Deception operations

One of the most common human failings is to examine a complex phenomenon from only one perspective and claim to make definitive conclusions based on that limited perspective. (Benjamin I. Higginbotham)

This quote is taken from Higginbotham master thesis on irregular warfare “On Deceiving Terrorists” (local copy). Lots of wisdom in that sentence. It’s like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube by looking at only one face. Either you’ll get extremely lucky by solving it by chance and still be wrong on how it works or you’ll be making moves and evaluating that single face and will be going nowhere, except towards frustration.

Even looking at Rubik’s cube from all planes it’s impossible to solve it without realizing some guiding logic on how it works when you move one face and how other faces are affected by that move. Now imagine the infinite system that is made out of inter-connected Rubik’s cubes where you’re just a sticker on a face of the smallest piece (to make it harder stickers can belong to multiple cubes at the same time). How do you approach solving it? There are forces in place that limits your observation. You have to rely on intuition, assumptions, hearsay, interpretations, correlations, history, etc. How much truth can you distill from that? Is end result belief or knowledge?

Detecting not only deception, but probability of deception is important where you know it maybe crafted to influence your decision making. You can appreciate Copperfield magic trick without projecting that “knowledge” into your real life. Only other magician can tell intricacies of magic tricks. They can detect misdirections, see sleight of hand and follow the routine. They know most of the principles on how illusions works. They can evaluate success or failure on many different criteria. In any case the main point of value of magic trick is not so much the deception, but effect it will cause. Sometimes the simplest trick will cause bigger reaction than most elaborate grandiose magic act. New magic trick is usually just modified old one. Now we are not talking about magic, but deception of actions in real life that directly influence targeted individual to project it into self-harming misleading decisions. Sometimes inaction is better than action, sometimes inaction is deadly.

Further are quotes and excerpts from these thesis as I see a lot of parallels of what is organized stalking all about. Knowing the state of militarization of law enforcement and civilian institutions you can only guess who, how and why would implement such deception operations. The thesis advocates using deception operations against terrorists. Incidentally it is main focus of current state of affairs around the world. Could you be perceived as an enemy if you opposed Iraq war? You know famous Bush quote “you’re with us or against us”? What if you vocalized it in public or in the internet? Who knows how does paranoid authority define an enemy. Another option is leaking of the method and tactics itself into wrong hands and that group adopting to their own purposes. Another option is field research for testing hypothesis, simulated deception wargaming, or just for shits and giggles etc… Every situation is unique so in reality even helping hand could be something entirely different. One has to realize that probably a lot of material on the internet is part of deception (if we assume organized stalking is systematic problem) so to satisfy at least some level of explanation and leading to belief system of self indoctrination, which doesn’t really solve anything.

Deception—the distortion of reality to gain a competitive advantage—is deliberate and results in a specific action. Moreover, deception has two common variants—confusing and misleading—and appears to have utility at multiple levels. First, deception is a deliberate act—never an accident, unintentional deception is not deception but rather misrepresentation. This is significant because it implies that deception requires both intent and effort on the part of the deceiver to deceive. Without intent and effort on the part of the deceiver, an adversary may still draw the wrong conclusions or may be surprised, but those outcomes are not the result of deception. Intent to deceive without some specific resulting action on the part of the deceived party is generally pointless, however.

deception and perception

The third characteristic of deception that merits attention is the fact that virtually all deceptions can be distinguished as one of two variants: ambiguity-increasing or misleading

  • Ambiguity- increasing deception “confuses a target so that the target is unsure as to what to believe”. Such deceptions seek to ensure that “the level of ambiguity always remains high enough to protect the secret of the actual operation”.
  • Misleading deceptions, on the other hand, reduce ambiguity by “building up the attractiveness of one wrong alternative”. The ultimate goal of such deceptions, according to Barton Whaley, “is to make the enemy quite certain, very decisive, and wrong”

