Monthly Archives: December 2012

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.

Entrails of deceit (cont.)

[A]round the end of 1942 [during World War II], when Major Oliver Thynne discovered that the Germans had learned to distinguish the dummy British aircraft from the real ones because the flimsy dummies were supported by struts under their wings. At that time Major Thynne was a novice planner with Brigadier Dudely Clarke’s “A” Force. When Major Thynne reported this interesting intelligence to his boss, Clarke, the “master of deception” fired back:

“Well, what have you done about it?”

“Done about it Dudley? What could I do about it?”

“Tell them to put struts under the wings of all the real one’s, of course!”

– from Cheating and Deception

In their book Cheating and DeceptionBarton S. Whaley and J. Bowyer Bell perform a genuine public service in exposing the inner workings of cheating:

While there are only six kinds of cheating there is only one way to cheat. To cheat, one chooses from one or more of the six categories one or more CHARACTERISTICS [MASKING, REPACKAGING, DAZZLING, MIMICKING, INVENTING, DECOYING] and fashions this into a RUSE that creates an ILLUSION of either COVER or EFFECT.

Flow of Deceit

The role of the ruse is key:

The RUSE is the process of choosing first the appropriate category, such as dazzling or mimicking, and then the necessary number of characteristics to create either a COVER or and EFFECT…There is an endless number of possible RUSES, just as one can consider an almost endless number of characteristics (going down, if need be, to the level of subatomic particles) but each must be fashioned by the planner from one or more varieties of the six categories of cheating…RUSES, whether used to COVER or EFFECT, themselves tend to fall into five categories:


In all five categories the RUSE fashioned by the planner creates a COVER or an EFFECT for the potential victim who, it is hoped, will accept the ILLUSION.

The illusion is where the ruse is tested by reality:

Once the appropriate category or categories has been selected by the planner, the necessary characteristics fashioned into a RUSE for one of the five basic purposes, either a COVER or an EFFECT—both illusory—exists. This is the crucial moment for the planner, for his opponents must accept the ILLUSION if he is to be cheated or deceived…the crux of the matter is whether the EFFECT or COVER will create an effective ILLUSION.

Entrails of deceit (cont.)

If art is all ILLUSION, aesthetic forgery, then there is some comfort in considering that science seeks the truth, reality, that both scientific practitioners and observers regard self-deception as a potential disaster on the road to discovery. Scientists at all times and places have, like most humans, been deceived by their own arrogance and pride, their commitment to the comfortable, their reluctance to speculate further than the first triumph. If a major scientific theory represents the conventional wisdom, most scientists will first try to discard contradictory discoveries or reluctantly attempt to fit them into the existing framework rather than discard the received wisdom. The dream of the artist is to make something new, but the flawed scientist does the reverse, often seeking to avoid the new under the assumption that reality is already to hand. In fact much of Western science is constructed on several assumptions—that the universe is complex but not malicious; that there is a real, explicable reality; that the rules don’t change; that the simplest explanation is best (probably right—a variant of Occam’s Razor). When there are too many “facts” to fit a theory comfortably, there is an uneasy feeling: since the universe is not malicious then the existing explanation is not simple enough, not adequately elegant—something is wrong. Cheating is not the intention of the scientific method, whereas it is the only means of the artist. The scientists ILLUSIONS may be more compelling than reality, but they are still ILLUSIONS, cheating by mutual consent.

– from Cheating and Deception

In their (perhaps disturbingly) detailed exploration of deception outlined in Cheating and Deception, Barton S. Whaley and J. Bowyer Bell diagram the cheating process:

Hiding -> Masking
-> Characteristics -> RUSE -> COVER -> ILLUSION
Showing -> Mimicking
-> Characteristics -> EFFECT ->

The cheating process always follows the Deception Planning Loop:

Deception Planning Loop

(It’s reminiscent of the OODA loop.)

OODA loop

Whaley and Bell elaborate:

The Loop is only half as complex as it, appears, since the analysis and design halves are mirror images of each other. The entire cheating process can be presented as a simple linear sequence from the senior commander’s strategic goal to the deception planner’s goal. The general wants to surprise the enemy and win the battle as part of a grand strategy to achieve total victory. To do so he resorts to a deception stratagem…If the enemy accepts the illusion then the general’s deception goal contributed to his strategic goal, winning. With rare exceptions successful deception requires a goal beyond deceit alone. Few cheat solely for the pleasure of so doing but in pursuit of some goal, and this is particularly true of military matters. Generally, cheating is a purposeful human activity that contributes to a greater ambition. And the process always follows the Deception Planning Loop defined by category, fashioning a RUSE from characteristics that are projected by selected CHANNEL as an EFFECT or COVER that, if successful, creates an ILLUSION made up of the perceived characteristics that is, therefore, a successful STRATAGEM supporting the Deception Goal and hence the Strategic Goal. Every time.

