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Plausible deniability

Posted by ESC on November 19, 2001 at

In Reply to: Plausible deniability posted by R. Dixon on November 18, 2001

: Origin of phrase "Plausible deniability" ?

According to one reference, deniability dates back to at least the 70s. (See next entry.) I couldn't find "plausible deniability." But here's what I think it means: A leader approves a course of action with a "escape clause," deniability that allows him or her deny knowledge of the operation if anything goes wrong. Plausible just means "an appearance of truth." The leader can lie and there's a good possibility that the lie will be believed. His/her staff will take the blame.

DENIABILITY: see "sign off on." "SIGN OFF ON - approve; specifically, to initial one's endorsement.An element of 'accountability,' a favored Washington term in the mid-seventies, is connected with the phrase (sign off on). Elizabeth Drew, writing in 'The New Yorker' (May 1, 1978) about National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, pointed to a debate within the Carter Administration about accountability in the President's executive order on intelligence oversight: 'The executive order requires that the President must 'sign off' on any activity of any importance. Brzezinski is known to believe that the President should have broad flexibility, including 'deniability' - that is, it should be possible to carry out operations in a way that would enable the President to deny he knew about them." From Safire's New Political Dictionary by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993)