The Counter-deception Blog

Examples of deceptions and descriptions of techniques to detect them. This Blog encourages the awareness of deception in daily life and discussion of practical means to spot probable deceptions. Send your examples of deception and counter-deception to

Friday, October 29, 2004


Puzzling thru: Crossword Counter-Deception

Counter-deception (and intelligence analysis in general) can be compared to working a giant cross-word puzzle, one developed by a bad speller, with dyslexia, and a very suspect vocabulary, whose clues are often highly misleading, false, or just missing.

Oh, it's a timed test, too. Pens down!

Think this is far-fetched? Think again. The British in World War II selected people to work at Bletchleyon breaking the German and Japanese codes using two screening methods: background at mathematics, or skill at crossword puzzles. They even developed very challenging puzzles, published them in the papers, and asked anyone who finished them to get in touch. Code-breaking is a classic form of counter-deception--finding the messages hidden in the cyphers.

Good to see these kids practising worth-while life skills.

You have to love that Moskey lass--a natural counter-deception professional in the making:

"Sometimes I think like no one would know a certain answer," Moskey said. "And sometimes I think, if I looked something up on Google, I could get the answer." She went on to suggest that Google should create a link dedicated to crossword lovers, offering "completely random facts you'll never need to know in your entire life, but they will help you complete this crossword."

Classroom companions: Students fight classroom boredom with their pens
Teresa Wood
Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

Apathetic. Five letters. Third letter is an "r." The answer? "Bored" -- the reason many people resort to pondering the crossword puzzle during class time.
Especially in large lecture classes, it's quite common to find students doing the crossword to bide their time, instead of taking notes. Abandoned puzzles, incomplete and strewn throughout lecture halls, serve as dire testaments to students' frames of mind in class.
"I want to go to class in case there's something important, but if I'm zoning out in the class anyway, it'll keep my mind awake if I do a crossword for a little while," first-year College student Jim Baltz said. "I won't necessarily do it the whole class because what's the point of going to class?"
Many students find themselves in the same predicament as Baltz, feeling the need to attend class, yet unable to pay attention once they are there.
"Most of the time I will deliberately save the crossword until my worst class of the day," first-year College student Gabrielle Moskey said. "Some classes I know there's going to be something that is not going to be interesting, and at least, while doing a crossword, I feel like I'm doing something that will challenge my mind."
Despite the fact that some students said they need the puzzles to keep them alert or awake during class, some professors forbid diversions of the sort. Others, however, are more understanding.
"There are lots of things that we do in classes that we're not as excited or interested in, or we're just very tired, so I try to be very tolerant of it in big classes," Psychology Prof. Brian Nosek said, admitting he often fell asleep in class as an undergraduate. "It's only when it's influencing or affecting other students' ability to concentrate -- that's when I would make an issue out of it."
Though there are many potential distractions for students, crossword puzzles pose several clear advantages. Students can easily obtain them and keep them tucked away discreetly amid their notebooks.
"I think they're a challenge," third-year College student Helen Spink said. "It's not necessarily an addiction; it's just a way to keep your brain going and focused."
Yet for others, the crossword puzzle is more than just a daily diversion from class work -- it's practically an obsession. Those are the dedicated puzzle enthusiasts, the ones who can tell you that an epee is a fencing sword and that neap is a low tide.
"They're just so addictive," first-year College student Lauren Abramson said. "Those little blank boxes that scream, 'Fill me in! Fill me in!' and you just can't say no."
Doing the crossword becomes a routine for many students, a challenge to see how much nonsensical information one can retain, ranging from movie quotations to clever plays on words and double entendres.
"Sometimes I think like no one would know a certain answer," Moskey said. "And sometimes I think, if I looked something up on Google, I could get the answer."
She went on to suggest that Google should create a link dedicated to crossword lovers, offering "completely random facts you'll never need to know in your entire life, but they will help you complete this crossword."
Some crossword aficionados might argue that using anything other than one's own knowledge, such as Internet search engines or dictionaries, should be considered cheating. It all depends on one's personal preferences, however, as does the common deliberation between the use of pen or pencil.
"It gets very annoying with a pen because you usually are wrong with a few of them," Baltz said. "Usually you regret using a pen."
Moskey, on the other hand, was in favor of working on the puzzles in pen. Even if she does discover one of her responses to be wrong, "I usually scratch it out," she said, demonstrating the practice with a puzzle in which she had written on top of the wrong answer in dark blue ink. "You just write [over it] really, really hard, and, as long as you understand it, that's all that matters."
The puzzles usually vary in difficulty based on the days of the week, Monday being the easiest and Friday being the hardest. Each crossword typically has its own characteristics: The Washington Post's crossword is normally more innovative and creative with clues and answers, while The New York Times' puzzle tends to be more difficult overall.
Abramson took a particular dislike to "the esoteric quotations" that are commonly found in The Post, while others stated an aversion to the misleading clues and arbitrary information encountered in puzzles, in general.
Yet there is always at least one crossword addict in the crowd, who may be perceived as pretentious and pedantic but who has the uncanny ability to complete the entire puzzle, in pen, within 15 minutes.
Perhaps their talent comes from frequent practice or the ability to remember all sorts of random facts, but whatever their reason for success, those who are adept at solving crossword puzzles can leave others feeling inadequate when they are unable to process such information.
"I kind of feel like it says something about my knowledge when I can't finish it, but I just shake it off, take it lightly," Moskey said. "It's just a game."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Splitting Pants

Kristoff seems to be splitting hairs about who's pants are on fire. And it isn't like embellishing fairy tales when you declare war on evidence that has less substance than most fairy tales. That's not setting pants on fire. That's nuking the clothing industry.

W's mom tries to make us believe a dog writes her books? Hmmm? Could this stuff be genetic?

Give Kristoff credit. He's offered Bush a new line: "Who you gonna believe? Me or a fake book-writing dog?"

October 27, 2004
Pants on Fire?