In practice, most elaborate deceptions tend to employ deception ruses of both the ambiguity-increasing and misleading variants. However, although it may be closely related, deception is not synonymous with propaganda, psychological operations (PSYOPs or MISO), operation security (aka secrecy or OPSEC) and camouflage. PSYOPS normally target large groups that do not necessarily have any decision-making power, whereas deception typically targets specific individuals or groups empowered to make decisions. The distinction between propaganda and PSYOPS is a fine one, often depending on one’s perspective. If the target is general perceptions and the message is the truth, the appropriate means is probably PSYOPS. If the target is general perceptions and the message consists of selected truths or even lies, the appropriate means is probably propaganda. OPSEC seeks to limit an adversary’s ability to detect or derive useful information from friendly activities called indicators. By way of contrast, deception generally seeks to increase the likelihood of an adversary’s detection of only certain indicators, usually while hiding others, in order to paint an ambiguous or misleading picture. The relationship between OPSEC and deception is thus a close one, since both generally require the management of indicators. Finally, camouflage consists of efforts by individuals and units to hide, blend in, or disguise in order to prevent enemy observation. Camouflage is, by its definition, conceptually distinct from deception; the goal is almost invariably protection as opposed to provoking a desired response, while the target is an enemy’s sensors (from eyes to high-technology sensor systems) as opposed to enemy decision makers.
Deception is a powerful “force multiplier,” magnifying “the strength or power of the successful deceiver”. Reducing the cost for the deceiver, implies increasing the cost for the deceived.
One means of gaining perspective into how deception works is to break it down into its component parts, defining those activities which, when taken in sum, make up the act of deception. Every deception operation, whether of man or nature, is comprised of only two basic parts: dissimulation and simulation”. Simulation, on the one hand, is that overt, part of a deception presented to the target. The task of simulation is to “pretend, portray, profess” the false: to tell one’s adversary a story sufficiently believable and compelling to cause him to ultimately take some action that will lend the deceiver a competitive advantage (p. 183). Dissimulation, on the other hand, is “hiding the real”. Both simulation and dissimulation are always present together in any single act of deception. Nothing is ever ‘just’ hidden; something is always shown in its stead, even if only implicitly.

Simulation and Dissimulation
Simulation and Dissimulation

The three procedures by which false things are shown [simulation], are mimicking, inventing, or decoying.

  • Mimicking typically misleads the observer and shows the false by having one thing imitate another. Mimicking is accomplished by duplicating a sufficient number of the distinctive characteristics of the object or activity to be imitated to passably approximate its distinctive pattern. Inventing, the second means of simulation, “shows the false by displaying another reality”.
  • As opposed to mimicking, in which one object or activity imitates another already existing, inventing “creates something entirely new, albeit false,” by crafting enough new characteristics “to create an entirely new pattern”.
  • Decoying, the third means of simulation, “shows the false by diverting attention”. Decoying is accomplished by “creating alternative false characteristics that give an additional, second pattern”. In this manner, decoying is “a matter of feints and diversions, literally misdirection”.

The three methods or procedures by which objects or activities are dissimulated, on the other hand, “are masking, repackaging, or dazzling”.

  • Masking, either interposes a screen, shielding [the real object or activity] from senses (and any intermediate sensors) of the ‘deceivee’ so it is truly covert, or integrates it with its environment so it is unnoticed, blending into its background, literally overlooked, hiding in plain sight”.
  • In contrast, repackaging, the second means of dissimulation, “is simulated metamorphosis,” which works to hide the real by disguising it. Repackaging modifies the appearance of an activity “by adding or subtracting characteristics to transform them into a new pattern that resembles something else”
  • Dazzling, the third method of dissimulation, “bewilders, confounds, baffles, perplexes, reducing certainty about the real nature of a thing” in order to hide the real by confusing the observer.This is accomplished by “randomizing or otherwise partially obscuring the characteristics of an object (its precise location, size, color, etc.) or an event (its exact timing, method of operation, etc.) in order to blur their distinctive pattern”

Negative And Positive Deception
Negative deceptive acts are essentially dissimulation: acts undertaken to “prevent the enemy from deducing” the deceiver’s true capabilities and intentions. The negative side of deception is the protection of certain portions of the real operation and plans for future operations. Positive deceptive acts “persuade the enemy to deduce” something other than the ground truth concerning the deceiver’s capabilities and intentions

Passive And Active Deception
Passive deception,” says Handel, is based primarily “on secrecy and camouflage, on hiding and concealing one’s intentions and/or capabilities for the adversary. By way of contrast, “active deception normally involves a calculated policy of disclosing half-truths supported by appropriate ‘proof’ signals or material evidence” which must be picked up by the adversary.
Perception answers the question: what do I see?”. Cognition, on the other hand, tackles the subsequent question: what does it mean?. In both processes, “the mind follows certain rules of convenience, sometimes called biases, which are not always optimal ways of sorting out information. Often these biases favor the deceiver”. Perceptual biases “result from the way the world is perceived and they limit the accuracy of [subsequent] perceptions”. Cognitive biases “result from the way the mind works,” and tend to hinder accurate interpretation. Moreover, “they influence the way that a person treats evidence, attributes causality, and estimates probability.

