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ICG Risk Blog - [ The value of counter-deception and early sprignal detection in political elections ]

The value of counter-deception and early sprignal detection in political elections


Part 1

Deception planning and deception countermeasures, sprignals included, deserves a deeper dive to highlight its omission from analyzing commercial business endeavors and parsing political spin control. It is exceedingly sad to see it relegated to diplomatic and military spheres when it can shed advance notice that saves investors' money and clarifies voters' opinions that would other wise fall prey to spoofing and disinformation.

After Shouters and charlatans was posted to a major political blog, Daily KOS, I received questions about sprignals and news analysis, and positive comments on the critical analysis of this log, the latter of which were posted back to KOS. I got the impression from their post-backs that these readers were expecting to find bias here but did not, might have assumed the worst but found the logic and sourcing sound, with some noting that they had bookmarked us. I take that as success and proceed.

In 2002, I highlighted the use of sprignals and deception in Enron & Arthur Anderson: to comply is not enough; those who generated sprignals, those who were taken in by them, and those that were powerless to halt them:

Enron Corp. mimicked this model of strategic surprise in which deliberate "signals" designed to lull or defeat warning systems were issued in ever increasing volume. These signals took a variety of forms such as "designer investment" vehicles, obscured financials, and corporate pronouncements. Enron’s auditor, Arthur Andersen, alternatively abetted the creation of these signals or validated them as genuine.

It was startling that despite their "professed independence and variations in technique," prominent sell-side analysts overwhelmingly reached the same, wrong, conclusions about Enron in 2001 up to the eve of its bankruptcy. The skeptics were independent and boutique sell-side analysts, short-sellers, and consumer/NPO groups intent on looking through Enron’s seeming achievements for fundamental financial red flags. The latter were drowned out in what is the only sprignal business application that I can find.

I see even less structural application of counter-deception to the increasingly politicized, media-message driven political sphere. I submit that counter-deception will be become mandatory for major political parties if their adherents are not to be unduly influenced or siphoned off, for whatever one thinks of Karl Rove, aspiring Democrat and Republican political managers are tracking and preparing to implement his "remarkable strategic skills, [his] understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight" with greater ruthlessness than most.

Required history:

Roberta Wohlstetter pioneered intelligence warning systems by applying Claude Shannon's telecommunication concept of signals and noise and his design of information systems to send and receive signals amid noise. Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor concluded that the problem was "too much noise" rather than a lack of data, i.e., it was analysis that failed: "We failed to anticipate Pearl Harbor not for want of the relevant materials, but because of a plethora of irrelevant ones."

Contributing causes were invalid assumptions, faulty appraisal and dissemination of intelligence, and inadequate security measures. Behind these was a lack of war-mindedness at this Pacific base halfway around the world from areas where momentous events were happening. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the Pacific Fleet commander, admits to it: "We did not know that in the Atlantic a state of undeclared war existed (Admiral Kimmel's Story, p. 2, New York 1955). The War and Navy departments also shared in responsibility for the disaster, not only by withholding intelligence but by assigning low priorities to critical equipment for ships and units in the Hawaiian area.

Pierre Wack drives home this need of awareness of one's greater surroundings in his discourse on scenarios, what he calls the "gentle art of reperceiving."

In times of rapid change, [companies] effectiveness and speed in identifying and transforming information of strategic significance into strategic initiatives differ just as much [as their skill in turning research into product]. Today, however, such a capacity is critical. Unless companies are careful, novel information outside the span of managerial expectations may not penetrate the core of decision makers' minds, where possible futures are rehearsed and judgment exercised.

As Roberta Wohlstetter points out, "To discriminate significant sounds against this background of noise, one has to be listening for something or for one of several things. One needs not only an ear but a variety of hypotheses that guide observation". Indeed, the Japanese commander of the Pearl Harbor attack, Mitsuo Fuchida, surprised at having achieved surprise, asked, "Had these Americans never heard of Port Arthur?" (the event preceding the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 -- and famous in Japan -- when the Japanese navy destroyed the Russian Pacific fleet at anchor in Port Arthur in a surprise attack).

Barton Whaley used the model in his analysis of Soviet attempts to predict an impending German attack, Operation BARBAROSSA. Whaley's first analysis cited 12 cases of strategic surprise to which William Harris believed that "the Russian warning intelligence challenge in 1941 was to differentiate genuine "signals" of impending invasion from "spurious signals" from deception planners (defensive military preparations and deployments, non-hostile intent, etc.) within the context of other information "noise."" As a "minimum of 8 or 9 of these 12 warning challenges involves deliberate "signals" designed to lull or defeat warning systems," Harris suggested that Whaley "utilize a tripartite model: signals, spurious signals (sprignals), and noise."*

Part 3

*Private email, 17 March, 2001, from William R. Harris noting his derivation of sprignal building upon the work of Roberta Wohlstetter and Barton Whaley.

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision
Roberta Wohlstetter
Stanford Univ Press, 1962

Gordon Housworth

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