Whenever I say that President Bush isn't a liar, Democrats hurl thunderbolts at me. And when I say Mr. Bush isn't truthful, Republicans erupt like Mount St. Helens.
So what do I mean?
Let me offer an example - not from Iraq but from Mr. Bush's autobiography. In it, he tells a charming little story involving his daughters in 1988, on the eve of the presidential debate between his father and Michael Dukakis:
"One night, Laura and I were out of town campaigning, and Barbara and Jenna spent the night at the vice presidential mansion. Dad had spent the day preparing for a debate with Michael Dukakis. Unfortunately, Barbara lost her sleeping companion, Spikey, her favorite stuffed dog. She complained loudly that she could not sleep without Spikey, so 'Gampy,' better known as Vice President Bush, spent much of the night before his debate searching the house and grounds of the vice presidential residence, flashlight in hand, on a mission to find Spikey. Finally, he did, and Barbara slept soundly. I don't know if my dad ever went to sleep that night."
It's a heartwarming tale of family values. And while it's not malicious enough to count as a lie, it's laced with falsehoods.
We know that because Mr. Bush's mother wrote about the same incident much earlier, in 1990, in "Millie's Book," nominally written by her dog. For starters, the episode occurred when the girls were five and a half, in 1987, a year before the presidential debate.
What's more, "Millie's Book" says that Spikey was a cat, not a dog. And instead of searching all night and finally finding Spikey, Vice President Bush gave up, grumbling: "I have work to do. What am I doing searching for a stuffed animal outdoors in the dark?" Anyway, little Barbara had already fallen asleep with another stuffed animal. Spikey turned up the next day behind the curtains.
(I can hear some of you protesting: "You're gonna take a dog's word over our president's?" Well, frankly, no one has ever impugned Millie's word. And Millie has witnesses. The first President Bush and his wife, Barbara, later confirmed to me through a spokesman that they did not believe that Spikey had been lost on the eve of a presidential debate.)
The current president's hyped version of the incident reflects his casual relationship with truth. Like President Ronald Reagan, reality to him is not about facts, but about higher meta-truths: Mom and Dad are loving grandparents, Saddam Hussein is an evil man, and so on. To clarify those overarching realities, Mr. Bush harnesses "facts," both true and false.
We all do this to some extent, of course, discounting data points that don't fit our preconceptions. My Times colleague John Tierney wrote a few days ago of a new report suggesting, based on their scores on military intelligence tests taken in the 1960's, that Mr. Bush had an I.Q. in the 95th percentile of the population and that John Kerry's was in the 91st percentile. Yet most liberals have not revised their view that Mr. Bush is a nitwit.
In fact, I'm convinced that Mr. Bush is not only smarter, but also a better man than his critics believe. Most important, he's not a panderer. While Mr. Kerry zigs and zags on trade and Middle East policy, Mr. Bush has a core of values and provides genuine leadership (typically, I believe, in the wrong direction, by trying to reshape America and the world according to a far-right agenda).
One example is Mr. Bush's determination since 9/11 to add to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even though this pushes up gasoline prices. Mr. Bush's approach is foolish economically, and it is crazy politically. Yet his grim willingness to raise gas prices during his re-election campaign underscores a solidity of character and convictions.
But that's also the problem with his administration: his convictions are so solid that they're inflexible and utterly impervious to reality. When Mr. Bush pumped up the intelligence on Iraqi W.M.D., his exaggerations reflected the overriding truth as he saw it - that Saddam Hussein was a menace. I think Mr. Bush considered himself truthful, even when he wasn't factual.
If Mr. Bush were a private citizen, I would admire his tenacity, just as I respect Barry Goldwater, Red Sox fans and Flat-Earthers. But
for a president, I wish we had a clear-eyed thinker who understood the difference between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, or between a stuffed dog and a stuffed cat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Deception in the arts: Actor Fools!

Brings "deception in the arts" to an wholly new, bottom-feeding plateau. "Reality TV" -- Orwell would be appropriately disgusted.

The basic scam: greed/ambition overwhelms critical skepticism.

I feel a script concept coming on..."Revenge of the Starving Actors." The producers pretend to produce. The actors pretend to act. But the cannibalism is real! Ring Spielberg! Set up lunch with Tarantino! I smell Emmy!

October 26, 2004
Quiet on the Fake Set; Cue the Unsuspecting Actor


Degradation is par for the course in the world of reality television. Over the years, viewers have watched contestants swallow bull testicles, date loathsome slobs and massacre tunes like "She Bangs."
But in New York and Los Angeles, cities filled with struggling actors, "Film Fakers" may go down as one of the meanest reality series yet. That is because the program, which will have its debut tomorrow on AMC, dupes out-of-work actors into believing they have landed plum movie roles, only to reveal later that the entire production, from the crazed director to the flimsy script, is a colossal hoax.
It is "Punk'd" meets "Project Greenlight." And AMC, a cable network known for broadcasting movie favorites, is hoping that the series will act as a "lantern drawing more eyes to the network," said Rob Sorcher, senior vice president of programming and production.
The first episode, "Croc Park," features three unsuspecting actors on the set of a half-baked horror film about mutant alien crocodiles. Stuffed with painfully awful lines like "You may bite through my flesh, but you'll never bite through my soul," the script is intentionally unreadable; those in the know continually test the mettle of the three novices.
In one instance, the actors are required to attend crocodile "boot camp," a seminar meant to help them find their inner reptile by, among other things, slithering around the floor.
Though not quite at the level of Zucker or Wayans Brothers outrageousness, the faux films go to great lengths to parody the conventions of movie genres.
In "Holly Holiday," the sixth episode, Santa and his elves, frustrated with the gross commercialization of Christmas, try to create an alternate holiday. In the fourth episode, "The Committed," which features a grizzled old gunslinger and his young female protégée, is touted to the unknowing actors as the first feminist western.
In some episodes, C-list celebrities - Erik Estrada of "CHiPs" fame, the model Rachel Hunter and Justin Guarini, the "American Idol" also-ran - take part in the elaborate practical jokes.
"For us this is more than a reality show," Mr. Sorcher said. "It's a comedic take on the moviemaking process and movie genres."
Ron Schrimp, a chiseled 20-year-old from Waldwick, N.J., said he auditioned for the role of the hunky jock in "Croc Park" after reading about it in Backstage, the actors' trade paper, where the producers regularly advertise for performers. "They were looking for a male 18 to 25 to be in a horror film, and I figured why not," Mr. Schrimp said.
High school talent shows had been the extent of his acting experience, so when Mr. Schrimp learned that he had landed the part he was beyond thrilled. "After I got off the phone with them I ran downstairs and told my mom and she flipped," he said.
On the set in Blairstown, N.J., he noticed some things were a bit strange: when he arrived, for example, the "star," really a mole posing as a Method actor, was chopping a bloody carcass. But Mr. Schrimp simply wrote them off as quirks of the movie business. "Now that I look back," he said, "I think jeez, how could I have been so blind?"
Rocco Malozzi, a 27-year-old waiter from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, went through three auditions before landing the role of a mobster in "Big Bang," a Quentin Tarantino-style tale about a mafia boss. Though Mr. Malozzi had done some Off Off Broadway work and once had a nonspeaking part in "The Sopranos" - "I pushed a Sicilian guy in a wheelchair," he said - he too was fooled.
"I knew there was something going on," Mr. Malozzi said, "but I didn't put it together. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would have been like if I had known."
Dave Noll, the creator and executive producer of "Film Fakers," admitted to feeling some guilt about the ruses. "If you're a reality producer, some part of you is always feeling guilty about something," he said.
But rather than view his program as exploitive or cruel, he said he prefers to see it as a "twisted" form of wish fulfillment. "These kids have always wanted to be in a movie, to come on a set and have their own director's chair and have real makeup and real lighting," said Mr. Noll, whose earlier projects included work as a producer for VH1. "For one week out of their life they are living the dream. We treat them like stars."
Stephanie Warren, who plays the beautiful student in "Croc Park," wistfully recalled the star treatment she received: the gift baskets filled with scented soaps and lotions, the doting interns and assistants. "We were overwhelmed by how wonderful it was," said Ms. Warren, who has acted in infomercials and has had other bit roles.
After learning that she had been tricked - it gives away nothing to say that the news is broken with the cameras rolling - Ms. Warren, 23, said she felt a range of emotions, starting with disappointment and utter confusion. "We kind of felt violated, used and abused," she said. But she ended with a sense of thankfulness for the experience.
"Whether you're being lied to or not, you do get to act," she said. Producers, impressed with Ms. Warren's performance, helped her land a job doing skits for the Fuse network.
Mr. Malozzi, who tends to speak in expletives and refers to himself in the third person, seemed even more enthusiastic. "I'm glad that it's on AMC and millions of people are going to see Rocco Malozzi," he said. "I need the exposure." Far from upset, he added, "I get stoned every night and watch my tape. I think its cool."
With six episodes taped, Mr. Noll is already hoping for a second season, excitedly ticking off the other movie genres he would love to tackle if AMC gives him the chance.
"We want to do a fake documentary, a superhero movie, a kung fu flick, a crazy cult David Lynch-type film, an animal infestation film like 'The Birds' - but we'd call ours 'The Ferrets' - a John Hughes-type thing about four kids in detention." Mr. Noll paused to catch his breath before adding that he would also like to try an M. Night Shyamalanesque film, complete with Mr. Shyamalan's signature twist ending.
"Of course," Mr. Noll said chuckling, "the twist ending with our movie would be that it's not real."

