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The process of disinformation is the creation of a plausible set of circumstances and events to misinform a competitor as to the actual events surrounding one’s activities.

When this editor was in graduate school, a friend left a deck of computer punch cards in the computer room one evening. Assuming this was an oversight, I mentioned this to him. He explained that he was involved in a very competitive school project, and that if he “accidentally” left the deck overnight, one of the other teams would find it, run it, be misinformed about his group’s project, and change their project accordingly.

It works about the same in real life.

Phoenix, Arizona, is a very active area for the semiconductor industry. What California has in design and build capabilities Arizona can match in sheer volume of chip production. It was because of this that a major semiconductor manufacturer decided to locate in the Phoenix metro area. A plant site was selected and permits were obtained for a variety of manufacturing processes and building locations on the plant site.

Several, though not all, of the buildings were constructed on the plant site, and the manufacturing equipment was beginning to be delivered when the hazardous material storage area began construction. To construct such an area the soil must be pre-tested before construction. Once tested the area must be lined with an impermeable layer and then paved with concrete. Once paved with concrete the storage tanks and their holding pens can be constructed on the site. Shortly after the permits for storage of hazardous chemicals were obtained, a series of angry protests erupted over the location of the plant, over the types of chemicals used in the manufacture of semiconductor chips, and over the proximity of the plant to residential areas. These protests reached city hall and appeared on the local news.

Sometime after the hazardous materials site was paved, the real nature of the plant was discovered. It was not involved in the manufacture of computer chips. Rather it was to manufacture of new equipment used to manufacture compact disks.

This elaborate ruse, one among many, was used so the manufacturer did not alert competition that a plant to manufacture this specialized equipment was being built. It allowed the manufacturer to gain a 14 month lead on the competition. This lead — and the competitive advantage the new equipment gave to the manufacturer — allowed the manufacturer to come from no presence in the market to a market share of over 85% within six months of the time the plant opened.

When asked what became of all of the other planned buildings, hazmat permits, and the storage tank field, the answer was succinct: Permits to build buildings and store hazardous materials are cheap, while advance warning to competitors is not.

The paved area for the “hazardous storage facility” has been striped, and now serves as part of the employee parking lot.

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