Entrails of deceit (cont.)

Taxonomy of Deception

In 2006, Barton S. Whaley produced a second version of Detecting Deception: A Bibliography of Counterdeception Across Time, Cultures anda comprehensive bibliography on counter-deception (props MountainRunner, originally circulated by J. Michael Waller). According to Whaley, Detecting Deception has three goals:

  1. To be the first standard guide to the literature on detection and intelligence analysis in general.
  2. To point the reader to those specific writings most useful for analysis, research, development, teaching, or training.
  3. To alert the reader to the main competing theories and methods used for analyzing mysteries, particularly where deception is present.

Whaley’s introduction to his bibliography covers a lot of ground.

On the definition of deception:

[A]ny attempt—by words or actions—intended to distort another person’s or group’s perception of reality. And to keep matters simple, a lie is any statement made with the intent to deceive. These definitions avoid confusion with mere misinformation, incomplete information, or the truth value of statements. But they do permit us to include the authorized lies and deceptions practiced with our knowledge and approval by stage actors, magicians, and poker players. Moreover, this definition gets around the worrisome problem of self-deception. Instead, for our present purpose, the target of a deception is not oneself but always another’s mind.

On the “ideals” of deception and detecting deception:

The ideal deception makes the victim certain but wrong. Ideal detection reveals the truth behind the lie, the face beneath the mask, the reality under the camouflage. Good detection spares us from unwelcome surprises.

On the ideal outcome of deception:

Surprise? It’s only in the mind of the victim. Surprise is simply the perception that something (an event and/or the process by which it changes) is happening contrary to expectations. If we have a weak understanding of “ground truth” and how it changes naturally as well as how our perceptions of it can be manipulated by others, we’ll be often and greatly surprised. But, if we have a more-or-less accurate notion of events and processes we’ll be seldom and little surprised. It is the detective’s, the analyst’s job to understand these events and processes.

On “counterdeception”:

Counterdeception? Counterdeception is merely convenient shorthand for “the detection of deception” and is now standard jargon among specialists in military deception.

On the eternal nature of deception:

Our geographical environments tend to change slowly. Our social and political systems and institutions shift back and forth. It is only our technologies that have advanced slowly in antiquity, more rapidly since the Renaissance, and faster and ever faster over the past two centuries.  Intelligence analysts confront this most dramatically in the ever-growing volume of data, the increasing speed at which information is transmitted, the evolving technical sophistication of some communication systems, and the speed-up in long-distance transportation of personnel and materials.

But is this Revolution or Evolution? Although we speak of the Information Revolution or the Revolution in Intelligence or the Revolution in Military Affairs with even greater awe than a recent generation did of the Industrial Revolution, we exaggerate. The rate at which new information is generated was already great enough by the early 1800s that not only new disciplines but entirely new sub-specialties had to be founded to cope. Thus “biology” didn’t become a recognized specialty until 1819, “psychiatry” until 1828, and “physicist” until around 1840.

But psychology doesn’t change. Or, at most, imperceptibly over the past two or more millenniums through the slow creep of genetic mutation. The Greek atomist and Chinese Confucian philosophers, Italian politician Machiavelli, and English dramatist Shakespeare understood this unchanging nature of human motives, emotions, perceptions, and misperceptions long before our modern evolutionary psychologists rediscovered it.

Consequently, because deception is a psychological mind-game, it doesn’t change. However, the technology used to communicate disinformation does change. The only other changes are in our theories of how deception works and our techniques for detecting deceptions.

On the shared characteristics of great detectives:

  • They are curiosity driven, so much so that they will persist well beyond regular hours, returning again and again until the mystery is solved.
  • They have a “prepared mind”, one loaded by experience and/or education with a large enough data base to quickly recognize and evaluate analogous situations.
  • They are intuitive, logical but through pursuing other than direct linear thinking. Moreover, the logic they following is, specifically, not the familiar Deductive or Inductive types, but that less trodden path which for the past 12 decades has been known to logicians and theoretical scientists as Retroduction (or Abduction). See particularly Eco (1984) and Haack (2003).  Other scientists have called it variously The Method of Zadig, The Method, Inverse Probability, or my favorite, Retrospective Prophesy. This sounds like a contradiction in terms for anyone who thinks that any mystery has ever been solved or any deception ever detected by “connecting the dots.” In fact this is just projecting backward from an observed or reported effect (outcome) to its most probable cause (origin). This prime method of detection is not particularly rare. It is common among all theoretical physicists, most magicians, many mathematicians and medical diagnosticians, and some police detectives. It is, however, still too rare among intelligence analysts.