Monday, October 25, 2004


Humbug!--skeptic’s web guide to spotting fallacies

Humbug "the skeptic’s web guide to spotting fallacies in thinking" by Jef Clark. An online book (<50>


from the Introduction:

The short title of the book is Humbug! Humbug may be defined as "deceptive or false talk or behaviour" (OED). The book is intended to provide guidance on the detection of humbug - whether humbug is spoken or written.

Purpose and Usage
Humbug! is intended to serve two main purposes:
1. A "ready reference" which may be consulted as required during forums, debates, lectures, public talks, seminars and tutorials, whether such events are part of a formal program of
study, or open to the broader community; and

2. A guide to be consulted as part of the reading and writing process – particularly by students as they research and write seminar papers or essays for assessment purposes.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Nuclear Bluffers

Adelman points to a real problem but fails to point out that intelligence must be able to tell real threats from bluffing just as much as it must tell when real threats are being hidden.
The idea that this has not happened before (which he suggests) is inaccurate: Hitler and the Soviets both exaggerated their threat capabilities to win advantages, just as much as Saddam.

And, surprisingly, no one has noted that one nuclear power (like Pakistan) could help another state to bluff that it was a nuclear power (like North Korea) by testing the first state's weapons on the territory of the second state. That is, sell a "Nuke Bluffs 'R Us" capability, clandestinely of course. If intelligence cannot tell real threats from bluffs and chimeras, how will it tell that a weapon detonated in North Korea actually came from some place else?

A second career for A.Q. Khan?

COMMENTARY October 22, 2004
The Nuclear Bluffers
Can tyrants win by pretending they're worse than they really are?
By Kenneth Adelman

Kenneth Adelman, a U.N. ambassador and arms control director under President Reagan, is co-host of TechCentral, an online think tank.

Throughout history, world leaders have hidden their treaty violations and lied about it. No surprise there. But Saddam Hussein broke new ground in the world of strategic gamesmanship when he hid treaty compliance and lied about it. It may sound weird, but the Duelfer Report documents that the weird was true. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein actually complied with the U.N. resolutions that prohibited him from producing weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, he brazenly acted as if he were violating those resolutions.It was the mother of all deceptions, and he succeeded nicely (until the moment he was overthrown, that is). We never, for a moment, suspected he was a clandestine complier. Such behavior may seem inexplicable. Persuading the world's only superpower that you are not only a psychopath but that you are armed with the most dangerous weapons imaginable (when in fact you're not) seems, at the very least, counterintuitive. But not so fast. Instead of clinical psychologists, perhaps Hussein would be better analyzed by nuclear strategists. Because he may have created a stunning, new nuclear strategy. After all, if a Third World country cannot be a nuclear power, there might be some value to being a nuclear bluffer. This might work almost as well — and without the cost of buying all those centrifuges and aluminum tubes clandestinely, and without the mess of dealing with dangerous uranium and plutonium. Like a nascent nuclear power, a nuclear bluffer (or a nation that bluffs about having chemical and biological weapons) can frighten its neighbors, thereby deterring any aggression on their part (which is, after all, a key objective of nuclear strategy). It can reap gobs of attention on the world stage. It can encourage the richer countries to offer aid, nonaggression pacts and increased trade — if only the errant country would forgo the nuclear option (which, in fact, it isn't really pursuing). Look at North Korea. It's a failed state by any measure, and it would receive about the same amount of attention as Burkina Faso if not for its nuclear program. Pyongyang's building and exporting medium-range missiles was bad enough. But its nuclear program jumped this despotic nation to the top of foreign policy priorities. Envoys from the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea arrive on a regular basis to beg this pipsqueak country to be their negotiating partner.That North Korea has an active nuclear program is deemed fact. U.S. intelligence reckons it already has a handful of bombs.But, then again, we were convinced of Iraq's nuclear program too. How do we really know? Could it be that Kim Jong Il is nothing but a shrewd nuclear bluffer, like Hussein? After all, North Korea is the most shrouded, secretive state on Earth, where facts about even the most mundane aspects of life are kept secret. It's to be expected therefore that the country's nuclear program — a subject that is shrouded even in the most open of countries — would be an especially dark hole. Especially because North Korea's program violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty.Yet on April 23, 2003, a top North Korean official — the aptly named Li Gun — took aside our assistant secretary of State, Jim Kelly, to "blatantly and boldly" announce that North Korea had at least one nuclear weapon, according to news reports. Li Gun popped the big question — "Now what are you going to do about it?" — and boasted that his guys would "prove" they had such weapons "soon." Well, that was a year and a half ago. Nothing more has been proved. But the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea continue dangling aid, trade, contacts and other stuff before North Korea for nuclear cooperation. Could North Korea be a clandestine complier — not a nuclear power but a nuclear bluffer? I suspect not. Moreover, I wouldn't want to take the risk of presuming these villains were bluffing when they were actually proliferating. But even I have to wonder. These tyrants — Hussein, the leaders of North Korea, the leaders of Iran — often seem like kids in their "terrible twos." They like all the attention reaped from bad behavior, more than any reward they'd reap from stopping such behavior. But under our new theory, perhaps these adults aren't really bad at all. They're just acting as if they were being bad. Then how should we deal with them? As you can see, this new nuclear strategy swiftly gets mind-bending. But don't all nuclear strategies? It's no more mind-bending than Robert McNamara's Mutual Assured Destruction (a.k.a. MAD), which presumed that the Cold War nuclear standoff was a good thing because neither Russia nor the United States would dare attack the other for fear of ultimately annihilating itself. Just wait until game theorists model a world of six or more nuclear bluffers. Hussein — the first and trickiest of clandestine compliers — may rejuvenate the field of nuclear strategy, just when we figured it had played out its last mind games.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


What Geneva Conventions?

October 17, 2004
'Chain of Command': What Geneva Conventions?
REVIEW: CHAIN OF COMMAND--The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.
By Seymour M. Hersh.
394 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. $36.95.

