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Proving Analysts Wrong – Part III

Do you have trouble admitting when you are wrong? Most of us do because it is hard to admit we have made a mistake. We have a natural tendency to accept information we read or hear as correct, assuming it comes from an authoritative source. We are particularly prone to accept information when what we hear is consistent with our world view. Those who want to manipulate how we think, however, understand this concept. They will supply deceptive information in the hope of changing our behavior. This issue of The Analytic Insider presents Detecting Deception, the third of a select group of analytic techniques, including Indicators and Argument Mapping, that can spur analysts to admit they are wrong when they incorrectly believed that what they first heard was true.

Technique #3: Detecting Deception Who hacked the Democratic National Committee server? Was it a member of

Who hacked the Democratic National Committee server? Was it a member of rival political organization? Rogue hackers in Berlin? Russia? China? Hackers employed by WikiLeaks? Ukrainian cyber hackers? Are these real messages? Why did this information surface only days before the Democratic National Convention? When might more hacked messages appear in the media?

If a deception campaign is underway, how would you know who was doing it? How strong is the case that Russia is behind it and not just some rogue hackers? In the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, we offer the following signs that address these questions; they will help you assess whether someone was conducting a deception campaign.

Baseline conditions

Does the potential deceiver have:

  1. A history of conducting deception campaigns? (Russia is one of the most notorious users of deception.)
  2. A feedback channel that would allow it to track how the information is being processed and to what effect? (This has become a major consequence of the 24/7 media environment.)
  3. A great deal to lose or gain depending on the outcome? (Such as the integrity of democratic institutions and the US electoral process.)

Tactical tipoffs

Did key information enter the public domain:

  1. At a critical time? (For example, just before a national convention or just before it is time to vote.)
  2. From a source whose bona fides are questionable? (WikiLeaks.)
  3. From a single source or based on a few attention­grabbing documents?

Would accepting the information as true prompt you to:

  1. Alter a key assumption—something you previously had considered common wisdom?
  2. Reallocate substantial resources or reposition substantial personnel?

On 6 September, The Washington Post reported that senior US intelligence officials have recently concluded that Russia may well be engaging in a covert operation during the US presidential race to sow public distrust of US political institutions and disrupt its electoral process. (Read the article here.) A lead indicator that Russia may have launched such a campaign was the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails just days before the Democratic Party Convention—some of which had been doctored. Officials speculate that several motives are possible, including the desire to 1) influence US elections and 2) generate propaganda fodder to counter US democracy building initiatives around the world, particularly in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

To learn more about how to evaluate whether a report is deceptive, employ the Deception Detection Checklist (included in the Handbook of Analytic Tools & Techniques) that consists of 18 questions focusing on:

  • MOM ­ Motive, Opportunity, and Means
  • POP – Past Opposition Practices
  • MOSES – Manipulability Of SourcES
  • EVE – EValuation of Evidence

Remember, just becoming sensitive to the possibility of deception usually will not protect you from being deceived. It is simply too hard cognitively to challenge every item of information you read or hear. A better strategy is to train yourself to recognize when you are most susceptible to deception. When one of these flags goes up, pause to ask yourself “Am I being deceived?”

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