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

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Good night, Johnny...

Two excellent essays on America's favorite amateur magician, noted
fortune-teller, and our quintessential host.

January 25, 2005 The New York Times
APPRECIATIONS Carson, Night by Night


"I'm playing me." That's how Johnny Carson once described the difference
between himself and Robert Redford. The actor got to vanish into a part, but
the host of the "Tonight" show did not - or so Mr. Carson seemed to be
saying. And yet what could be harder than playing oneself?

In a way, Johnny Carson, who died Sunday at 79, was as much an apostle of
self-invention as anyone who has ever lived in this self-invented country.
Night after night he portrayed the version of himself that was defined by
the hour and the guests and the cameras - and by his consciousness of an
audience, somewhere out there, that was happy to close its day with his
voice and his jokes.

Mr. Carson kept up the illusion that he was playing himself all along, even
though it was always an illusion. We like to believe that we are very
sophisticated viewers nowadays - thanks to satellite and cable and TiVo and
our understanding of the artifices of the medium. But there was something
extraordinarily sophisticated - and we always knew it - in watching Carson
do Carson. It seemed to surprise many people that he could retire as
completely as he did after the final broadcast in 1992. But it was
surprising only if you believed in the character of the host you saw him
playing on the show. He offered just enough of himself to let the audience
become comfortable with him. In the end, he shared as much with us as we did
with him. He was a performer - always a performer - who let us believe that
he was our friend, an illusion that audiences cherish. No matter how
sophisticated we are, we always love to surrender our defenses and believe
what we see.

Johnny Carson nearly invented his corner of the business, and, in a certain
sense, he also helped reinvent Los Angeles - or Burbank, at the very least -
for much of middle America. He is said to have welcomed some 22,000 guests
onto the show. No matter how relaxed he seemed, there was always a tightness
around the eyes, a sense that - on an off night or with a dull guest - he
might look off into the middle distance. If he had been more candid, more
personal, more himself, America would have devoured him quickly. It's a
testament to how well he played Johnny Carson that we have not tired of him.

January 25, 2005 The New York Times OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

The Man in Front of the Curtain

Los Angeles


This letter comes a little late.

I remember seeing the tape of my first appearance on your show, on a home
recording, a reel-to-reel Sony prototype video recorder, probably around
1972. What my friends and I ended up watching was not me, but you. It's
almost impossible to look away from oneself onscreen, but you made it
possible, because there were lessons in what you did. You and Jack Benny
taught me about generosity toward other comedians, about the appreciation of
the plight of the pro, as valuable as any lessons I ever learned.

Your gift - though I'm sure you wouldn't have called it a gift - was, as I
see it, a blend of modesty and confidence. You wanted to do the job and do
it well. You allowed the spirit of your idols, Stan Laurel and Jonathan
Winters among them, to creep into you, and you found a way to twist their
inspiration and make it new. In you I saw simplicity, joy, politeness,
sympathy. Your death reminds me of the loss of America's innocence, the
distance we have come from your sly, boyish leers to our flagrant,
overstated embarrassments for parents and children.

If I could wake you up for a minute, I would ask you to tell me how good you
thought you were. "Between you and me," I think you would whisper, "I know I
was great in a subtle, secret way." I think you would also say: "I enjoyed
and understood the delights of split-second timing, of watching a comedian
squirm and then rescue himself, of the surprises that arise from the
fractional seconds of desperation when the comedian senses that the end of
his sentence might fall to silence."

Your Nebraskan pragmatism - and knowledge of the magician's tricks - tilted
you toward the sciences, especially astronomy. (Maybe this is why the
occultists, future predictors, spoon-benders or mind readers on your show
never left without having been challenged.) You knew how to treat everyone,
from the pompous actor to the nervous actress, and which to give the
appropriate kindness. You enjoyed the unflappable grannies who knitted
log-cabin quilts, as well as the Vegas pros who machine-gunned the audience
into hysterical fits. You were host to writers, children, intellectuals and
nitwits and served them all well, and served the audience by your curiosity
and tolerance. You gave each guest the benefit of the doubt, and in this way
you exemplified an American ideal: you're nuts but you're welcome here.

We loved watching baby tigers paw you and koalas relieve themselves on you
and seeing you in your swami hat or Tarzan loincloth, and we loved hearing
Ed's ripostes and watching you glare at him as though you were going to fire
him, but we knew you weren't.