CHAIN OF COMMAND'' is the best book we are likely to have, this close to events, about why the United States went from leading an international coalition, united in horror at the attacks of 9/11, to fighting alone in Iraq and, in Abu Ghraib, to violating the very human rights it said it had come to restore.
According to Seymour M. Hersh, whose revelations this spring about the Abu Ghraib scandal have matched in impact his breaking of the My Lai story in 1969, this fatal declension was a direct consequence of presidential decisions taken long before combat in Iraq. The war on terror began as a defense of international law, giving America allies and friends. It soon became a war in defiance of law. In a secret order dated Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush declared, as Hersh puts it, that ''when it came to Al Qaeda the Geneva Conventions were applicable only at his discretion.'' Based on memorandums from the Defense and Justice Departments and the White House legal office that, in Anthony Lewis's apt words, ''read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a mafia don on how to . . . stay out of prison,'' Bush unilaterally withdrew the war on terror from the international legal regime that sets the standards for treatment and interrogation of prisoners. Abu Ghraib was not the work of a few bad apples, but the direct consequence, Hersh says, of ''the reliance of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations and the use of coercion -- and eye-for-an-eye retribution -- in fighting terrorism.''
The resort to torture also flowed from the administration's fantasies of liberating Iraq and its failure to anticipate Iraqi resistance. Once this resistance began to claim American lives in the summer and autumn of 2003, the administration believed it had to let the dogs loose -- literally -- at the prison at Abu Ghraib. Torture and humiliation became the fallback response to the failure to plan for occupation. Bush may have neglected to anticipate Iraqi resistance, but Saddam Hussein did not. According to Ahmad Sadik, an Iraqi Air Force brigadier general in signals intelligence Hersh interviewed in Damascus in December 2003, Hussein had ''drawn up plans for a widespread insurgency in 2001, soon after George Bush's election brought into office many of the officials who had directed the 1991 gulf war,'' stockpiling small arms around the country. Insurgency divisions were set up under the command of Izzat al-Douri and Taha Yassin Ramadan, Hussein's lieutenants. If this is true, and if, as Sadik told Hersh, he was interviewed by American intelligence after the fall of Baghdad, it is genuinely astonishing that the administration did not see the insurgency coming.
We now have two major accounts of the road to war in Iraq, Hersh's ''Chain of Command'' and Bob Woodward's ''Plan of Attack.'' Hersh is the anti-Woodward. Woodward is official scribe to the inner sanctum, and his access -- to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell -- gives his account real authority, but at a price. In Woodward's world, everything is what the principals say it is. In Hersh's world, by contrast, nothing the policy elites say is true actually is. Sy Hersh would be persona non grata in that inner sanctum, because unlike Woodward, he is not inclined to take dictation from presidents. What Hersh lacks in privileged access, he makes up for in unparalleled sources throughout the Washington bureaucracy, among the secret army of spooks, bureaucrats and bag carriers in the F.B.I., State and Defense. ''Chain of Command'' is a whispering gallery peopled by phantoms: a ''former U.S. ambassador in the Middle East told me,'' ''one recently retired senior military officer . . . said at the time,'' ''a high-ranking intelligence official similarly noted.'' Hersh has sources not just in Washington, but also in Syria, Turkey, Pakistan and Israel. In his introduction, David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, where Hersh has been writing steadily about national security and intelligence issues and Afghanistan and Iraq, assures readers that Hersh's tips are verified by the magazine's editors. The problem is not accuracy, I think, so much as whose agenda Hersh may be furthering without meaning to. Are C.I.A. operatives talking to him to cover the agency's lamentable failures? Are State Department people spinning him because State is so obviously out of the loop on key decisions?
Hersh has vacuumed up all their doubts and anger at the policy they were charged to execute. Put Woodward together with Hersh and an abyss opens up, dividing the decision elite's view of the road to war -- ideological, pristine, hard-edged and clear -- and the foot soldiers' view -- messy, incompetent, confused and sometimes downright immoral.
Hersh's reporting is not faultless -- he never really established, at the time, just how flawed the weapons of mass destruction intelligence truly was, and he allowed himself to accept the conventional wisdom of the early days of the invasion, that the United States would get bogged down because it lacked sufficient troops. The problem turned out not to be the execution of the combat phase, but the lack of preparation for the occupation phase.
At a few points, a reader is left wondering: so how would Hersh control the abuses he so tellingly illuminates? Take the case of the Hellfire missile strike on a Qaeda leader named Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, while he was driving in a car in Yemen. Hersh equivocates, admiring the precision of the strike but not addressing the hard question: if the technology exists to eliminate a genuine and correctly identified terrorist cadre, how do you keep the practice under legal and political control so that targeted killing does not degenerate into a Vietnam-style Operation Phoenix program?
At the end of the book, Hersh confesses that he still hasn't got the whole story. ''There is so much about this presidency that we don't know, and may never learn,'' he writes. ''How did they do it? How did eight or nine neoconservatives who believed that war in Iraq was the answer to international terrorism get their way? How did they redirect the government and rearrange longstanding American priorities and policies with so much ease? How did they overcome the bureaucracy, intimidate the press, mislead the Congress and dominate the military? Is our democracy that fragile?''
Yes, our democracy is that fragile. Checks and balances in the American constitutional system are functioning poorly. With some creditable exceptions -- Senators Byrd, Kennedy, Biden come to mind -- Congress did not subject the case for war to critical scrutiny. The courts deferred for too long to presidential authority, and only now with the recent Supreme Court decision, on the rights of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, that ''a state of war is not a blank check for the president,'' have they begun to claw back some of their prerogatives of judicial review. Nor, in the lead-up to war, did the press, Hersh included, subject the administration case on weapons of mass destruction to the critical scrutiny it cried out for. They were taken for a ride, and so were we.
What we have learned since, however, about the secret war fought in our name and to our discredit, we owe to reporters, chief among them Sy Hersh. This book reminds us why tough, skeptical journalism matters so much: it helps to keep us free.

Michael Ignatieff is the Carr professor of human rights at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the author of ''The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror.''

Friday, October 15, 2004


Counter-deception Decision Support

Fooled Again? Developing Counter-deception Decision Support
May 2004

If you've seen The Sting, The Heist, or The Usual Suspects, you know how difficult it can be to catch a con artist's tricks and lies. Now, envision trying to gather all the information necessary to second-guess a wily enemy, such as a wartime foe. No repeat viewings allowed: everything happens in real time, with real stakes. Deception—whether by a con artist or an enemy force—is an everyday occurrence. But while deception is commonplace, systematic methods for spotting it are not, partly because common reasoning strategies aid the deceivers. ...


Spinsanity: watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric "The nation's leading watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric."

About Spinsanity

Spinsanity was founded in April 2001 by Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer, and Brendan Nyhan, three recent college graduates who were distressed at the growing dominance of spin in American politics and determined to do something about it. The trio started Spinsanity as a nonpartisan watchdog dedicated to unspinning misleading claims from politicians, pundits and the press.

Today, Spinsanity is one of the Internet's most popular and widely cited independent political websites. The editors' work has been cited in scores of national and international media outlets, including CNN, Fox News Channel, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and they have appeared on numerous radio and television shows including "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "Hannity & Colmes." In 2002, they were featured columnists on Currently, they write a weekly column every Thursday on the commentary page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.


The President Vanishes

Trapped by his deceptions and self-deceptions, Bush cannot emerge from his own spin, argues the Washington Post's Richard Cohen. Once again Bush has done the seemingly impossible. First, he made Osama bin Laden far more popular by invading Iraq on the basis of weak evidence and self-proclaimed legitimacy. Now, he has made Kerry seem almost human and likable.

