Deception is the act of propagating a belief that is not true, or is
not the whole truth (as in half-truths or omission).
involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand, as well as
distraction, camouflage, or concealment. There is also self-deception,
as in bad faith. It can also be called, with varying subjective
implications, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, ruse, or
Deception is a major relational transgression that often leads to
feelings of betrayal and distrust between relational partners.
Deception violates relational rules and is considered to be a negative
violation of expectations. Most people expect friends, relational
partners, and even strangers to be truthful most of the time. If
people expected most conversations to be untruthful, talking and
communicating with others would require distraction and misdirection
to acquire reliable information. A significant amount of deception
occurs between some romantic and relational partners.
Deceit and dishonesty can also form grounds for civil litigation in
tort, or contract law (where it is known as misrepresentation or
fraudulent misrepresentation if deliberate), or give rise to criminal
prosecution for fraud. It also forms a vital part of psychological
warfare in denial and deception.
7 In romantic relationships
7.2 In online dating
8 In social research
9 In psychological research
10 In philosophy
11 In Religion
12 In law
13 See also
16 Further reading
Deception of woman, with self-portrait by Stanisław Ignacy
Witkiewicz, 1927 (National Museum, Warsaw.
Deception includes several types of communications or omissions that
serve to distort or omit the complete truth. Examples of deception
range from false statements to misleading claims in which relevant
information is omitted, leading the receiver to infer false
conclusions. For example, a claim that 'sunflower oil is beneficial to
brain health due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids' may be
misleading, as it leads the receiver to believe sunflower oil will
benefit brain health more so than other foods. In fact, sunflower oil
is relatively low in omega-3 fatty acids and is not particularly good
for brain health, so while this claim is technically true, it leads
the receiver to infer false information.
Deception itself is
intentionally managing verbal or nonverbal messages so that the
message receiver will believe in a way that the message sender knows
is false. Intent is critical with regard to deception. Intent
differentiates between deception and an honest mistake. The
Deception Theory explores the interrelation between
communicative context and sender and receiver cognitions and behaviors
in deceptive exchanges.
Some forms of deception include:
Lies: making up information or giving information that is the opposite
or very different from the truth.
Equivocations: making an indirect, ambiguous, or contradictory
Concealments: omitting information that is important or relevant to
the given context, or engaging in behavior that helps hide relevant
Exaggerations: overstatement or stretching the truth to a degree.
Understatements: minimization or downplaying aspects of the truth.
Many people believe that they are good at deception, though this
confidence is often misplaced.
Buller and Burgoon (1996) have proposed three taxonomies to
distinguish motivations for deception based on their Interpersonal
Instrumental: to avoid punishment or to protect resources
Relational: to maintain relationships or bonds
Identity: to preserve “face” or the self-image 
The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones, 1874
Deception detection between relational partners is extremely
difficult, unless a partner tells a blatant or obvious lie or
contradicts something the other partner knows to be true. While it is
difficult to deceive a partner over a long period of time, deception
often occurs in day-to-day conversations between relational
partners. Detecting deception is difficult because there are no
known completely reliable indicators of deception. Deception, however,
places a significant cognitive load on the deceiver. He or she must
recall previous statements so that his or her story remains consistent
and believable. As a result, deceivers often leak important
information both verbally and nonverbally.
Deception and its detection is a complex, fluid, and cognitive process
that is based on the context of the message exchange. The
interpersonal deception theory posits that interpersonal deception is
a dynamic, iterative process of mutual influence between a sender, who
manipulates information to depart from the truth, and a receiver, who
attempts to establish the validity of the message. A deceiver's
actions are interrelated to the message receiver's actions. It is
during this exchange that the deceiver will reveal verbal and
nonverbal information about deceit. Some research has found that
there are some cues that may be correlated with deceptive
communication, but scholars frequently disagree about the
effectiveness of many of these cues to serve as reliable indicators.
