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Deception 101--Primer on Deception

Authored by Dr. Joseph W Caddell. | December 2004

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Deception is a traditional component of political and military conflict. Indeed, many argue that it is intrinsic to all human interaction. It is sometimes mistakenly confused with unintentional confusion or misinformation. Disinformation, intentional deception, should not be confused with misinformation. Deception depends on two criteria: first, it is intentional; and, second, it is designed to gain an advantage for the practitioner.1

Deception in the forms of concealment and activity designed to mislead is common in nature. Protective coloration serves to protect some flora and fauna?either by making them difficult to see or by causing them to resemble something of little interest to predators. Some animals will feign injury to lure predators away from nests or offspring. Students of deception note these examples as evidence of the utility and effectiveness of disinformation even beyond the human experience.2


Deception comes in many forms and ?types.? It has many objectives and can be accomplished by many methods. It may be active or passive. It operates on many levels. In short, there is much to know about deception.

What is known about deception in the past is of considerable, if general, use in the present. We have developed terms to describe the different methods and levels of disinformation. This is useful. We know the dangers inherent to mirror imaging and cognitive dissonance. This is important. We can appreciate the need for the synthesis of intelligence methodologies. This is vital. But, despite these realizations, we can never be confident we are not being deceived.

These observations may seem self-evident to even a casual student of deception. Therefore, one might wonder why these obvious statements need repeating. The answer is simple. In successful deception operations, the perpetrator hopes that one or several of these self-evident observations will be over looked.


1. For a general review of concepts of deception, see Colonel Michael Dewar, The Art of Deception in Warfare, Newton Abbot, Devon, UK: David & Charles Publishers, 1989, pp. 9-22; Jon Latimer, Deception in War: The Art of the Bluff, the Value of Deceit, and the Most Thrilling Episodes of Cunning in Military History, from the Trojan Horse to the Gulf War, Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2001, pp. 1-5; and James F. Dunnigan and Albert A. Nofi, Victory and Deceit: Deception and Trickery at War, San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press, 2001, pp. 1-31.

2. An excellent overview of camouflage in nature is provided in Marco Ferrari, Colors for Survival: Mimicry and Camouflage in Nature, Charlottesville, VA: Thomasson Grant & Howell, 1993. How examples in nature have affected military deception is discussed in Guy Hartcup, Camouflage: A History of Concealment and Deception in War, New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1980, pp. 9-11; and in J. Bowyer Bell and Barton Whaley, Cheating and Deception, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1991, pp. 48-52.