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.
Disinformation can be a very important part of an OPSEC program, and we have written about it in the past. Indeed, the August 1999 issue’s OPSEC article was on disinformation, and opened with the same paragraph! The current Democratic presidential race has us thinking about disinformation again, as we tried to figure out what was being done by whom, and why.
What triggered this was the behavior of The Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Barack Obama’s former pastor. While we have no evidence for believing this, it would not stretch our imagination as counterintelligence practitioners to discover that, for whatever reason, Wright was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton. His behavior would certainly indicate an intentional desire on someone’s part to derail the Obama campaign. It seems not impossible that Wright was either wittingly co-opted or un-wittingly suborned by the Clinton campaign. In either case the effect is the same.
The problems caused by this set of incidents brought to the forefront of our consciousness the importance of disinformation. Disinformation should be thought of as a consideration in all plans that need to be kept secret. This, of course, requires several things to happen. First, someone has to recognize that information exists and that it would be of value to others. Second, they have to determine that they will actually protect it. Third, they then need to actually take steps to protect the information. Whether or not disinformation is part of this protection depends on the circumstances.
When disinformation is used, it can have a significant effect on both keeping the information secret, and making adversaries and competitors take actions based on their best (albeit incorrect) information. These misdirected efforts might well give you an even greater competitive advantage than you would have had by merely keeping the information out of the public eye.