We, the millions whom you affected, will weep inside when we see the reruns,
the clips of you walking out from behind the curtain, the moment in the
monologue when a joke bombed; we'll recall your deep appreciation of both
genuine and struggling talent.

Because you retreated into retirement so completely, let me thank you, in
death, for the things I couldn't quite say to you in life. Thank you for the
opportunity you gave me and others, and thank you - despite divisive wars
and undulating political strife - for the one hour a night across 30 years
of American life when we were entertained purely, delightfully and wisely.

Steve Martin is the author of "The Pleasure of My Company."


Fraud, Fakes, and the "Jesus Box"

Forging art and antiquities is a game that is, well, ancient. The so-called "James ossuary" is caught in the swirl of charges regarding its authenticity.

Fake Out! How forgers made grime seem ancient.
By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004, at 3:45 PM PT

The Israel Antiquities Authority has advised museums worldwide that their
Bible-era relics may be fakes produced by a team of forgers now under
indictment. These forgers are charged with concocting the so-called James
ossuary, which purportedly held the bones of Jesus' brother. According to
the AP's account, they were skilled at creating "ancient grime" that fooled
many scientists into authenticating their wares. How might a forger go about
making grime that seems ancient?

For starters, with a bit of chalk and water. The forgers' key to tricking
the archaeologists was crafting an authentic-looking patina. Like copper or
bronze statues, which develop a green sheen after years of oxidization,
stone slowly builds up a layer of geological soot as the centuries reel by.
This is caused by the chemical reaction of elements like air or water with
the minute traces of metals and other elements within the rock. To the naked
eye, a thick patina is an immediate sign that an artifact is aged.

Yet a skilled forger can fake a stone patina, at least convincing enough to
fool all but the most advanced analysis. In the case of the James ossuary,
for example, it's alleged that the forgers took an authentically old box
that was inscribed simply "James, son of Joseph." According to Avner Ayalon
of the Geological Survey of Israel, who studied the ossuary, the forgers may
have then added the inscription "brother of Jesus" to the end of the
sentence and used a solution of chalk and hot water to create a coating of
calcium carbonate-a substance frequently found in stone artifacts excavated
in and around Jerusalem. On cursory inspection, the patina appeared to be
legitimate. Conventional verification means like ultraviolet light or simple
chemical analysis could not differentiate the patina covering the first half
of the inscription.

Ayalon became suspicious, though, when he tested the patina's isotopic
ratios-that is, the number of oxygen atoms containing 16 protons plus
neutrons versus the number of oxygen atoms containing 17 or 18 protons plus
neutrons.* These ratios are affected over time by an object's environmental
conditions. Ayalon discovered that the portion of the patina covering the
first part of the inscription was marked by an isotopic ratio consistent
with Jerusalem's groundwater. The section covering the latter half, by
contrast, betrayed evidence of having been created at high temperatures,
probably well in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit-far above the temperature
of ground water in caves, where ossuaries were stored.

Strategies for crafting a convincing artificial patina can, of course, vary.
Another alleged work of the indicted men was the so-called Jehoash (or
Yoash) tablet, inscribed with what appeared to be proof that it had come
from the 3,000-year-old Temple of Solomon. The tablet initially passed
muster when chemical analysis revealed that trace amounts of carbon within
the rock were, indeed, several millennia old. Furthermore, the patina
featured traces of gold, and the temple was renowned in the Bible for its
overlay of high-quality gold.

But questions arose when further analysis was undertaken and it was
discovered that the patina was imbued with microscopic marine fossils-quite
odd, considering the temple was nowhere near the sea. Then one of Israel's
top archaeologists, Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University, found that the
patina on the tablet's back was made of silica rather than calcite, which
would have been consistent with Jerusalem's geology. (There were also
several linguistic cues that tipped off researchers, particularly

Professor Goren proposed that the inscription had been chiseled onto a slab
from a Medieval castle built by crusaders. A fake patina may then have been
created by crushing up bits of identical stone, mixing the powder with
water, and baking the whole concoction. Charcoal bits stolen from Jerusalem
archaeological digs or university museums could have been added during the
process, as could have specks of gold. It may have been more elegant than
adding silver black to jewelry, a common trick used by charlatans to make
new pieces look old. But it wasn't quite perfect.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a fellow at the New
America Foundation.



