of us. But he does not yet perceive our purpose clearly. He supposes that we were all going to Minas Tirith; for that is what he would himself have done in our place. And according to his wisdom it would have been a heavy stroke against his power. Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.

So what should he do to deal with this highly unlikely case? Station guards all around Mt. Doom? No. This is very expensive (not only do you spend the guards, but you also need to supply them with food and water in a foodless and waterless wilderness). Big cost, low return.

But he knows that the Ring is at its most powerful at Mt. Doom and probably gains in power as you approach the mountain. It's a long shot, but maybe, just maybe, when Aragorn (or Boromir or whoever) takes the Ring for himself, A. or B. or W. will head off to Mt. Doom to launch his challenge of Sauron. Still too much of a long shot to warrant stationing an army around Mt. Doom, but it is worthwhile to alert the border guards -- which he needs anyway -- with orders to properly handle any Ringbearers they might capture. That's very low cost and is a sensible precaution against a low-probability event.

If Sauron had suspected that there was any chance at all that the Ring might be destroyed -- literally the most catastrophic possible event from his point of view -- then that chance would be enough to justify guards all around Mt. Doom.

Sauron is a rationalist, a techie, a hard-headed believer that good planning and self-interest is the best way forward--and he thinks everyone else is that way too and that he understands them. Again, I emphasize, he is not stupid and "all things [are weighed] to a nicety in the scales of his malice."

So, no guards ⇒ no suspicion.

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    Sauron judges (for good, though incorrect, reason) that the chance of someone trying to destroy the Ring is negligible. I'd argue that rather than judging it negligible, it never actually crossed his mind that it was a possibility. Jul 21 at 20:39
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    I feel compelled to point out that, technically, Sauron was right. The magic on the ring was perfect and in that final moment, no one willingly wanted to destroy the ring. It's just that it/he didn't account for stupidity.... and clumsiness. Jul 21 at 21:08
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    @Reginald Blue as Tolkien Himself pointed out, that last bit of clumsiness may have been providential, but it would have been of no avail but for Frodo and the whole Fellowship giving up their chances to take the Ring for themselves and their giving their all to get it to Mt. Doom. That Frodo only went 99.5% of the way was as much beyond Sauron's worldview as was Eru Iluvatar's last-moment intervention that took it the last 0.5%. Sauron never imagined that anything like that was possible and was utterly wrong in his calculations.
    – Mark Olson
    Jul 21 at 21:20
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    @ReginaldBlue Since you brought up pronouns, Sauron is most definitely a him, as the quote also proves.
    – Neinstein
    Jul 22 at 8:28
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    @Reginald_Blue I always thought that it was the ring which destroyed the ring! Frodo has earlier told Gollum to swear by the ring that if he tries to take the ring he will be cast into mt. Doom. (Can't remember the exact words). Gollum ultimately does try to take the ring and the ring causes his oath to be fulfilled. (I guess rings don't have any instinct for self-preservation).
    – nigel222
    Jul 22 at 9:25
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In addition to Marks' answer, it's worth pointing out that he might not have been referring to the actual One Ring. We know there are other rings; the Three, for example, or even one of the "lesser rings" that Gandalf describes as "essays in the craft before it was fully-grown".

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    I think this is a stretch. Knowing the capabilities of all the rings, I think he believed that his enemies knew none of the other rings would allow its bearer to challenge him directly. Sauron would not have cared about anything else a prisoner was carrying, only the description of the Ring to confirm its identity. Everything else on the list was just there to downplay the importance of the ring itself. Compare his description of the Ring to Dáin and Brand: "...a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies..."
    – chepner
    Jul 21 at 14:33
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    @chepner This hardly seems a stretch to me, and trying to parallel two passages just for mentioning a ring a stretch! Some of Frodo's and Sam's gear was passed off to taunt Gandalf/Aragorn. All the mentioned items could identify a spy's identity or purpose. You can just as easily guess that Sauron was uneasy that a Ring-bearer was leading the armies of the West to Mordor's gate, and that he was worried about sabotage from another way. Jul 21 at 23:18
  • @chepner It is not clear that Sauron knew all the capabilities of the Three. He had no direct knowledge of their nature. Their creation and subsequent use were hidden from him.
    – John Doty
    Jul 23 at 13:31
  • There's no suggestion that Celebrimbor didn't anything particularly novel with them, only that he made them without Sauron's aid.
    – chepner
    Jul 23 at 14:37
  • @chepner Of course they were novel. Their powers and effects on their users were very different from the others.
    – John Doty
    Jul 23 at 15:05
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Mark Olson gives the evidence we have in an excellent answer. It’s important to recall, however, that those statements are Gandalf’s supposition about what Sauron would do.

