Secrecy News

“Competing Observables” Complicate Deception

Deception plays an important role in many military operations. But is hard to deceive an opponent (or anyone else) when evidence of that deception is visible in plain sight.

A new military term — “competing observable” — has been introduced to capture this problem.

In the context of military deception, an ordinary “observable” is defined as “an indicator within an adversary’s conduit [or information pathway] intended to cause action or inaction by the deception target.”

But a “competing observable” is “any observable that contradicts the deception story, casts doubt on, or diminishes the impact of one or more required or supporting observables.”

The term “competing observable” was incorporated in the latest edition of the official DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms¬†this month. The Dictionary, a copy of which appeared in our conduit, provides standard definitions for thousands of words and phrases that constitute the lexicon of U.S. military thought.

Each new update removes some terms, and adds or modifies others in an ongoing adaptation to current military doctrine.

The latest edition, for example, eliminates “berm” (“The nearly horizontal portion of a beach or backshore…”) and “honey pot” (“A trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems…”). These and several other such terms were removed from the Dictionary this month since they are “not used.”

The term “ruse” was slightly modified and is now defined as “an action designed to deceive the adversary, usually involving the deliberate exposure of false information to the adversary’s intelligence collection system.”