December 7, 2012
A couple of current projects that we are working on have highlighted the problem of misdirection. By misdirection, I mean that you end up looking somewhere that seems to be interesting or important or even attractive, and by doing so, you may miss what is really important. The title of this blog, “Some Pig” is taken from Charlotte’s Web and refers to the scene where the spider draws attention to the pig by doing something spectacular. In all fairness, the attention should have been on “some spider”, but the misdirection served a good purpose.
In CI, what happens is when we research things, we often have to look over a broad area, and, at first, determine what is likely to be important and what is not important. This is where, initially, misdirection can set in. Now I’m not dealing with misdirection that is purposeful by the targets, although that can happen as well. What I’m dealing with is misdirection because of your focus.
Let me give you a somewhat cleaned up example. We’re looking at a project that involves evaluating some aspects of a very large industrial complex. As it turns out industrial complex is made up of several different, but somewhat connected, facilities. So the first question really is which facility or facilities should we focus our attention on? To do this, we have to do a first dig into each of the facilities, at least to rule them in or out.
Misdirection can easily set in here. When? When the information on one of the preliminary targets is very interesting, or very complex and therefore requires a lot of attention, or is somewhat easy to obtain and results in a take of a lot of raw data. In any one of those cases, you, as the analyst, face the issue of allocation of your resources, that is, how much time you put into evaluating each of these. And here is where misdirection can come in. If you find one of the three facilities that seem to have an interesting history, or a very unusual management structure, or a particularly complex way of operating, it is likely you will spend too much time on that facility during the first stage. You should be, instead, deciding whether or not you be should be spending any time on the facility.
Now, misdirection by your target is a whole different thing. Here you have to be aware of the fact that you are being led in a certain direction, to certain fact patterns, and even to certain conclusions. The tipoff here is often that the data that you seek seems to be almost too easy to obtain. But, if pursued, it is almost impossible to verify. Now it is perfectly possible that the data is correct and complete, but you have no way of knowing that. So when you see a target where the “answer” seems to be way too easy, think misdirection. Or instead of “Some Pig”, think “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” (Wizard of Oz, 1939).
A related topic is disinformation, one which I will deal with in the future.