"It is not possible to like someone who cannot admit a mistake. Iraq is the crazy aunt in the attic that Bush will not acknowledge. When she throws the furniture, Bush says you're just hearing things. Yeah, sure."
The President Vanishes
By Richard Cohen
Friday, October 15, 2004; Page A23

For months now I've dropped bets on the presidential election like Hansel (of "Hansel and Gretel") dropped pebbles. For honor and money, I've wagered on George Bush, not because I wanted him to win but rather because I thought he would. Now I'm changing my mind. It's not the tightening polls that have done it -- I knew that would happen -- but rather something I could not have predicted. The president is missing.
The president I have in mind is the funny, good-natured regular guy I once saw on the campaign trail -- a man of surprisingly quick wit and just plain likeability. I contrasted this man to John Kerry, who is as light and as funny as a mud wall, and I thought, "There goes the election."
Where it has mattered most -- the three debates -- Bush has been wooden, ill at ease and downright spooky. He makes bad jokes, cackles at them in the manner of a cinematic serial killer and has lacked the warmth that he not only once had but that I thought would compensate for a disastrous presidency and give him a second -- God help us -- term. In short, he could take over the Bates Motel in an instant.
Just what has happened to Bush I shall get to in an instant. Right now I want to quote that newest font of all political wisdom, Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," who said at a New Yorker-sponsored breakfast yesterday morning that he had seen at least two Bushes in recent days: the "angry Bush from the second debate" and a thickly muddled one.
Stewart was kidding, but all jokes must be based on truth or else they are not funny. The truth in this case was that Bush has been inconsistent -- definitely not the reliably unswerving man we prefer as our country's steward.
A bit later, Stewart made a serious remark that goes to the heart of what has been Bush's problem. He referred to the president's nonexistent "learning curve," which is indeed troubling. This is a man who is a latter-day Bourbon. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand said of them that "they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing." I'm not too sure of the forgetting, but when it comes to learning, Bush has shown little growth. In fact, he has ridiculously maintained otherwise.
Historians may someday say that the beginning of the end for Bush came last April when Time magazine's John Dickerson asked the president at a televised news conference, "What would your biggest mistake be . . . and what lessons have you learned from it?" Bush, who said the question took him by surprise, said he could not come up with one.
Essentially the same question was asked by Linda Grabel, an ordinary voter, at the St. Louis debate. This time, it could not have been a surprise. But this time, too, Bush could offer not a single substantive example. Aside from making "some mistakes in appointing people," everything had gone swimmingly.
This was a preposterous, dishonest answer. It was either the response of someone who is vastly deluded or sticking to a political strategy conceived by people who do not value truth. Either way, it harkens back to that "learning curve" Stewart mentioned and it demolishes Bush's pose as a regular guy, someone approachable -- someone you could like. It is not possible to like someone who cannot admit a mistake. Iraq is the crazy aunt in the attic that Bush will not acknowledge. When she throws the furniture, Bush says you're just hearing things. Yeah, sure.
Had Bush admitted that things went wrong with Iraq, he could have been himself. But he was out there three times telling us what we know is not true. This was Kerry's problem when he was defending his vote in favor of a war that he never, in his gut, thought was a good idea. When he finally was able to say how he really felt, his campaign took off. The man settled into his own skin. He had the better argument. The camera picked it up.
Bush, though, has been hobbled by artifice. The natural has been turned into just another synthetic pol. His only good moments came when he talked about his faith and his family, tapping into a wellspring of emotional truth. Other than that, he was only rarely the politician he used to be -- crushed, not empowered by incumbency. If I could, I'd wager differently. The man I bet on no longer exists.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Friday, October 08, 2004


Saddam's Deceptions

Saddam's deception was particularly risky--he depended on a bluff for his principle defenses. In that respect, by refusing to consider that he was bluffing, the US and its allies made Saddam's deterrence even greater--we reinforced his bluff. Even more remarkable, when the US called his bluff and invaded, and found no WMD, we continued to reinforce his bluff! Somehow we simply could not accept that, in the face of some very powerful potential opponents (Iran, Turkey, the US) Saddam would bet it all on a 3 and a 5 as his hole cards.

October 7, 2004
UNCONVENTIONAL WEAPONS: Saddam Hussein Sowed Confusion About Iraq's Arsenal as a Tactic of War
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - Saddam Hussein hid behind ambiguities and evasions about whether Iraq possessed unconventional weapons - when in fact it had none - partly as a deterrent to Iran, according to a report by the chief American arms inspector in Iraq.
The former Iraqi leader never discussed deception as a policy and did not adopt a formal written directive outlining his orders, the report said. But privately he told aides, like Ali Hasan al-Majid, a close adviser, that "the better part of war is deceiving,'' the report said. Mr. Majid said Mr. Hussein "wanted to avoid appearing weak and did not reveal he was deceiving the world about the presence of W.M.D.,'' or weapons of mass destruction.
The report by the chief arms inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, described Mr. Hussein's posture on prohibited weapons as "a difficult balancing act between the need to disarm to achieve sanctions relief while at the same time retaining a strategic deterrent.''
Mr. Hussein never reconciled the two competing aims, the report found.
"The regime never resolved the contradiction inherent in this approach,'' it said. "Ultimately, foreign perceptions of these tensions contributed to the destruction of the regime.''
The report provided the first detailed examination of Mr. Hussein's thinking about unconventional weapons and offered an answer to one of the most enduring mysteries of the war in Iraq: why did Mr. Hussein risk so much to hide the truth that Iraq did not possess such weapons?
Overall, Mr. Hussein's strategic actions were aimed at one overriding objective, "the survival of himself, his regime and his legacy,'' the report concluded.
The report found that Mr. Hussein purposely communicated an ambiguous impression about whether Iraq possessed these weapons mainly as a deterrent to Iran, Baghdad's longstanding adversary, which fought a brutal war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988.
The report, based on interrogations of Mr. Hussein, who was captured late last year, and his subordinates, said the confusion also helped Mr. Hussein disguise his underlying desire to maintain the intellectual and industrial foundation needed to quickly rebuild a weapons program in the event Iraq succeeded in lifting international economic sanctions, another top priority for the former Iraqi leader.
Beyond that, Mr. Hussein maintained an almost mystical faith in the power of unconventional weapons, whose stocks, the inspector said, were largely destroyed by Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf war under pressure from the United Nations. The report found that Mr. Hussein believed that these weapons, particularly chemical arms, had preserved his rule through repeated military crises.
Earlier this year, the report said, Mr. Hussein was asked by an American interrogator why he had not used such weapons during the 1991 gulf war. Mr. Hussein replied, according to the report: "Do you think we are mad? What would the world have thought of us? We would have completely discredited those who had supported us.''
The report's conclusions are based in part on interrogations of Mr. Hussein conducted primarily by a senior F.B.I. interrogator who spent months questioning the former Iraqi leader in Arabic, attempting to extract information from Mr. Hussein about his weapons programs and other issues. It is not clear from the report whether the former Iraqi leader accepted the motives attributed to him.
Some American intelligence officials have said that Mr. Hussein was vague in responses to questions about his arsenal, and the report does not state explicitly whether Mr. Hussein himself has acknowledged that he engaged in a deception operation about these weapons before the war.
The report said Mr. Hussein's belief in unconventional weapons stemmed from their use in the Iran-Iraq war when the former Iraqi leader concluded that Iraq was "saved'' by employing chemical weapons against Iran. The report concluded that Mr. Hussein believed such weapons had helped him "multiple times,'' helping to stop Iranian ground offensives, and that ballistic missile attacks on Tehran had "broken its political will.''
In 1991, Mr. Hussein believed the threat that Iraq might use these weapons had helped deter the United States-led coalition from advancing as far as Baghdad. After that war, American authorities found unused chemical munitions that had been distributed to battlefield commanders.
The report said Mr. Hussein refused to dispel the impression that he still had such weapons even though the report concluded that his specialized weapons programs were nonexistent or mothballed in the early development stage because of international sanctions.
In Mr. Hussein's mind, the possibility that Iraq possessed these weapons helped keep Iraq's neighbors off balance. The report said the former Iraqi leader had compared the United Nations inspection process to an analogy of a warrior striking an enemy's wrist. "Despite the strength of the arm, striking the wrist or elbow can be a more decisive blow to incapacitate the entire arm; knowledge of your opponent's weakness is a weapon in itself."
But Mr. Hussein, the report said, was concerned that the inspections would "expose Iraq's vulnerability in comparison with Iran. He apparently realized that his adversaries were not the only ones who were confused by what the report referred to as Mr. Hussein's "mixed messages.''
According to the report, Mr. Hussein confused his own generals because he tried to foster the impression among them that Iraq could resist a ground attack using unconventional weapons.
"Then in a series of meetings in 2002, Saddam appears to have reversed course and advised various groups of senior officers and officials that Iraq did not in fact have W.M.D.,'' the report said.
Mr. Hussein's words had an immediate impact. Military morale plummeted when top commanders realized after the meetings in December 2002 that they would have to face the United States military with only conventional arms. Mr. Hussein created more confusion in March 2003 - the month American-led forces invaded - when he implied to his ministers and senior officers "that he had some kind of secret weapon.''


