Essay:Government deception

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Government deception consists of untrue or misleading statements by governments. Law enforcement officers will, for instance, sometimes lie during questioning of suspects in order to induce confessions. Laurie Magid writes, "Because the United States Supreme Court has placed so few limits on the use of deception, the variety of deceptive techniques is limited chiefly by the ingenuity of the interrogator."[1] Historically, governments have sometimes engaged in deceit in order to justify wars. An example would be the Gleiwitz incident, in which a fake attack on a radio station was used by the Nazis to justify invading Poland.

Sometimes the government will use deception to construct complicated schemes for inducing people to commit criminal behavior for which they can be arrested. An example would be the 1971 incident involving the CAMDEN 28, in which an informant funded by the FBI purchased equipment for an anti-draft group to break into a federal building and destroy draft documents. Another example would be the many drug and sex stings the government conducts, which entice people to attempt to engage in illegal transactions.

There is a bit of a double standard, in that a citizen who lies to the government can often be prosecuted. Filing a false police report is a criminal offense in most jurisdictions. And pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1001, lying to a federal official is punishable by five years in prison. The government will sometimes use this charge when it can find no other way to prosecute a person.[2]

Thomas DiLorenzo's Third Law of Government is that, with few exceptions, politicians are habitual liars.[3] Carl Sagan writes that "each of us must equip him-or-herself with a 'baloney-detection kit.' That is, the governments like to tell us that everything is fine, they have everything under control, and leave them alone. And many of us . . . have the sense that it's too complicated. We can’t figure it out. The governments have the experts. Surely they know what they’re doing. They must be in favor of the support of our country, whichever our country happens to be. And anyway, this is such a painful issue that I want to put it out of my mind, which psychiatrists call denial. . . And therefore I would say that the first thing to do is to realize that governments, all governments, at least on occasion, lie. And some of them do it all the time—some of them do it only every second statement—but, by and large, governments distort the facts in order to remain in office. And if we are ignorant of what the issues are and can’t even ask the critical questions, then we’re not going to make much of a difference. If we can understand the issues, if we can pose the right questions, if we can point out the contradictions, then we can make some progress."[4] Of course, the ability to usefully expose factual inaccuracies by asking questions assumes that someone will actually pay attention to the questions that are asked, rather than ignoring them.


  1. Magid, Laurie (2001). "Deceptive Police Interrogation Practices: How Far is Too Far?". Michigan Law Review 99. 
  2. Emshwiller, John R. and Fields, Gary (9 April 2012). "For Feds, 'Lying' Is a Handy Charge". Wall Street Journal. 
  3. DiLorenzo, Thomas J.. "Who Will Regulate the Regulators". Organized Crime. pp. 9. 
  4. Sagan, Carl. The Varieties of Scientific Experience.