THE COMING WARS What the Pentagon can now do in secret
The New Yorker
Issue of 2005-01-24 and 31
Posted 2005-01-17

George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall. The
President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over
the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert
operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War
national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for
using that control — against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the
ongoing war on terrorism — during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue
to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government
consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of
policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This
process is well under way.

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush
Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level
intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian
campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the
enemy. This is the last hurrah — we’ve got four years, and want to come out
of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”


Deception: Not a Big Thing

The 9-11 Commission report mentions "deception" 3 times, once in a footnote.
The new Intel Act does not include the word "deception" at all.


No Evidence WMDs Were Moved Out Of Iraq

The tactic of making a strong speculative assertion was used repeatedly to make the case for WMD in Iraq: e.g., "Iraq might have as much as 60 tons of VX nerve agent." The hawks have repeatedly made such speculative assertions to imply the WMD were moved out of Iraq. This report says it isn't so, and never was.

US Intelligence: No Evidence WMDs Were Moved Out Of Iraq
Dow Jones Newswires January 18, 2004

As the hunt for WMD dragged on unsuccessfully in Iraq, top Bush administration officials speculated publicly that the banned armaments may have been smuggled out of the country before the war started. Whether Saddam Hussein moved the WMD -deadly chemical, biological or radiological arms -is one of the unresolved issues that the final U.S. intelligence report on Iraq's programs is expected to address next month.

But intelligence and congressional officials say they have not seen any information -never "a piece," said one -indicating that WMD or significant amounts of components and equipment were transferred from Iraq to neighboring Syria, Jordan or elsewhere.

The administration acknowledged last week that the search for banned weapons
is largely over. The Iraq Survey Group's chief, Charles Duelfer, is expected
to submit the final installments of his report in February. A small number
of the organization's experts will remain on the job in case new
intelligence on Iraqi WMD is unearthed.

But the officials familiar with the search say U.S. authorities have found
no evidence that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein transferred WMD or
related equipment out of Iraq.

A special adviser to the CIA director, Duelfer declined an interview request
through an agency spokesman. In his last public statements, he told a Senate
panel last October that it remained unclear whether banned weapons could
have been moved from Iraq.

"What I can tell you is that I believe we know a lot of materials left Iraq
and went to Syria. There was certainly a lot of traffic across the border
points," he said. "But whether in fact in any of these trucks there was
WMD-related materials, I cannot say."

Last week, a congressional official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
said suggestions that weapons or components were sent from Iraq were based
on speculation stemming from uncorroborated information.

President Bush and top-ranking officials in his administration used the
existence of WMD in Iraq as the main justification for the March 2003
invasion, and throughout much of last year the White House continued to
raise the possibility the weapons were transferred to another country.

For instance:

--Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in early October he believed
Saddam had WMD before the war. "He has either hidden them so well or moved
them somewhere else, or decided to destroy them ... in event of a conflict
but kept the capability of developing them rapidly," Rumsfeld said in a Fox
News Channel interview.

Eight months earlier, he told senators "it's possible that WMD did exist,
but was transferred, in whole or in part, to one or more other countries. We
see that theory put forward."

--Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern the WMD would be found.
However, when asked in September if the WMD could have been hidden or moved
to a country like Syria, he said, "I can't exclude any of those

--And, on MSNBC's "Hardball" in June, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz said: "Everyone believed that his programs were more active than
they appeared to be, but recognize, he had a lot of time to move stuff, a
lot of time to hide stuff."

Since the October report from Duelfer, which said Saddam intended to obtain
WMD but had no banned weapons, senior administration leaders have largely
stopped discussing whether the weapons were moved.

Last week, the intelligence and congressional officials said evidence
indicating somewhat common equipment with dual military and civilian uses,
such as fermenters, was salvaged during post-invasion looting and sold for
scrap in other countries. Syria was mentioned as one location.

However, the U.S. intelligence community's 2002 estimate on Iraq indicated
there were sizable weapons programs and stockpiles. The officials said
weapons experts have not found a production capability in Iraq that would
back up the size of the prewar estimates.

Among a series of key findings, that estimate said Iraq "has largely rebuilt
missile and biological weapons facilities damaged" during a 1998
U.S.-British bombing campaign and "has expanded its chemical and biological
infrastructure under the cover of civilian production."