While wise, Gandalf is not omniscient. We also have reason to doubt how well Gandalf truly knows Sauron. There is no indication that the two of them have ever so much as met. If so, it must have been longer ago than Saruman changed without Gandalf’s knowledge, causing him to drastically misjudge Saruman. Sauron certainly never confided to Gandalf, or to anyone who told Gandalf, what his strategic analysis was. So, it is plausible that Gandalf is overestimating how perfect his own plan is—or possibly even telling the Hobbits a little white lie, in order to keep their spirits up.

However, he might not need to rely on his own knowledge of Sauron. Galadriel tells Frodo (it is not clear how figuratively or literally, but at the very least she has learned a great deal of military intelligence through her mirror):

I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves.

He could well have found out from her.

Our most direct evidence is what Sauron’s own actions reveal about his planning. We do know that Sauron fell for the Fellowship’s ruse and believed Aragorn had the One Ring, therefore leaving Mount Doom unguarded. Thus, his forces would otherwise have been guarding the approach to Mount Doom (but possibly for other reasons, such as logistics). And, as you mention, we know that he told his troops to be on the lookout for someone trying to smuggle a ring into Mordor. Therefore, it had at least occurred to him as a possibility that someone would take the Ring to Mount Doom. He acts as if he believes that Aragorn, like his ancestor he was emulating in every other way, will invade Mordor to fight him at Mount Doom and seize his throne, and as if he assumed that the One Ring would never allow its bearer to destroy it.

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    "There is no indication that the two of them have ever so much as met." Given they were all Maiar together in the heavens at some point, they probably met. Heck, Saruman and Sauron were both Maia of the same Valar, and almost certainly had significant interactions at some point in history, and Saruman and Gandalf shared information for over a millennium as Wizards. But yes, it's been awhile since Gandalf would have had any direct knowledge of Sauron, and your point that Gandalf is making a lot of educated guesses is on point. Jul 21 at 23:49
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    @ShadowRanger Yeah, but Heaven is a big place.
    – Davislor
    Jul 22 at 4:13
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    It's also hinted that Gandalf (and by implication the other Istari) hasn't retained all his Maia-memories from before he was incarnated in a physical body. Jul 22 at 6:08
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    "But, if that bit of deception was necessary, Sauron would otherwise have been guarding Mount Doom, implying he saw a reason to do so." Aragorn states that his charade was to force Sauron to prepare for external war, thus moving troops to the area around the Black gate, thus clearing the path for Frodo. Without it, Sauron's default deployment would undoubtedly be less concentrated and more dangerous for Frodo. No need for Sauron to fear the Ring's destruction for this to make sense.
    – Mark Olson
    Jul 22 at 14:33
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    "We also have reason to doubt how well Gandalf truly knows Sauron." On the contrary, Gandalf has one of the Three Elven Rings and he knows quite a lot about Sauron. Galadriel, who bears another one of the Three, says, "I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves." Gandalf may have an even more profound understanding of Sauron's thought and plans.
    – Wastrel
    Jul 22 at 18:21
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Sauron might suspect an assassination attempt

It would have been really hard to get a whole army inside Mordor, even with the help of the Ring, because Mordor had a larger army and formidable fortifications. What would Sauron have done then if he had been in Gandalf's place?

A smaller commando or even a single powerful actor, like Gandalf, Galadriel or what remains of that ragtag Rivendell fellowship, empowered by the Ring, could infiltrate Mordor with the goal of killing him. Maybe such a ringbearer would even have the power to collapse Barad-dûr itself, since its foundations relied on the power of the Ring.

That is a practical, sensible plan that would put the ringbearer in a position of power. It fits in with Sauron's worldview, so he's "capable" of thinking about it and making plans to protect from it.

In this case there's no need to guard Mt. Doom. Barad-dûr, on the other hand, would need some tight security, but it's probably already in place anyway.

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