Taken together, theories on perceptual and cognitive biases may offer an explanation for how and why deceptive messages are ultimately interpreted the way they are. If deceptions can be designed to take advantage of enemy perceptual and cognitive biases, the target will theoretically do much of the work of deception for the deceiver.

perceptual and cognitive bias
perceptual and cognitive bias

To successfully deceive, “The overall activity must not only provide believable indicators of the false operation, but must deny believable indicators of the real operations”. Deceptions are “well coordinated, when directed from one central point—that being the highest headquarters” or lead agency controlling assets “directly benefiting from the deception” or when the activities of the various agencies are coordinated sufficiently to prevent the compromise of the deception. This ensures that all instruments of power are integrated into deception planning, and all actions are consistent with the deception story. Deception must be well organized and well coordinated, else leaks may occur and deception unravel. A deception operation must be directed and controlled by a single element” in order to avoid confusion, compromise, “and to ensure that the various elements involved in the deception are portraying the same story and are not in conflict with other operational objectives Knowledge of what the enemy will accept as plausible and what degree of confirmation is necessary before he will believe, is a firm requirement for a successful deception. If the target has no observable preconceptions regarding a particular activity or if sufficient intelligence information is not available to ascertain the target’s preconceptions, it is possible to create certain expectations on the part of the target. “Here, the deceiver sets up the target for a future surprise by conditioning him to expect something he hadn’t considered before”. The deception must be able to change as reality changes”. “Cover stories, communications channels, and specific initiatives require fine tuning to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities or problems”. As a result, adaptability is a necessary component of every successful deception. “An adaptable deception,” in turn, “requires the ability to react to change and also requires knowledge about when to react. Adaptability allows the deceiver to continue deceptions for a longer time, to react to unforeseen changes in the situation, to take advantage of unforeseen or unpredictable enemy actions and reactions, and to protect valuable intelligence and deception resources by ending the stratagem if the deception wears thin or is compromised. If adaptability is a necessary component of every successful deception, feedback is the mechanism that makes adaptability possible. “The ultimate asset that allows deceivers to adapt their scenarios” to changing situations, “is feedback from the target” .
One of the most basic problems of deception is creating a story and indicators that the target will accept as valid.
A key component of plausibility is confirmation. “A lie is made more plausible, when it has been confirmed by a variety of credible sources” or means. Confirming details are necessary because virtually every target of deception continues to seek information to support his conclusion. Given the role of perceptual and cognitive biases, a target is far more likely to accept data that confirms his hypotheses: “the target is likely to ignore, twist, or explain away those details that do not fit, and often those are the incongruities on which the deception hinges. If there is no confirming data, however, the target is likely to receive sufficient contradictory information to overcome his cognitive biases and see through the deception more easily. If the strictest secrecy is not observed, all deception projects are condemned to failure from the very start. There are two levels on which such secrecy must be maintained. “One tries to protect the truth about what a side [actually] intends to do in an impending operation,” while the other tries to “protect the truth about the existence of the deception itself”. Breaches of security…need not be fatal to deception’s success. Some leaks may not catch the target’s attention, and, if they do, may only increase his ambiguity.

Finally, in order to guide those who will conduct deception against terrorists, more research is needed to suggest the role that psychology plays in deception. Since there is no universal psychological profile for terrorists, some other means of predicting the vulnerabilities and reactions of terrorists to deception is necessary. One possible starting place for that research is in the area of influence psychology—the study of how we all are affected by what amount to universal influence principles, such as reciprocity, commitment and consistency, liking, and others. Terrorists are, after all, human, and are—within reason—predictably subject to the same psychological principles as everybody else.


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