Deception Arts: Murder in a Nutshell

When I was with the Maryland Year 2000 program office, I had to visit the state medical examiner (coroner) office every so often. I came across the oddities that are the subject of this Times piece: Frances Glessner Lee’s nutshell murder scenes. These diabolic dioramas are preserved with the loving devotion with which one imagines the FBI has preserved Hoover’s tommy gun. In their way, these dollhouses are as spooky as the medical examiners’ usual guests.

Although she was an Illinois heiress, a big cheese in NH (sumptuous summer home), and hostess of extravagant soirees for murder cops in Boston, and benefactress of Harvard Med, her doll houses wound up in B’more. Fitting somehow, if you know B’more.

John Waters, a Baltimore native, is an admirer of the sometimes blood-splattered dioramas. "When I saw these miniature crime scenes," he said in an e-mail message on Tuesday, "I felt breathless over the devotion that went into their creation. Even the most depraved Barbie Doll collector couldn't top this."

Mrs. Lee organized lavish parties during its criminology seminars. An $8,000 set of dinnerware was set aside for this event at the Ritz-Carlton for crowds of adoring policemen, who gorged themselves on caviar, foie gras and filet mignon. "She gave hours of careful consideration to the seating arrangements, to the floral decorations and to the program," wrote Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason mysteries, in a 1962 obituary about Mrs. Lee.

The nutshells are now available for all to see, at least in the book, in person, once their “gallery” is built.

If you are a fan of Hannibal Lector (another B’more boy), Kay Scarpeta, and have your own statue of The Maltese Falcon, you’ll love these little three-dimensional mysteries. You can see them, all nineteen, in the coroner’s office.

If you want the story of number twenty, however--well then, as the Fat Man said to Sam Spade, “Well, sir, if I told you - if I told you half, you'd call me a liar.”

October 7, 2004 NYTimes
Murder Downsized

FRANCES GLESSNER LEE, a Chicago heiress, provided for just about every creature comfort when she fashioned 19 dollhouse rooms during the 1940's. She stocked the larders with canned goods and placed half-peeled potatoes by the kitchen sink. Over a crib she pasted pink striped wallpaper.
But you might not want your dolls to live there.
Miniature corpses — bitten, hanged, shot, stabbed and poisoned — are slumped everywhere. The furnishings show signs of struggles and dissolute lives; liquor bottles and chairs have been overturned; ashtrays overflow.
Mrs. Lee, a volunteer police officer with an honorary captain's rank whose father was a founder of the International Harvester Company, used her ghoulish scenes to teach police recruits the art of observation.
She called her miniatures the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, after a saying she had heard from detectives: "Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell." At her thousand-acre estate in Bethlehem, N.H., she set up a workshop called the Nutshell Laboratories. The first woman to become a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, she noticed how often officers mishandled evidence and mistook accidents for murders and vice versa. After endowing a new department in legal medicine at Harvard, she created the Nutshells as classroom tools, packing them with tiny but detectable clues: lipstick smears on a pillowcase, a bullet embedded in a wall.
"The inspector may best examine them by imagining himself a trifle less than six inches tall," she suggested in her curriculum notes.
The Nutshells now reside at the office of the Maryland state medical examiner in Baltimore, where they are still used in seminars. Miniaturists, artists, academics and set designers also flock to them.
Now they are going public. Corinne May Botz, a Brooklyn photographer, has taken some 500 close-ups of the crime scenes, and interviewed 19 people who knew Mrs. Lee. The resulting book, "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" (Monacelli Press), will be released on Oct. 14. On the same day an exhibit of her photos will open at the Bellwether Gallery in Manhattan.
Not surprisingly, John Waters, a Baltimore native, is an admirer of the sometimes blood-splattered dioramas. "When I saw these miniature crime scenes," he said in an e-mail message on Tuesday, "I felt breathless over the devotion that went into their creation. Even the most depraved Barbie Doll collector couldn't top this." A heavily used guest book is posted near the Nutshells like an evidence log. "Wonderful," wrote David Byrne (another Baltimore celebrity) in his Nov. 9, 2001, entry.
And on May 14, 1997, Ms. Botz wrote, "Better than anything I've seen before." Then a photography student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she was about to become obsessed. Ms. Botz, 27, says she never figured out why Mrs. Lee, a middle-aged divorcée, spent years looping nooses and painting blood smears on vignettes of working-class misery. "Lee and the Nutshells offered infinite stories and perspectives," she writes in the book's preface, "entire volumes of stories inside stories, stories enough to eat you alive and stories enough to keep you alive."
Staff members at the medical examiner's office have known Ms. Botz so long by now that they ask her how her summer went and whether she has changed her hairstyle. The Nutshells, fronted in clear plastic, line a darkened end of a corridor. A motion sensor flicks on their tiny lamps and ceiling fixtures whenever anyone walks by. The pint-size death scenes share the hall with enlarged copies of technical articles with headlines like "Suicide Using a Compound Bow and Arrow" and "Pathogenesis of Vertebral Artery Occlusion."
During a tour last month, Ms. Botz noticed a few details for the first time. On the underside of a wooden ironing board, for instance, next to a fallen housewife, Ms. Botz spotted a pencil inscription: "50¢."
Could Mrs. Lee have been trying to suggest that the couple had just bought a cheap ironing board, that poverty had something to do with the crime? Or did she just forget to erase a price tag? "It's odd," Ms. Botz said, peering through the plastic. "What's that about? It's not like her to leave something like that showing."
Mrs. Lee based her tableaus on true stories, but changed the names of victims, suspects and witnesses. The pseudonyms sound ominous: Homer Cregg, Wilby Jenks, Sergeant Moriarty. She also gave each diorama a creepy name: Burned Cabin, Unpapered Bedroom, Dark Bathroom. Some of the furniture was store-bought, made by companies like TynieToy. Other objects were fashioned by Mrs. Lee, who was adept at turning jewelry charms into tchotchkes and straight pins into knitting needles.
A carpenter built the dioramas, adding back stairwells and yards even though students would barely be able to see them. Keys turn in locks, a pencil writes, a whistle can be blown. Before contorting the dolls into their death throes, Mrs. Lee lovingly knitted stockings and beaded moccasins for them.
"There's something so safe and controlled" about the Nutshells, Ms. Botz said. "There's this unsettled quality, that these houses are under siege, yet there are neat and tidy solutions."
Ms. Botz knows but does not reveal whodunit in the book, except for five cases now considered too confusing for students to unravel (including a death by brain hemorrhage). Mrs. Lee's own motivations are the subject of some speculation. Was she trying to subtly draw attention to domestic violence, then a neglected subject? Was she escaping the stifling conventions for wealthy women of her time?
Jennifer Doublet of Los Angeles, an architect who has written a scholarly essay on Mrs. Lee, said this week in an e-mail message: "For me there is perhaps nothing more satisfying in the Nutshells than the subversive pleasure of seeing the world of male detectiving blown wide apart by the macabre depiction of domestic violence in the precious, controlled, female space of a doll's house."
Or was Mrs. Lee rebelling against the opulent interiors of her childhood? She grew up in a fortresslike Chicago mansion designed in the 1880's by the Romanesque Revival architect H. H. Richardson. It is now a museum called Glessner House. Her parents, John J. and Frances Macbeth Glessner, sent their son, George, to Harvard but wouldn't let their brilliant, imperious daughter attend college. In 1898, at age 20, Frances married a milquetoast law professor named Blewett Lee. Three children and 16 years later, they divorced. The future Captain Lee retreated to New Hampshire, where she dabbled in antiques dealing. George introduced her to a Harvard-trained medical examiner named George Burgess Magrath. His gruesome casework intrigued Mrs. Lee, who once wrote in a letter, "This has been a lonely and rather terrifying life."
In addition to underwriting a department at Harvard that hired Dr. Magrath, Mrs. Lee organized lavish parties during its criminology seminars. An $8,000 set of dinnerware was set aside for this event at the Ritz-Carlton for crowds of adoring policemen, who gorged themselves on caviar, foie gras and filet mignon. "She gave hours of careful consideration to the seating arrangements, to the floral decorations and to the program," wrote Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason mysteries, in a 1962 obituary about Mrs. Lee.
Harvard lost interest in forensics after her death and shuttered the department. A former professor there, Dr. Russell Fisher, became Maryland's chief medical examiner and brought the Nutshells with him. Participants in police science seminars have been poring over the models ever since.
By 1992 Mrs. Lee's creations were disintegrating, and the Maryland Medical-Legal Foundation donated $50,000 for their restoration. The conservation team's report reads like a crime log: "The blood on the body was discolored and faded."
Despite the dated décor and narratives, criminologists still swear by the Nutshells. "People take them as seriously as any other crime scene," said Dr. David R. Fowler, the current chief medical examiner for Maryland. "I've never seen anybody make jokes, because of the degree of intricacy and detail. The quality is stunning. I have never seen any computer-generated programs that even come close."
The office is planning a larger headquarters, with a Nutshells gallery off the lobby.
"I could get hired as the full-time curator," Ms. Botz said, only half-joking. Then she recanted: "It's time to move on. It wouldn't be sort of healthy for me to stay with this any longer."


