Telling Lies #6: Plausible Deniability

sir-humphrey-appleby

Plausible deniability is a tool used widely in commerce and in politics.  It generally involves the identification of areas of knowledge that could, if details are fully known, compromise a senior individual as being complicit in acts that are illegal, immoral or culturally unacceptable.

A CEO of a Western firm, with operations in countries where bribery is endemic, will build a management structure that distances them from knowledge of day to day details of acts of bribery and corruption.

The Chairman of the board of an auto manufacturer may never ask directly if accident rates in their cars are an endemic manufacturing problem.  To do so may result in a widespread recall and catastrophic fall in share prices.  Better to retain plausible deniability.

The premier of a nation will structure allocations to “security agents” (AKA Black ops or Spies) as “Black Box” payments.  There is no direct link between the money allocation and the acts carried out by the security teams.  The President can’t be held directly responsible for an assassination because she never directly ordered it.

It is a plot line in the movie “Independence Day” when the CIA keep knowledge of the existence of aliens from the President even after an alien presence makes itself known.

No good Barrister will ever ask a question in court without first knowing the answer, and in may cases, knowing the answer, will never ask the question in order to maintain plausible deniability.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby says in “Yes Minister” one should never ask a direct question because it might result in a direct answer.

He also pointed out that the Official Secrets act was not designed to protect secrets, it was designed to protect public servants.

The script of Yes Minister is a fertile garden of plausible deniability.

plausible deniability