Noted deception scholar Aldert Vrij even states that there is no
nonverbal behavior that is uniquely associated with deception. As
previously stated, a specific behavioral indicator of deception does
not exist. There are, however, some nonverbal behaviors that have been
found to be correlated with deception. Vrij found that examining a
"cluster" of these cues was a significantly more reliable indicator of
deception than examining a single cue.
Mark Frank proposes that deception is detected at the cognitive
level. Lying requires deliberate conscious behavior, so listening
to speech and watching body language are important factors in
detecting lies. If a response to a question has a lot disturbances,
less talking time, repeated words, and poor logical structure, then
the person may be lying. Vocal cues such as frequency height and
variation may also provide meaningful clues to deceit.
Fear specifically causes heightened arousal in liars, which manifests
in more frequent blinking, pupil dilation, speech disturbances, and a
higher pitched voice. The liars that experience guilt have been shown
to make attempts at putting distance between themselves and the
deceptive communication, producing “nonimmediacy cues” These can
be verbal or physical, including speaking in more indirect ways and
showing an inability to maintain eye contact with their conversation
partners. Another cue for detecting deceptive speech is the tone
of the speech itself. Streeter, Krauss, Geller, Olson, and Apple
(1977) have assessed that fear and anger, two emotions widely
associated with deception, cause greater arousal than grief or
indifference, and note that the amount of stress one feels is directly
related to the frequency of the voice.
Main article: Camouflage
This wallaby has adaptive colouration which allows it to blend with
Concealed force: members of 122nd Tank Brigade camouflage their T-34
tank with natural materials as they prepare for the Siege of
The camouflage of a physical object often works by breaking up the
visual boundary of that object. This usually involves colouring the
camouflaged object with the same colours as the background against
which the object will be hidden. In the realm of deceptive
half-truths, camouflage is realized by 'hiding' some of the truths.
Military camouflage as a form of visual deception is a part of
Main article: Disguise
A disguise is an appearance to create the impression of being somebody
or something else; for a well-known person this is also called
incognito. Passing involves more than mere dress and can include
hiding one's real manner of speech.
The fictional detective
Sherlock Holmes often disguised himself as
somebody else to avoid being recognized.
In a more abstract sense, 'disguise' may refer to the act of
disguising the nature of a particular proposal in order to hide an
unpopular motivation or effect associated with that proposal. This is
a form of political spin or propaganda. See also: rationalisation and
transfer within the techniques of propaganda generation.
Depicting an act of war (an attack) as a "peace" mission or "spinning"
a kidnapping as a protective custody.
The defensive mechanisms of most octopuses to eject black ink in a
large cloud to aid in escape from predators.
The use by some Allied navies during
World War II
World War II of Dazzle camouflage
painting schemes to confuse observers regarding a naval vessel's speed
Simulation consists of exhibiting false information. There are three
simulation techniques: mimicry (copying another model or example, such
as non-poisonous snakes which have the colours and markings of
poisonous snakes), fabrication (making up a new model), and
distraction (offering an alternative model)
In the biological world, mimicry involves unconscious deception by
similarity to another organism, or to a natural object. Animals for
example may deceive predators or prey by visual, auditory or other
To make something that appears to be something that it is not, usually
for the purpose of encouraging an adversary to reveal, endanger, or
divert that adversary's own resources (i.e., as a decoy). For example,
in World War II, it was common for the Allies to use hollow tanks made
out of wood to fool German reconnaissance planes into thinking a large
armor unit was on the move in one area while the real tanks were well
hidden and on the move in a location far from the fabricated "dummy"
tanks. Mock airplanes and fake airfields have also been created.
To get someone's attention from the truth by offering bait or
something else more tempting to divert attention away from the object
being concealed. For example, a security company publicly announces
that it will ship a large gold shipment down one route, while in
reality take a different route. A military unit trying to maneuver out
of a dangerous position may make a feint attack or fake retreat, to
make the enemy think they are doing one thing, while in fact they have
In romantic relationships
Deception is particularly common within romantic relationships, with
more than 90% of individuals admitting to lying or not being
completely honest with their partner at one time.
