Practise to Deceive

Title:                      Practise to Deceive

Author:                 Barton Whaley

Whaley, Barton (2016). Practise to Deceive: Learning Curves of Military Deception Planners. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press

LCCN:    2015035352

U167.5.D37 .W53 2016

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      December 12, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Denis Clift, president emeritus of the National Intelligence University, writes in the book’s introduction that “the most important readings” in advanced denial and deception are the writings of Barton Whaley. One of the teaching techniques Whaley employed involved practical exercises, using actual case studies. Practise to Deceive contains 88 of those studies with detailed analysis of their objectives and application.

The case studies are typically one to five pages in length and contain examples from Sun Tzu to the first Iraq war in 1991. They are arranged in four categories: the first three consider learning, planning, and seeking approval for specific operations from the working level; the fourth looks at these factors from an institutional point of view. Cases are presented chronologically within each topic.

For example, case #2 deals with tactical deception measures employed by Gen. Lord Roberts, when his army relieved the siege of Kimberly during the second Boer War. Whaley notes that Roberts’ intelligence officer, Lt. Col. G. F. R. Henderson, based his recommendations for deception on lessons drawn from his study of Stonewall Jackson’s operations during the US Civil War. Operation ERROR (case #15, pp. 39-42) is concerned with deception operations in the India-Burma theater—planned and conducted by Col. Peter Fleming (Ian’s brother).

Three interesting cases (numbers 19, 52, and 53) involve British scientist R. V. Jones, including his discussion of the “Theory of Practical Joking and the Theory of Spoof,” and his contribution to defeating the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

Whaley also includes two controversial cases. The first concerns “Maj. Meinertzhagen and the Haversack Legend, Palestine 1917.” Meinertzhagen was Gen. Allenby’s intelligence officer, “who plagiarized a real plan and pretended to carry it out—thereby fabricating the celebrated legend of the ‘Meinertzhagen Haversack Ruse.’”[2] (pp. 75-76)

The second and even more controversial case involves Lawrence of Arabia’s exploits, that Whaley labels “a myth.” (p. 80) But he doesn’t stop there. “Simply put,” he writes, “Lawrence was a con man whose deceptions were directed more against allies than foes.” (p. 81) Curiously, one of his sources is the unreliable Menertzhagen. Thus readers are cautioned against accepting these views without consulting the great volume of evidence to the contrary.

The more recent case studies include “General Schwarzkopf’s Deception Planners, Iraq 1991” and “Jody Powell and the Iranian Rescue Mission, 1980.” (pp. 245-246).

Two of four appendices examine the deception planning for operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s preparation for invading the Soviet Union. Another examines Operation CLOAK, the British deception plans against the Japanese in Burma. The fourth lists other important operation—for example, Operation BODYGUARD, prior to the invasion of Europe in World War II, and source material for further study.

Overall, Practice to Deceive is an interesting and valuable account of deception theory in practice.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 2 Fall 2017, pp. 116-117). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] In his published post-war diaries, Meinertzhagen claimed to have placed false war plans in a haversack that successfully deceived the Turks as to the location of the main attack into Palestine. For example see Meinertzhagen, Richard (1960, 1959). Middle East Diary, 1917-1956. New York: Yoseloff [LCCN: 60013137]. Lockman showed that to be a false claim, but the myth has persisted. See J. N. Lockman, Meinertzhagen’s Diary Ruse: False Entries an T. E. Lawrence (1870; reprinted Grand Rapids,k MI: Cornerstone Publications, 1995). For another view, see Capstick, Peter A. (1998) and Fiona Capstick (1999). Warrior: The Legend of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen. New York: St. Martin’s Press

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