When Perfect is not Correct

December 2, 2016

When you have finished your CI research and analysis, stop and look at the results – very skeptically.

Let’s assume you are doing a profile of a competitor, a private company, so you do not have the (un)helpful SEC filings to walk through. Despite that, you think you have produced a pretty d*mned good product, covering all the basic information on that target.

Step back. Is what you see too perfect? By that I mean, you do not see any obvious omissions, everything seems linked. That perfection may be a warning sign.

Now really think about that. How likely is it that this could really happen? Did you ever get that complete a profile before? Next consider where you got all this great data that supported your analysis. Was virtually all of it from the target, directly or indirectly, that is from its website, local news articles, press releases, industry articles, etc.? Was any of it from filings with local/state/federal government or from third parties that (supposedly) verified the facts?

  • The former can be, and often are, manipulated by the target. Think disinformation. Disinformation is “Incomplete or inaccurate information designed to mislead others about your intentions or abilities. When used in the arena of international politics, espionage or intelligence, the term also means the deliberate production and dissemination of falsehoods, fabrications, and forgeries aimed at misleading an opponent or those supporting an opponent.”[1]
  • With the latter sources, there is at least a chance that the filings were made under oath or that the verification was properly done, so maybe you have something closer to the truth. But that is not always the situation – remember (here fill a reference to in your favorite example of a business fraud).

A tip-off may be that the data you developed is largely from the targets and is too consistent, too uniform, too, well, what you expected to find. Stop and look hard for what is missing. If you were starting over, what facts about the target that you would expect to be able to develop but which are just missing? Is that “perfection” possibly a sign that you are being drawn into a picture painted by the target, while missing what it is painting over?

Be skeptical of your own results. Sometime a perfect result just means that you are seeing only what the target wants you to see, not what there is to see.

[1] McGonagle and Vella, Proactive Intelligence, p. 11.

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