Although the U.S. had little specific information, the estimate also said
Saddam probably stockpiled at least 100 metric tons, possibly 500 metric
tons, of chemical weapons agents -"much of it added in the last year."


Escapism & Deception

All escapes from captivity entail a degree of deception and counter-deception, and the literature of escape and capture provides many lessons for students of these dark arts, as the review below suggests.

London Review of Books Vol. 27 No. 1 dated 6 January 2005 |

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones

When Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,
is captured by the Germans in December 1944, he gets taken first to a POW
camp near the Czech border. Most of the prisoners are Russian, but coralled
in the middle of them are fifty British officers, ‘among the first
English-speaking prisoners to be taken in the Second World War’. They are
‘clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong’. ‘A clerical error early in
the war . . . had caused the Red Cross to ship them five hundred [food]
parcels every month instead of fifty.’ The Germans ‘thought they were
exactly what Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and
reasonable, and fun.’ And ‘each of them had attempted to escape from another
prison at least once. Now they were here . . . They could tunnel all they
pleased. They would inevitably surface within a rectangle of barbed wire,
would find themselves greeted listlessly by dying Russians.’

At first, these British officers seem strangely out of place in a novel that
is in part an assault on the ways in which the Allies mythologised and
heroised the war: surely no POWs ever had it so good, were so immune to the
depredations of captivity. On the other hand, such things are relative:
British prisoners certainly had a better time of it than their Russian
counterparts; and these paragons are described from the perspective of a
traumatised, hungry, cold, exhausted man on the verge of delirium. But
Slaughterhouse-Five is also concerned with, or baffled by, the sheer dumb
luck of survival, and the insane stories that people tell themselves in
order to stay sane. Billy Pilgrim sees the wantonness of the destruction of
Dresden; he is also abducted by aliens and able to travel through time.

In The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi
Germany (Oxford, £20), S.P. MacKenzie, who teaches at the University of
South Carolina, uses the memoirs, diaries and letters of prisoners to
reconstruct their wartime experience, and contrasts it with popular
(mis)conceptions. He also, as it happens, gives the other point of view of
the encounter between British and American prisoners: ‘To the more reserved,
stiff-upper-lip types it seemed that the Yanks – “full of enthusiasm and
exuberance”, as a rather more sympathetic RAF officer put it – complained
too much about the level of deprivation they encountered . . . while
exhibiting worrying signs of material waste and both moral and physical

MacKenzie traces the cultural process by which the Colditz myth grew after
the war: the memoirs, novels, films and TV series that between them conjured
in the popular imagination an idea of a place where ‘prisoners bore the
burden of captivity with a light heart while helping one another with
schemes to outwit and ultimately evade their captors’. One obvious reason
for the disproportional emphasis on escape in fictional or semi-fictional
accounts of Colditz and other POW camps is that it provides a convenient
narrative or dramatic vector that might otherwise be lacking from a
depiction of the monotony and misery of prison life. Most popular prison
stories, from The Count of Monte Cristo to The Shawshank Redemption, have
turned on the hero’s escape.

In the early 1970s, when the drama series Colditz was on the BBC, Escape
from Colditz the board-game appeared, ‘devised by Major P.R. Reid MBE MC,
author of The Colditz Story and Latter Days at Colditz’. My cousin had it.
When we played, he invariably chose to be the German Security Officer, which
surprised me at first. But then he always won. The little wooden men under
my command could be English, Dutch or French: it made no difference; not one
of them ever escaped from Colditz. This was staggeringly frustrating, but I
can draw retrospective consolation from knowing that we were unwittingly
recapitulating a more authentic version of Colditz – one in which escape was
vanishingly rare, rather than the norm. The game is hard to come by these
days, and it may anyway be time for something more contemporary: ‘Escape
from Guantanamo’, perhaps, though to make it worth playing it would need a
few extra inauthentic details – the possibility of escape, say, or getting a
fair trial if you roll a double six.

One tactic of would-be Colditz escape teams involved a prisoner concealing
himself somewhere within the castle, to give the impression to the guards
that he had escaped. Then, when one of his colleagues managed to get out,
the ‘ghost’ would emerge from hiding to take his comrade’s place at roll
call, much as Charles Clarke has done following the lovesick David
Blunkett’s escape from Cabinet – a strange business on many levels,
Blunkett’s repressive record as home secretary aside. For a start, it’s hard
to imagine a more venial form of corruption than merely speeding along
someone’s visa application. And then there’s the whole cherchez-la-femme
aspect: why is it that the resignations of male British politicians almost
always have to do with their relationships with women who are not their
wives? Still, it’s hardly worth pondering the murkier causes of the matter,
when taking the country to war on false pretences doesn’t qualify as a
resigning issue.