There are three primary motivations for deception in relationships.
Partner-focused motives: Using deception to avoid hurting the partner,
to help the partner to enhance or maintain their self-esteem, to avoid
worrying the partner, and to protect the partner's relationship with a
third party. Partner-focused motivated deception can
sometimes be viewed as socially polite and relationally beneficial,
such as telling white lies to avoid hurting your partner. Although
other, less common, partner-focused motives such as using to deception
to evoke jealous reactions from their partner may have damaging
effects on a relationship.
Self-focused motives: Using deception to enhance or protect one’s
own self-image, maintain or establish their autonomy, avoid
constrictions, unwanted activities, or impositions, shield themselves
from anger, embarrassment, or criticism, or resolve an
argument. Another common self-focused motive for
deception, is a continuation of deception in order to avoid being
caught in a previous deception. Self-focused deception is
generally perceived as a more serious transgression than
partner-focused deception, because the deceiver is acting for selfish
reasons rather than for the good of the partner or relationship.
Relationship-focused motives: Using deception to limit relationship
harm by avoiding conflict or relational trauma. Relationally
motivated deception can be beneficial to a relationship, and other
times it can be harmful by further complicating matters.
also be used to facilitate the dissolution of an unwanted
Deception impacts the perception of a relationship in a variety of
ways, for both the deceiver and the deceived. The deceiver typically
perceives less understanding and intimacy from the relationship, in
that they see their partner as less empathetic and more distant.
The act of deception can also result in feelings of distress for the
deceiver, which become worse the longer the deceiver has known the
deceived, as well as in longer-term relationships. Once discovered,
deception creates feelings of detachment and uneasiness surrounding
the relationship for both partners; this can eventually lead to both
partners becoming more removed from the relationship or deterioration
of the relationship. In general, discovery of deception can result
in a decrease in relationship satisfaction and commitment level,
however, in instances where a person is successfully deceived,
relationship satisfaction can actually be positively impacted for the
person deceived, since lies are typically used to make the other
partner feel more positive about the relationship.
In general, deception tends to occur less often in relationships with
higher satisfaction and commitment levels and in relationships where
partners have known each other longer, such as long-term relationships
and marriage. In comparison, deception is more likely to occur in
casual relationships and in dating where commitment level and length
of acquaintanceship is often much lower.
Main article: Infidelity
Unique to exclusive romantic relationships is the use of deception in
the form of infidelity. When it comes to the occurrence of infidelity,
there are many individual difference factors that can impact this
Infidelity is impacted by attachment style, relationship
satisfaction, executive function, sociosexual orientation, personality
traits, and gender. Attachment style impacts the probability of
infidelity and research indicates that people with an insecure
attachment style (anxious or avoidant) are more likely to cheat
compared to individuals with a secure attachment style, especially
for avoidant men and anxious women. Insecure attachment styles are
characterized by a lack of comfort within a romantic relationship
resulting in a desire to be overly independent (avoidant attachment
style) or a desire to be overly dependent on their partner in an
unhealthy way (anxious attachment style). Those with an insecure
attachment style are characterized by not believing that their
romantic partner can/will support and comfort them in an effective
way, either stemming from a negative belief regarding themselves
(anxious attachment style) or a negative belief regarding romantic
others (avoidant attachment style). Women are more likely to commit
infidelity when they are emotionally unsatisfied with their
relationship whereas men are more likely to commit infidelity if they
are sexually unsatisfied with their current relationship. Women
are more likely to commit emotional infidelity than men while men are
more likely to commit sexual infidelity than women; however, these are
not mutually exclusive categories as both men and women can and do
engage in emotional or sexual infidelity.
