Plausible deniability is the term given to the creation of loose and informal chain of command in government. In the case that assassinations, false flag or black ops or any other illegal or otherwise disrespectable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any connection to or awareness of such act, or the agents used to carry out such act.

In politics and espionage, deniability refers to the ability of a "powerful player" or actor to avoid "blowback" by secretly arranging for an action to be taken on their behalf by a third party - ostensibly unconnected with the major player.

More generally, "plausible deniability" can also apply to any act which leaves little or no evidence of wrongdoing or abuse. Examples of this are the use of electricity or pain-compliance holds as a means of torture or punishment, leaving little or no tangible signs that the abuse ever took place.

History of Plausible deniability

Plausible deniability began under Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Allen Dulles.

Church Committee

A U.S. Senate committee, the Church Committee, in 1974-1975 conducted an investigation of the intelligence agencies. In the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the CIA, going back to the Kennedy administration, had plotted the assassination of a number of foreign leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro. But the president himself, who clearly was in favor of such actions, was not to be directly involved, so that he could deny knowledge of it. This was given the term plausible denial.

Non-attribution to the United States for covert operations was the original and principal purpose of the so-called doctrine of "plausible denial." Evidence before the Committee clearly demonstrates that this concept, designed to protect the United States and its operatives from the consequences of disclosures, has been expanded to mask decisions of the president and his senior staff members.

Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary. The idea was that the CIA (and, later, other bodies) could be given controversial instructions by powerful figuresup to and including the President himselfbut that the existence and true source of those instructions could be denied if necessary; if, for example, an operation went disastrously wrong and it was necessary for the administration to disclaim responsibility.

Legislative barriers after the Church Committee

The Hughes-Ryan Act of 1974 put an end to plausible denial by requiring a Presidential finding that each operation is important to national security, and the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980 required that Congress be notified of all covert operations. But both laws are full of enough vague terms and escape hatches to allow the executive branch to thwart their authors' intentions, as the Iran-contra affair has shown. Indeed, the members of Congress are in a dilemma, highlighted ...when they are informed, they are in no position to stop the action - unless they leak its existence and thereby foreclose...the option of covertness.

Iran Contra Affair

In his testimony to the congressional committee studying Iran-Contra Affair, Vice Admiral John Poindexter stated: "I made a deliberate decision not to ask the President, so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the President if it ever leaked out.""

Declassified government documents

  • Pentagon papers October 25, 1963 Telegram from the Ambassador in Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. to Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy on US Options with Respect to a Possible Coup, mentioning the term plausible denial Alternative link (See Telegram 216)
  • CIA and White House documents on covert political intervention in the 1964 Chilean election declassified. The CIA's Chief of Western Hemisphere Division, J.C. King, recommended that funds for the campaign "be provided in a fashion causing (Eduardo Frei Montalva president of Chile) to infer United States origin of funds and yet permitting plausible denial"[12]

  • Training files of the CIA's covert "Operation PBSUCCESS," for the 1954 coup in Guatemala. According the the National Security Archive: "Among the documents found in the training files of Operation PBSUCCESS and declassified by the Agency is a CIA document entitled 'A Study of Assassination.' A how-to guide book in the art of political killing, the 19-page manual offers detailed descriptions of the procedures, instruments, and implementation of assassination." The manual states that to provide plausible denial, "no assassination instructions should ever be written or recorded."

Flaws in plausible denial

The doctrine had six major flaws:

  • It was an open door to the abuse of authority; it required that the bodies in question could be said to have acted independently, which in the end was tantamount to giving them license to act independently.
  • It rarely worked when invoked; the denials made were rarely plausible and were generally seen through by both the media and the populace.

One aspect of the Watergate crisis is the repeated failure of the doctrine of plausible deniability, which the administration repeatedly attempted to use to stop the scandal affecting President Richard Nixon and his aides.

  • "Plausible denial" only increases the risk of misunderstanding between senior officials and their employees.
  • It only shifts blame, and generally, constructs rather little.

  • If the claim fails, it seriously discredits the political figure invoking it as a defense.

  • If it succeeds, it creates the impression that the government is not in control of the state.

Other examples of plausible denial

Another example of plausible deniability is someone who actively avoids gaining certain knowledge of facts because it benefits that person not to know.

As an example, an unscrupulous attorney may suspect that facts exist which would hurt his case, but decide not to investigate the issue because if the attorney had actual knowledge, the rules of ethics might require him to reveal those facts to the opposing side. Thus his failure to investigate maintains plausible deniability.

Murder in the Cathedral

King Henry II of England is credited with the stating quite publicly, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" This saying resulted in the assassination of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, although the king denied that his plea was to be taken in such a way.

Freenet file sharing

The Freenet file sharing network is another application of the idea. It obfuscates data sources and flows in order to protect operators and users of the network by preventing them (and, by extension, observers such as censors) from knowing where data comes from and where it is stored.

Use in computer networks

In computer networks, deniability often refers to a situation where a person can deny transmitting a file, even when it is proven to come from his computer.

Normally, this is done by setting the computer to relay certain types of broadcasts automatically, in such a way that the original transmitter of a file is indistinguishable from those who are merely relaying it. In this way, the person who first transmitted the file can claim that his computer had merely relayed it from elsewhere, and this claim cannot be disproven without a complete decrypted log of all network connections to and from that person's computer.

Use in cryptography

In cryptography, deniable encryption may be used to describe steganographic techniques, where the very existence of an encrypted file or message is deniable in the sense that an adversary cannot prove that an encrypted message exists.

Some systems take this further, such as MaruTukku and TrueCrypt archives which contain multiple encrypted archives. The owner of the archive may reveal one or more keys to decrypt certain information from the archive, and then deny that more keys exist, a statement which cannot be disproven without knowledge of all encryption keys involved. The existence of data in this archive is then deniable in the sense that it cannot be proven to exist.

On morality

In the term Plausible denial, the word "denial" implies some social mores against lying or fraud. This means that the users of this term know its use is immoral. Citizens in an amoral society would not need to deny their actions falsely.

Plausible denial is a type of lying that requires preparation to avoid blame or detection. By preparing to use plausible denial, citizens admit by their actions the foreknowledge of guilt and the knowledge of social mores. Otherwise, citizens would not feel the need to prepare.


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