Thomas Jones is an editor at the London Review of Books.


Next on Bushs "global war on terror" campaign list: Iran?

1/18/2005 10:30:00 AM GMT

With George Bush's second inauguration coming up on Thursay, the debate amongst foreign policy analysts and experts in Washington is whether theU.S. President will extend the "global war on terror" to Iran. And if so,when?The increase in the Iran talks is down to the "neo-conservatives" in thePentagon. Even though they managed to amass completely misleading so-calledintelligence on Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the invasion, they have kepttheir positions even with the post-election Bush reshuffling.While the European Union has been involved in the recent negotiations withIran, Washington has chosen to observe from the sides.

Pentagon hardlinersare convinced that the deal being brokered - which calls for the suspensionof nuclear enrichment and the increase of weapons inspections - will not beimplemented and thus prove to be a failure in a few months.What Pentagon hardliners are contending for is that only when the U.S.issues a credible threat and if necessary the use of air and specialoperations attacks on the suspected Iranian nuclear facilities, will Tehranput a halt to the acquisition of warheads.The doves in Bush's administration, who this time round are even fewer innumber than before, are insisting that even if Iran does have a secretweapons programme, more than likely they'll be so widely spread out andburied in locations rendering it virtually impossible for Americanintelligence to locate them. Furthermore, the moderates believe the chances for Iranian retaliation frominside Iraq and other locations would be so great that there is in effect nomilitary option.A senior administration official heavily involved in the development of theIran policy naturally rejects the doves argument saying, "It is not assimple as that. It is not a straightforward problem but at some point thecosts of doing nothing may just become too high. In Iran you have theintersection of nuclear weapons and proven ties to terrorism. That is what we are looking at now."

However, the chances of the U.S. switching its attentions to Iran have become higher following Seymour Hersh's report on the Pentagon's running ofspecial operations teams in Iran to try and locate nuclear weapons sites. The report was 'brushed aside' by the White House and the Pentagon, thoughnot denied completely. "The Iranian regime's apparent nuclear ambitions and its demonstratedsupport for terrorist organisations is a global challenge that deserves muchmore serious treatment than Seymour Hersh provides," Lawrence DiRita, thechief Pentagon spokesman, said. "Mr Hersh's article is so riddled with errors of fundamental fact that thecredibility of his entire piece is destroyed."

But according to a British media report, the Pentagon has been consideringthe infiltration of members belonging to the Iranian rebel group,Mujahedine-e-Khalg (MEK) in order to collect intelligence over the Iraq-Iranborder.The Iranian group is based near Baghdad and was under the protection ofSaddam Hussein. Currently the U.S. is 'keeping an eye' on them while thePentagon decides on its strategy. The American State Department has declared MEK to be a 'terrorist group'.The status of the group has not deterred Pentagon hardliners from includingthem in future Iran plans.A former CIA agent had been asked by Pentagon officers to oversee "MEKcross-border operations"."They are bringing a lot of the old war-horses from the Reagan andIran-contra days into a sort of kitchen cabinet outside the government towrite up policy papers on Iran," he said.

Furthermore, this policy discussion is being overseen by one Douglas Feith,the Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy and one of the strongest advocatesof the Iraq war. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Feith's Office of SpecialPlans had contracted "like-minded experts to serve as consultants" inhelping the Pentagon "counter the more cautious positions of the StateDepartment and the CIA." The former CIA agent believes the neo-conservatives have an extremely simpleminded view as to how objectives can be achieved, and one that is dangerous." They think in Iran you can just go in and hit the facilities and destabilise the government. They believe they can get rid of a few crazymullahs and bring in the young guys who like Gap jeans, all the world's problems are solved. I think it's delusional," he said.

Others believe that's not the case. Reuel Marc Gerecht, another former CIA officer, now a leadingneo-conservative voice on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, said:"It would certainly delay [the programme] and it can be done again. It's nota one-time affair. I would be shocked if a military strike could not delaythe programme." He adds: "The internal debate in the administration was only justbeginning".


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