Urging Fact-Checking, Cheney Got Site Wrong

How not to do counter-deception?
I am not making up this stuff, even if it seems like it.
Kids, do not try these counter-deception techniques at home.
Urging Fact-Checking, Cheney Got Site Wrong
By Dana MilbankWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, October 7, 2004; Page A08
Vice President Cheney dropped a dot-bomb Tuesday night when he inadvertently directed millions of viewers of the vice presidential debate to an Internet site critical of the Bush administration.
After Democratic nominee John Edwards raised some nasty allegations about Halliburton Corp., the company Cheney once ran, Cheney angrily responded to the "false" charges. "If you go, for example, to, an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton," he said.
But when people followed Cheney's instructions, they wound up at a site sponsored by administration antagonist George Soros. "Why we must not re-elect President Bush," the site blared. "President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values."
Evidently, Cheney meant to say a site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Instead, he directed the nation's attention to a Web site that refers people to sellers of dictionaries and encyclopedias -- at least at first. The company behind the site, Cayman Islands-based Name Administration Inc., which also owns sites such as and, was quickly overwhelmed.
"Suddenly they had 48,000 hits in an hour, then 100 hits a second," said John Berryhill, a lawyer for the company. "They had a technical problem on their hands."
To avoid crashing, and to exact revenge on Cheney for causing it such grief, Name Administration decided to forward traffic to -- a site that could handle the traffic, was not soliciting funds and clearly wasn't tied to Bush. "And you got to admit it was kind of cute," Berryhill said.
Soros's Web site issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the redirection of traffic. "We are as surprised as anyone," said Michael Vachon, Soros's chief of staff.
Gradually, people became aware of Cheney's mistake, and the White House transcript of the debate was annotated with the correct address. But, unfortunately for Cheney, was not much more helpful than Soros in knocking down Edwards's charges.
Cheney "wrongly implied that we had rebutted allegations Edwards was making about what Cheney had done as chief executive officer of Halliburton," the Annenberg site wrote in a posting yesterday. "In fact, we did post an article pointing out that Cheney hasn't profited personally while in office from Halliburton's Iraq contracts, as falsely implied by a Kerry TV ad. But Edwards was talking about Cheney's responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company


Lying liars and the liars that lie for them

This is a very interesting item that reflects the complexity of modern business deception operations. All the more reason to have analytic aids to help sort out these increasingly complex layers of fraud.

October 8, 2004

A New Morality Makes Old Deceptions Expensive for Wall Street

LYING may be a sin, but on Wall Street there has always been a spirit of understanding for those who merely help others to deceive - particularly because the fees for aiding in deception have often been far higher than those for simply arranging a straightforward financing.
But that is changing, and this is a case of today's new morality being applied to yesterday's conduct.
In North Carolina yesterday, Parmalat, the bankrupt Italian dairy company, continued its legal onslaught against everyone who helped the former management, filing suit against Bank of America. [Page C4.]
Parmalat contended one $80 million loan from Bank of America was not really a loan at all because the company had to deposit $81.6 million in the bank. And, Parmalat said, a secret side agreement obligated it to pay a far higher interest rate than was disclosed. In another deal, the bank is said to have misrepresented a real loan as an equity investment in a Parmalat subsidiary.
"The market was intentionally and falsely led to believe that Bank of America was standing behind Parmalat's creditworthiness, when, in fact, it was doing all it could to reduce its exposure while simultaneously siphoning off as much cash as it could before Parmalat collapsed," the suit said.
Parmalat said the bank made millions from the deals and should pay billions in damages. Bank of America said that the suit "defies logic and the facts'' and that its transactions were not "designed to disguise Parmalat's debt.''
There are other examples of the new morality. American International Group, the big insurer, has disclosed it is facing federal investigations into whether its own disclosures - regarding an investigation into whether it had helped others to deceive - were themselves deceptive. Now there's a tangled web.
In Houston, four former executives of Merrill Lynch are on trial in connection with the infamous Nigerian barge deal. Prosecutors contend Merrill provided phony profits to Enron by disguising a loan as payment for a barge. Two of the executives are also charged with lying to investigators.
The change in what is acceptable can be traced to Enron's collapse. There may have once been an unspoken understanding that companies used makeup to appear prettier than they really were, but this was a case of making Frankenstein's monster resemble Marilyn Monroe. It turned out the public, not to mention the prosecutors, did not accept what Wall Street thought was business as usual.
All this threatens financial institutions in two ways. They face liability for what they did, and their profits are likely to be lower if they cannot charge fees for performing what is really balance-sheet or tax-return magic.
The Republican leaders of Congress this week weakened provisions in a tax bill aimed at corporate tax shelters. But the Internal Revenue Service is already getting tougher, and is seeking to force disclosure of who bought some shelters whose evident purpose was to reduce taxes by concealing dubious maneuvers from Uncle Sam.
It is not only more lenient tax laws that have led corporate income tax receipts, as a percentage of gross domestic product, to fall by more than two-thirds since 1966 while proceeds from individual income taxes are roughly the same as they were then. Now with deficits growing, corporate shelter designers are feeling the heat.
There is a risk that the real perpetrators - the Parmalats and Enrons - may try to get off the hook by blaming those who facilitated the crimes. But Parmalat may be right when it argues that without help from some financial institutions, which surely knew they were helping to deceive even if they had no inkling of the extent of the fraud, the fraud would have ended sooner with smaller losses.


