Bob Pointer - CFIL Global
I consider myself an extremely lucky man. I am one of the fortunate few who’s passion has become their business.
I have been fascinated by human behaviour since I first read “The naked Ape” by Dr Desmond Morris. Since that time, I have read numerous good, bad and indifferent books on the subject.
However, in this blog I want to focus on just one, an interesting and revealing book Detecting Deception: A Bibliography of Counter Deception Across Time, Cultures, and Discipline (2006) by Barton Stewart Whaley. This book was recommended to me as a serious exploration of the history of deception (an important aspect of human behaviour) and I can highly recommend it to those who, like me, want a more in-depth look at the subject than can usually be found.
Whaley describes deception as “the intentional distortion of another’s perceived reality”. He describes how deception can be categorised as dissimulation and simulation.
Dissimulation refers to hiding the “real” by masking, disguising or confusing whilst simulation refers to actions taken to divert attention.
He provides a very detailed account of the role of deception, which can and unfortunately does manifests itself in one form and another in our everyday lives. However, what intrigued me was the focus on a period in history where deception techniques became part of warfare.
World War 2 helped shape the world as we know it now and many of the stories, for instance the breaking of Enigma code, are now well known. But for me there is an equally enthralling story which centres on a not so well known individual Jasper Maskelyne who joined the British Army at the commencement of the war. In his civilian life Maskelyne was a stage magician and he soon recognised the opportunity to use his skills in miss-direction and deception to assist in the theatre of war.
There are many stories documented about his activities and, like with many other “folk heroes”, some of them seem fanciful. However, there is photographic and documentary evidence to support a good proportion of them.
After gaining some success working on “special projects” within his unit the Royal Engineers in January 1941 he was tasked with putting together “a force for subterfuge and counter espionage” which were then deployed supporting the battle against Rommel’s troops in the North African campaign.
Maskelyne and his team which included an architect, carpenter and stage-set builder were known as the “magic gang”. Together they were responsible for creating illusions which made trucks look like tanks and tanks look like Trucks which confused the enemy’s intelligence gathering operations.
However one of his greatest documented achievements has to be an illusion which even today sounds impossible; miss – directing the German bombers tasked with destroying the strategically important port of Alexandria. Incredibly the magic gang created a mock-up of the port including fake buildings, anti –aircraft guns and a light house. Whilst this was impressive in itself incredibly he also managed to disguise the Suez canal by the use of series of revolving cones of mirrors. These devices were capable of projecting strobing light over an area of 8 miles which dazzled and disoriented the German pilots.
After this success the gang played a major role in the lead up to the pivotal battle of El Alamain. Again, using miss-direction techniques namely the creation of over 2,000 fake tanks and a complete infrastructure including buildings and railway tracks. This created the illusion that the attack was to be staged from the south rather than from the North where a 1000 tank had been disguised as support lorries.
The parallels between military tactics and the art of miss-direction and deception are clear to see and the Cold War that followed on from the open conflict of the Second World War introduced the era of espionage which honed these techniques into an art form.
But unfortunately, such skills repackaged and technically enabled are today widely used in another theatre – Fraud – masking and simulation through mass market or directed phishing attacks plus the use or disguised Trojan attachments etc. are stock in trade for the modern fraudster or “social engineer”.
However not all the stories featured within Whaley’s excellent tome were just extraordinary some were also quite bizarre. For example, the case of the chicken Elmer Gwynne who was appointed a sergeant in The US Army. This action was taken to swerve a ban on soldiers keeping pets. The chicken was part of a magic act performed by his keeper Jack Gwynne – a member of the United Services Organisation - so alongside his "handler" the chicken was enlisted! This stunt backfired as rather than raise morale the outcome of the performances were near riots as starving soldiers in India and Burma tried to capture the “sergeant” as a welcome addition to their rations!
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