Deception by government

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Government duplicity
Deliberate lying by government officials
Misrepresentation of facts by national leaders
Deliberate distortion of official news and information
Official over-reporting and under-reporting
Diplomatic lying
Perjury by government agents
Susceptibility of electorate to government repetition of untruths
Intellectual dishonesty in government
Government insincerity
Contradictions in official statements
The use or alteration of intelligence reports, the creation of misinformation, and the use of unconfirmed information for the purposed of beginning or continuing an unpopular or potentially unpopular policy, of maintaining power in government or of insuring a public image, such as being a great statesman.
Governmental lying is a continuous phenomena. Almost every month there is an exposure. It may be in South America (Chile, Argentina), Southeast Asia (Vietnam, the Philippines), South Africa, India, or anywhere that governments are under pressure. Some instances of governmental deception have achieved great notoriety. Hitler's dictum that "a lie thrice repeated becomes a truth" was put into practice during the regime of the Third Reich. The intelligence apparatus of the former USSR had a bureau of disinformation, and counterparts exists for domestic purposes. The Non-aggression Pact of Stalin and Hitler was one of many misrepresentations of the two leaders. In the USA there have been Watergate (concerning President Nixon's falsehoods), and earlier misrepresentations concerning the conflict in Vietnam. In the UK, the Belgrano affair and the 1985 national coal strike have occasioned allegations of misrepresentation or lying.

A striking example is provided by a Chinese satellite which crashed into the sea off Peru in October 1993. A few days previously, monitors in the USA and elsewhere detected its descent from orbit, although the Chinese denied that they had lost control of it, even hours before it crashed. They affirmed that any satellite which crashed at that time could not be theirs. Another example is the discovery in 1994 that the South African government had lied concerning its collaboration with Israel on nuclear development, notably with regard to the exchange of 600 tons of uranium in exchange for 30 grams of tritium.

In the UK in 1993 it was acknowledged that the government had deliberately misled critics of human rights violations in East Timor to believe that it was endeavouring to negotiate access by the International Red Cross to the territory although it had already decided that this would be counter-productive to its relationships with Indonesia and had no intention of doing so. The government was also obliged to acknowledge that it had falsely denied the existence of any contacts with the IRA regarding the future of Northern Ireland. This deception was then compounded by falsification of reports on the actual contacts.

In both the USA and the UK the consequences of covertly arming Iraq prior to the Gulf War have led to major investigations of deception within government and the manner in which efforts were subsequently made to deny any such deception.

If before Watergate and the Vietnam war, political manipulation was an occasionally recognized, by the 1990s it was widely accepted that politicians do not merely lie on occasion, they are proverbial liars.
Counter Claim:
Vital objectives in the national interest require a measure of deception to succeed in the face of powerful obstacles. Negotiations must be carried on that are best left hidden from public view; bargains must be struck that simply cannot be comprehended by a politically unsophisticated electorate. A certain amount of illusion is needed in order for public servants to be effective. Announcing the devaluation of a currency in advance could produce a destabilizing call on banks and unfair profits for speculators. To tell the truth that preparations for war were actually in place could undermine their effectiveness. Every government, therefore, has to deceive people to some extent in order to lead them.
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
13.04.1998 – 00:00 CEST