The role of deception in military operations is illuminated and elaborated in a new Department of Defense doctrinal publication (pdf).
Military deception refers to “those actions executed to deliberately mislead adversary decision makers as to friendly military capabilities, intentions, and operations, thereby causing the adversary to take specific actions (or inactions) that will contribute to the accomplishment of the friendly mission.”
The principles of deception and their execution are described in some detail in the 79 page publication.
Some types of deception are “perfidious” and are prohibited by the laws of war.
“Acts of perfidy include, but are not limited to: feigning surrender or waving a white flag in order to lure the enemy into a trap; misuse of protective signs, signals, and symbols in order to injure, kill, or capture the enemy;” and so on.
Even when properly executed, a deception operation or cover story “may fail for many reasons. It is possible that the target will not receive the story, not believe the story, be unable to act, be indecisive even if the story is believed, act in unforeseen ways, or may discover the deception.”
Furthermore, the document explains, one must assume that the enemy is also engaged in deception, creating the need for “counterdeception” programs, both defensive and offensive.
Offensive counterdeception “focuses on forcing an adversary to expend resources and continue deception operations that have been detected by reinforcing the perception that friendly forces are unaware of them.”
The new publication concludes with a series of maxims summarizing central lessons of experience in the field, and a suggested reading list.
See “Military Deception,” Joint Publication 3-13.4, July 13, 2006.