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As the truth changes so must the deception if the lie is to remain believable


Part 3

An especially interesting statistic in deception is that the number of deceptions rise at the moment of attack approaches. If one becomes sensitive to a pattern of deception, it becomes much easier to field a countering move. Some political readers might say "but we know the date of the election," presuming it to be the 'attack.' I submit that the answer is far more subtle than that. Knowing that an election is forthcoming (known event in time) allows one to be especially attentive to the growing number of deceptions and ruses that will arise. Further, a presidential election is merely the culmination of a campaign comprised of many dispersed 'skirmishes' each of which has its own unique constituency and psychological context and is thus sensitive to varying deception. A stupendously effective (leave aside whether you think it accurate or fair) disinformation effort was the Swift Boat affair that put the Democratic candidate off-message and on the defensive. I believe that I heard Rove remark, if memory serves, that, 'My job is not to be fair. My job is to re-elect the President.' An appropriate response, I might add. Fairness has little to do with war. Successfully countering the deception at hand is.

Knowing that the rules of motivating an electorate have fundamentally changed and that Denial and deception (D&D) has entered the mainstream is the first step, The second it to understand what D&D seeks to do:

  • Disrupt one's ability to "observe, orient, and decide" (Boyd's OODA Loop)
  • induce inaccurate impressions about capabilities or intentions, causing the target to apply intel assets inappropriately, and fail to employ all assets to best advantage

Countering deception is hard because "those being deceived do not systematically consider alternative explanations for the evidence they observe, and incorrectly weigh the evidence they do have." "People often dismiss important evidence, prematurely prune alternative hypotheses, and jump to conclusions. These make people and organizations easy to deceive." Since deception is relatively rare, it is not surprising that people are poor at countering deception:

  • Poor anomaly detection (missing contextual cues, or prematurely dismissing as irrelevant or inconsistent with other intel)
  • Misattribution (attributing deception event to collection gaps or processing errors)
  • Failure to link deception tactics to deception hypotheses (noticing anomalies fails to recognize them as indicators of deception)
  • Inadequate support for deception hypotheses (failing to link an assessment of an adversary's deception tactics and goals to the adversary's strategic goals; i.e., failing to test denial or deception course of actions (COAs) against the available evidence)

Start with Heuer's Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, one of the great masterpieces of understanding the analytic thought processes of intelligence, of overcoming cognitive biases, and of stepping away from preconceived mind-sets and mental models. Heuer presents a protocol called Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) that I have used for both signal and sprignal (deception) analysis:

  • Identify the possible hypotheses to be considered
  • List the significant observed evidence and assumptions for and against each hypothesis
  • Prepare a matrix with hypotheses across the top and evidence down the side
  • Refine the matrix
  • Draw tentative conclusions about the relative likelihood of each hypothesis
  • Analyze sensitivity of the conclusion to a few critical items of evidence
  • Report conclusions
  • Identify milestones for future observation that may indicate events are taking a different course than expected

In what I see as a parallel of Whaley applied to Wohlstetter, Stech and Elsasser have sought to extend Heuer's ACH so as to account for cognitive factors that make people poor at detecting deception.

Their concern was that ACH can "lead one to be more susceptible to deception." In particular, Heuer's 'Draw tentative conclusions' step recommends weighing hypotheses in light of evidence, a process that already promotes reasoning errors rising from "everyday irrationality." The problem with 'weighing hypotheses in light of evidence' is that in conventional analysis, it neglects the individual base rates of both evidence and hypothesis, and in counter-deception conditions, it fails to flag an evidentiary false positive rate. In order to adapt ACH for counter-deception, Stech et al has modified ACH so that "hypothesis generation includes appropriate denial and deception COAs, and the ACH is used to elicit or estimate both" 'weighing hypotheses in light of evidence' and weighing evidence as signal, noise, or sprignal.

Suffice it to say that any major political party will have to master these techniques in countering deception, but learning is not easy. I am reminded that David Kahn's 1992 analysis of Pearl Harbor's intel failures (where we did not merge diplomatic and military data and depended on Magic decryptions to the exclusion of warnings contained in non-Sigint intel) "has taught the United States to gather more information and evaluate it better." Subsequent responses to new adversaries have not borne that out.

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis
Richards J. Heuer, Jr.
CSI, CIA 1999

Midway Revisited: Detecting Deception by Analysis of Competing Hypothesis
Frank Stech and Christopher Elsasser
Mitre, June 2004

Gordon Housworth

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