`It's me' scam nets 10 billion yen this year

from The Asahi Shimbun
Women are main victims of callers who ask for money.
Dupes have handed over more than 10 billion yen to con artists this year in the telephone scams known as ore-ore sagi (``it's me, it's me'' fraud), according to the National Police Agency (NPA).
The total amount paid out from January to August was 10.032 billion yen, 2.3 times more than in the corresponding period last year, NPA officials said Wednesday.
The monthly amount has been increasing since May, reaching about 2.31 billion yen in August alone, the largest monthly amount ever.
In the scam, a con artist calls and pretends to be a distraught relative in need of quick cash. The swindler asks for the money to be placed immediately in a designated bank account.
In many cases, the reason given is that the money is needed to settle a dispute, such as a traffic accident, out of court.
The swindlers have also said that the money is needed to pay off loan sharks or to pay for a girlfriend's abortion.
Recently, some swindlers have even pretended to be police officers urging their victims to pay the money for their close relatives.
Of the about 5,500 people conned in this scam until August this year, about 4,100 were women. Of the female victims, about 1,220 were in their 50s, about 790 in their 40s, about 680 in their 60s, and about 630 in their 70s.
Meanwhile, only 156 people were arrested in the ore-ore fraud cases this year.(IHT/Asahi: October 8, 2004) (10/08)

Comment: Reflects the Japanese “shame” culture. Reminds me of Nagisa Oshima's great movie, “Boy”—
"The acclaimed Boy was… inspired by a true story. A man and a woman traveled around Japan with their young son, whom they had trained to run in front of moving cars and pretend to be struck and badly injured. The parents would then demand money from the frightened drivers. Oshima returns to a more straightforward narrative style with Boy; the film, one of his most affecting due to its sympathetic depiction of the title character, is a savage vision of Japanese family values (patriarchy, filial obedience) grown poisonous at the root." From

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Fox Fobs Fabricated Funnies

Having beat CNN in the cable news game, Fox must be trying to compete with The Daily Show to become the most trusted name in fake news.

Fabricated Kerry Posting Leads to Apology from Fox News
Fox News's Web site posted a fabricated news item on Friday with quotations attributed to Senator John Kerry that the cable network later said had been written in jest.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Detecting Deception: People basically don't

Detecting Deception: A Quick Review of the Research
John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
February 1999; Reviewed: February 2004

...Many laypeople, including many Senators and news media, apparently believe that people can make a pretty good assessment of when a person is lying or not. The research illustrates, however, that nothing could be further from the truth.
University of Maryland professor, Patricia Wallace, in ... Psychology of the Internet, states, "Psychological research on deception [...] shows that most of us are poor judges of truthfulness, and this applies even to professionals such as police and customs inspectors whose jobs are supposed to include some expertise at lie detection." ... trained professionals and untrained laypeople, in general, cannot tell when a person is lying.
Strangers ... trying to guess truthfulness in other strangers will do no better than chance in their accuracy. ...

Kohnken, G. (1987). Training police officers to detect deceptive eye witness statements: Does it work? Social Behavior, 2, 1-17.
Kraut, R.E., & Poe, D. (1980). Behavioral roots of person perception: The deception judgments of customs inspectors and laymen. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 784-798.
Wallace, P. (In press). Psychology of the Internet. New York: Cambridge University Press.
ReferenceGrohol, J.M. (Feb 1999). Detecting deception: A quick review of the psychological research. [Online].


Counter-deception & vote tampering

Examples of scientific analysis used to unmask deceptive behavior are rare--there are few uber-analysts like the famous R. V. Jones--but this piece notes some noteworthy counter-deception techniques.

October 1, 2004 OP-ED COLUMNIST
Sacrifice and Sabotage
Two professors at the University of Miami did an extensive analysis of so-called voter errors in Miami-Dade County that has not previously been reported on, and that gives us an even more troubling picture of the derailment of democracy in Florida in the 2000 presidential race.

Bonnie Levin, a professor of neurology and psychology, and Robert C. Duncan, a professor of epidemiology, said the purpose of their study was to examine the demographics associated with the uncounted votes in Miami-Dade, a county that disqualified 27,000 votes.

Professor Levin told me yesterday that the study convinced her that a much bigger problem in Miami-Dade involved "over-votes," instances in which ballots were reported to have been disqualified because individuals cast votes for more than one presidential candidate.

In their analysis, the professors factored in variables associated with increased errors, such as advanced age or lower education levels. What they found startled them. The instances of voter errors, after taking all relevant variables into account, was much higher - higher than could reasonably have been expected - in predominantly African-American precincts. And, peculiarly, there was an especially high amount of over-voting among blacks.

"Although African-American and Hispanic precincts are similar in terms of household income and education, the African-American precincts have many more over-votes and under-votes," the professors wrote. "Interestingly, they differ strongly in party affiliation (African-American predominantly Democrat, Hispanic more Republican)."

Surprise, surprise.

Dr. Levin said she did not believe these were the kinds of honest errors one would expect to find in an analysis of voting patterns. Something else was at work. "The data show that it was so specific to certain precincts," she said. "It was so targeted toward African-Americans. There was nothing random about it."

She said, "The most important finding was that education was not a predictor for African-Americans."


Pygmy Polite Fiction: Social functions of deception

Good story on the social functions of deception.

Pygmy Polite Fiction

One of my favorite concepts in anthropology is that of the polite fiction. It's something nobody believes, but we all pretend to because it makes life so much easier. My favorite example was of a Pygmy couple. Pygmy divorce involves quite literally breaking up the home: the couple tears apart their house (it's easy - the houses are made of leaves) and once it's down, the union is dissolved. One anthropologist was watching a long-married couple have a fight. It escalated until the wife threatened to leave, and the husband yelled something along the lines of "Fine!" and there was nothing the wife could do but start tearing down the house. She began tearing the roof off, clearly miserable. The husband looked wretched too, but at this point neither could back down without losing face and by now the whole village was watching.

Finally, the husband called out the Pygmy equivalent of "You're right, honey! The roof is dirty! It'll look much better once we get those leaves washed!" The two of them started carrying leaves down to the river, soon with the help of the whole village, and then washed and rebuilt the whole roof. When the anthropologist later discreetly asked how often one washes the roof, everyone looked at him like he was a complete doofus.


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