Flow of Deceit

Entrails of deceit (cont.)

The most effective way to conceal a simple mystery is behind another mystery. This is literary legerdemain. You do not fool the reader by hiding clues or faking character a la Christie but by making him solve the wrong problem.

Raymond Chandler
“Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story”

There are two kinds of deception in the general theory of deception Barton S. Whaley and J. Bowyer Bell outline in Cheating and Deception:

  • physical deception: the various adaptations nature has evolved to protect various species
  • psychological deception: the manipulation of human perception

Both physical and psychological deception share:

…two broad categories in the structure of deceit, hiding the real and showing the false. The second category cannot exist without the first, for all deception and cheating involves hiding. Level one deception, hiding, is itself divided into three distinct parts: masking, repackaging, and dazzling. Level-two deception, showing, also has three parts: mimicking, inventing, and decoying

The basic purpose of hiding is to screen or cloak a person, place, thing, direction, or time by a variety of means that range from the simple to the complex. These combined means hide by producing a cover. The basic purpose of showing is consciously to display the false which, perforce, must hide the real. In showing, the end result is to create an EFFECT, an illusion of the false as real. All SHOWING involves hiding, but HIDING almost never involves showing.

The following table from Cheating and Deception lays out the structure of Whaley and Bell’s theory in more detail:

(with process defined)
(distorting reality)
(Hiding the Real)
(Showing the False)
MASKING Characteristics:

  • Conceals one’s own
  • Matches another’s

(To Eliminate an Old Pattern or Blend it with a Background pattern.)

MIMICKING Characteristics:

  • Copies another’s characteristics

(To Recreate an Old Pattern, Imitating It.)

REPACKAGING Characteristics:

  • Adds New
  • Subtracts Old

(To Modify an Old Pattern by Matching Another.)

INVENTING Characteristics:

  • Creates new characteristics

(To Create a New Pattern.)

DAZZLING Characteristics:

  • Obscures Old
  • Adds Alternative

(To Blur an Old Pattern, Reducing its Certainty.)

DECOYING Characteristics:

  • Creates Alternative Characteristics

(To Give an Additional, Alternative Pattern, Increasing its Certainty.)

Entrails of deceit

Barton S. Whaley

Barton S. Whaley

Barton S. Whaley and J. Bowyer Bell once discovered they shared an interest. Then they discovered their shared interest hadn’t been studied formally or intensively enough, in spite of its obvious importance. So they tried to drum up support for studying the subject in academia and government.

Unfortunately, Whaley and Bell obvious wasn’t academic or government obvious. They found no takers. Even politicians and the military, natural consumers of their research, declined to fund Whaley and Bell’s scholarly inquiry.

J. Bowyer Bell

J. Bowyer Bell

However, Whaley and Bell eventually found a publisher who agreed to pay them real American currency to write a book on their topic. There was one condition: it couldn’t be an academic study. The book had to appeal (and sell) to a popular audience. Whaley and Bell sighed, put their heads together, and wrote Cheating and Deception.

Whaley and Bell’s shared interest was the formal and intensive study of deception:

Essentially, cheating, or deception is the advantageous distortion of perceived reality, The advantage falls to the cheater because the cheated person misperceives what is assumed to be the real world.

Whaley had written specialized studies of deception for the Central Intelligence Agency (later declassified and published as Codeword Barbarossa and Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War) as well as books on magic (Encyclopedic Dictionary of MagicWho’s Who In Magic). Bell was a painter and art critic who’d started writing about terrorism during the 1960s, especially as practiced by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Whaley and Bell had direct experience of fields where deception was the coin of the realm. They’d picked up more experience during their fruitless efforts to get academia and government to properly study deception.

As a side-effect of their experience as well as their target audience, Cheating and Deception discusses many of the manifestations deception can take on in everyday life. It includes specific explorations of the role of deception in magic, warfare, gambling, sports, business, science, and art. True to the spirit of their topic, Whaley and Bell even manage to sneak their more scholarly theory of deception into Chapter 2.

They claim their theory is the only general theory of deception ever devised.