Executive control is a part of executive functions that allows for
individuals to monitor and control their behavior through thinking
about and managing their actions. The level of executive control that
an individual possesses is impacted by development and experience and
can be improved through training and practice. Those
individuals that show a higher level of executive control can more
easily influence/control their thoughts and behaviors in relation to
potential threats to an ongoing relationship which can result in
paying less attention to threats to the current relationship (other
potential romantic mates).
Sociosexual orientation is concerned
with how freely individuals partake in casual sex outside of a
committed relationship and their beliefs regarding how necessary it is
to be in love in order to engage in sex with someone. Individuals
with a less restrictive sociosexual orientation (more likely to
partake in casual sex) are more likely to engage in
infidelity. Individuals that have personality traits including
(high) neuroticism, (low) agreeableness, and (low) conscientiousness
are more likely to commit infidelity. Men are generally speculated
to cheat more than women, but it is unclear if this is a result of
socialization processes where it is more acceptable for men to cheat
compared to women or due to an actual increase in this behavior for
men. Research conducted by Conley and colleagues (2011) suggests
that the reasoning behind these gender differences stems from the
negative stigma associated with women who engage in casual sex and
inferences about the sexual capability of the potential sexual
partner. In their study, men and women were equally likely to accept a
sexual proposal from an individual who was speculated to have a high
level of sexual prowess. Additionally, women were just as likely as
men to accept a casual sexual proposal when they did not anticipate
being subjected to the negative stigma of sexually permissible women
In online dating
Main article: Online dating
See also: Catfishing
Research on the use of deception in online dating has shown that
people are generally truthful about themselves with the exception of
physical attributes to appear more attractive. According
to the Scientific American, “nine out of ten online daters will fib
about their height, weight, or age” such that men were more likely
to lie about height while women were more likely to lie about
weight. In a study conducted by Toma and Hancock, “less
attractive people were found to be more likely to have chosen a
profile picture in which they were significantly more attractive than
they were in everyday life”. Both genders used this strategy in
online dating profiles, but women more so than men. Additionally,
less attractive people were more likely to have “lied about
objective measures of physical attractiveness such as height and
weight”. In general, men are more likely to lie on dating
profiles the one exception being that women are more likely to lie
In social research
Some methodologies in social research, especially in psychology,
involve deception. The researchers purposely mislead or misinform the
participants about the true nature of the experiment. In an experiment
Stanley Milgram in 1963 the researchers told participants
that they would be participating in a scientific study of memory and
learning. In reality the study looked at the participants' willingness
to obey commands, even when that involved inflicting pain upon another
person. After the study, the subjects were informed of the true nature
of the study, and steps were taken in order to ensure that the
subjects left in a state of well being. Use of deception raises
many problems of research ethics and it is strictly regulated by
professional bodies such as the American Psychological Association.
In psychological research
Psychological research often needs to deceive the subjects as to its
actual purpose. The rationale for such deception is that humans are
sensitive to how they appear to others (and to themselves) and this
self-consciousness might interfere with or distort from how they
actually behave outside of a research context (where they would not
feel they were being scrutinized). For example, if a psychologist is
interested in learning the conditions under which students cheat on
tests, directly asking them, "how often do you cheat?," might result
in a high percent of "socially desirable" answers and the researcher
would in any case be unable to verify the accuracy of these responses.
In general, then, when it is unfeasible or naive to simply ask people
directly why or how often they do what they do, researchers turn to
the use of deception to distract their participants from the true
behavior of interest. So, for example, in a study of cheating, the
participants may be told that the study has to do with how intuitive
they are. During the process they might be given the opportunity to
look at (secretly, they think) another participant's [presumably
highly intuitively correct] answers before handing in their own. At
the conclusion of this or any research involving deception, all
participants must be told of the true nature of the study and why
deception was necessary (this is called debriefing). Moreover, it is
customary to offer to provide a summary of the results to all
participants at the conclusion of the research.
