British intelligence's use of persuasion psychology

The documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed a division of British intelligence focused on the use of psychological science to influence, deceive, and infiltrate suspected terrorist cells, hostile states, criminal gangs, and activist groups. Vaughan "Mind Hacks" Bell investigates, and notes that some of their techniques draw heavily from the work of Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, an absolute must-read classic book about techniques of persuasion.

From Vaughan's article in The Guardian:


What stands out from the leaks is that the intelligence services don't seem to have any secret in-house psychological research they rely on. Or at least they didn't in the early 2010s when the leaked documents were written. One presentation describes a series of "gambits for deception", all of which seem to be taken from well-known published research on a mix of persuasion, relationship formation, scams, and, curiously, stage-magic psychology.

Indeed, (the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group's) "10 principles of influence" include some taken from persuasion research by psychologist and bestselling author Robert Cialdini. These include the reciprocity principle – giving something to encourage the person to owe you something, and the social compliance principle – where people are more likely to do something that they believe people are already doing. Others come directly from research on how scammers con their targets, such as making the scam tempting but sufficiently illegal so that the victim can be pressured to keep quiet with the threat of disclosure.

"Britain's 'Twitter troops' have ways of making you think…" (The Guardian)

"Psychological science in intelligence service operations" (Mind Hacks)