Practise to Deceive

Practise to Deceive

Learning Curves of Military Deception Planners

Barton Whaley

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2016, 256 pages

Book Review published on: March 24, 2017

This—the late Barton Whaley’s final book—joins the small pantheon of other essential treatises on military deception he wrote over his lifetime. For those familiar with his work, Practise to Deceive turns over new ground; for readers new to military deception concepts, this book startles those exposed only to Hollywood treatments and techno-thriller novels. A Chinese studies undergraduate and MIT PhD, Whaley was no mere academic; he had experience in deception, serving with U.S. Army psychological warfare during the Korean War and eventually for the director of National Intelligence’s Foreign Denial and Deception Committee.

Right from the start in the Executive Summary, the author smashes common conceptions about the historical development of the art of deception and the most suitable personality type for a successful deception planner. Similar to his 1969 opus, Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War, Whaley spends the majority of Practise to Deceive—171 pages in all-providing thoroughly documented evidence consisting of eighty-eight historical military deception cases to back up his claims. A thin portion of thirty pages lays out his inductive argument, with accompanying caveats. A few appendices provide historical deception planning documents as examples. For readers who want to learn more, the annotated bibliography on the deception planners identified in the cases is quite valuable.

The book is not a primer on deception; there are other works—such as his and J. Bowyer Bell’s foundational Cheating and Deception—which better fill the bill. It nevertheless provides a very terse one-page description of deception planning in the Executive Summary, along with two more amplifying pages in the last part of the book. This is just enough to analyze the historical cases, and nothing more.

As the subtitle suggests, the book concentrates on how fast and well military deception planners learn their art, particularly when they get so few opportunities to practice it against an adversary. The cases are divided into the “learning curve” segments: chapter 4, “Learning to Deceive”; chapter 5, “Planners in Specific Operations”; chapter 6, “Selling the Commander”; and chapter 7, “Institutional Deception Planning.” Each case in the first three chapters are titled with the name of the deception planner and the operation or location with date. The last chapter substitutes the deception planning group name in lieu of the specific individual in the case titles. Thus, readers can see the arc of development from practitioners (1) initially learning the fundamentals, (2) improving upon their art, (3) getting senior leaders to accept and endorse their deception plans, and (4) creating collaborative groups to perpetrate ploys of misdirection upon their adversaries.

Practise to Deceive is an indispensable guide for military planners and intelligence professionals—as well as chiefs of staff and commanders—at senior-level commands. Because of the book’s focus on strategic/operational-level military deception concepts, planning, and personalities, it is less useful for tacticians. Primarily intended for military practitioners (actual and potential) and students of deception theory, military historians will nevertheless be delighted by Whaley’s depiction of those colorful personalities so adept at fooling others.

Book Review written by: Col. Eric M. Walters, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Lee, Virginia