An Example of the Red Team Mindset

(This is one of the anecdotes from the life of R. V. Jones, the mastermind of British scientific intelligence during World War II. This story and other are courtesy of the Red Team Journal’s See it like Jones Would series)

In this anecdote from Most Secret War, the immediate takeaway appears to be the utility of deception. Looking closer, however, we can see that the success of the deception was due to R. V. Jones’ ability to discern how the adversary measured success.

During the British defense of Malta, the Germans jammed the British radar on the island. The British signals organization on Malta asked the Air Ministry what to do, and the ministry contacted Jones. He recalls:

“I knew that the Germans judged the success of their jamming by listening to our radar transmissions to see whether, for example, they ceased to scan, as well they might well do if they could not be used. I therefore signaled Malta to go on scanning as though everything were normal and not to give any kind of clue that they were in difficulty. After a few days the Germans switched their jammers off.”

Later, Jones had the opportunity to speak with General Martini, the director of the German signals operation. Martini asked Jones how the British had countered the German jamming. As Jones relates, “[Martini] laughed ruefully when I told him that he had in fact succeeded, but that I knew the clues on which he would judge his own success, and had therefore advised the Malta radars to pretend that they were still working.”

The deception itself is clever, and red teamers should always heed clever deceptions. Of more worth is the insight that a deception can specifically target how the adversary measures success and failure. Also of note is the fact that the Germans apparently verified the seeming success of the nonexistent British countermeasures through a single channel (the mere fact that the British were still operating their radar). The Germans failed to asked the second-order questions that might have led them to detect the weakness in their insufficient metric and uncover the true state of affairs. Good red teamers like Jones rarely accept the world as it appears to be; instead, they play enthusiastically in the alternative worlds generated by twists of perception and misperception.