Deception Detection

Deception detection is a structured analytical technique for examining the possibility that an intelligence source is attempting to deceive you. This is different from simple lie detection in that the individual deceiving an Intelligence Officer is usually backed up by a government or other adversary, rather than by their own self-interest. The information they give you will affect your analysis and so it is important to understand the reliability of that information.

There are a variety of factors to consider when exploring the potential for deception.


This refers to the idea that the information may strongly contradict other analysis. If you have to alter your key assumptions in order to trust the information, it may be incorrect.

On the same token, if accepting the information as true would shift the distribution of resources (such as by leading you to believe there was a hitherto unknown threat that is now critical or imminent) then you should also be cautious.

Motive, Opportunity and Means

Motive, opportunity and means refers to the reason that a source would deceive you (if any.) What opportunity do they have to provide you information that could be false and what means do they have to do this?

This is part of why you don’t allow information from a single source to affect your decision-making. Bayesian analysis is one way in which you can mathematically update a prediction on the basis of new information without succumbing to recency bias.


Does the person giving you the information have a history of deception? If they have been reliable in the past it increases the likelihood they are being reliable now.

On the other hand, if they have deceived you in the past, they may be deceiving you now. If they are unproven or have not established their bona fides with you, then caution should be exercised.


Responsiveness is the idea that there might be a way to tell if the deception information is being processed or changing the actions of another player. An example of this is the case of Royal Canadian Navy Intelligence Officer Jeffrey Delisle who gave information on, among other things, the movement of Canadian naval vessels to Russia.

In order to prove that this was occurring himself and several others suspected of being the leak were given conflicting information about upcoming troop movements. Counterintelligence watched to see what Russian ships responded to. When they saw where they moved (in response to where they thought Canadian ships would be moving) they had a strong piece of evidence implicating Delisle.


Is the information being received coming at a critical time? This may increase the chances it is being used to affect a strategic outcome. If the receiver or sender of the information has a lot to gain or lose by believing the information, the chances increase that you are being deceived.


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