Though commonly used and allowed by the ethical guidelines of the
American Psychological Association, there has been debate about
whether or not the use of deception should be permitted in
psychological research experiments. Those against deception object to
the ethical and methodological issues involved in its use. Dresser
(1981) notes that, ethically, researchers are only to use subjects in
an experiment after the subject has given informed consent. However,
because of its very nature, a researcher conducting a deception
experiment cannot reveal its true purpose to the subject, thereby
making any consent given by a subject misinformed (p. 3).
Baumrind (1964), criticizing the use of deception in the Milgram
(1963) obedience experiment, argues that deception experiments
inappropriately take advantage of the implicit trust and obedience
given by the subject when the subject volunteers to participate
From a practical perspective, there are also methodological objections
to deception. Ortmann and Hertwig (1998) note that "deception can
strongly affect the reputation of individual labs and the profession,
thus contaminating the participant pool" (p. 806). If the
subjects in the experiment are suspicious of the researcher, they are
unlikely to behave as they normally would, and the researcher's
control of the experiment is then compromised (p. 807). Those who
do not object to the use of deception note that there is always a
constant struggle in balancing "the need for conducting research that
may solve social problems and the necessity for preserving the dignity
and rights of the research participant" (Christensen, 1988,
p. 670). They also note that, in some cases, using deception is
the only way to obtain certain kinds of information, and that
prohibiting all deception in research would "have the egregious
consequence of preventing researchers from carrying out a wide range
of important studies" (Kimmel, 1998, p. 805).
Additionally, findings suggest that deception is not harmful to
subjects. Christensen's (1988) review of the literature found "that
research participants do not perceive that they are harmed and do not
seem to mind being misled" (p. 668). Furthermore, those
participating in experiments involving deception "reported having
enjoyed the experience more and perceived more educational benefit"
than those who participated in non-deceptive experiments
(p. 668). Lastly, it has also been suggested that an unpleasant
treatment used in a deception study or the unpleasant implications of
the outcome of a deception study may be the underlying reason that a
study using deception is perceived as unethical in nature, rather than
the actual deception itself (Broder, 1998, p. 806; Christensen,
1988, p. 671).
Deception is a recurring theme in modern philosophy. In 1641 Descartes
published his meditations, in which he introduced the notion of the
Deus deceptor, a posited being capable of deceiving the thinking ego
about reality. The notion was used as part of his hyperbolic doubt,
wherein one decides to doubt everything there is to doubt. The Deus
deceptor is a mainstay of so-called skeptical arguments, which purport
to put into question our knowledge of reality. The punch of the
argument is that all we know might be wrong, since we might be
Stanley Cavell has argued that all skepticism has its root
in this fear of deception.
Deception is a common topic in religious discussions. Some sources
focus on how religious texts deal with deception. But, other sources
focus on the deceptions created by the religions themselves. For
example, Ryan McKnight is the founder of an organization called
FaithLeaks. He stated that the organizations "goal is to reduce the
amount of deception and untruths and unethical behaviors that exist in
some facets of religion".
In its purest form,
Christianity encourages the pursuit of truth. But,
in practice, many Christians are criticized as being deceptive and
otherwise problematic. The prominent political speech writer Michael
Gerson said that evangelicals were "associating evangelicalism with
bigotry, selfishness and deception." His comments were directed
specifically towards those evangelicals who support Donald Trump.
Islam the concept of Taqiyya is often interpreted as legitimized
deception. But, many Muslims view Taqiyya as a necessary means of
alleviating religious persecution. In the city of Basking Ridge,
New Jersey the town's residents used the concept of Taqivya to block a
mosque from being built. The dispute went on for years. In a
related story, journalist Ian Wilkie of
Newsweek asserted that
Taquivya provides evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons on the
Tort of deceit
For legal purposes, deceit is a tort that occurs when a person makes a
factual misrepresentation, knowing that it is false (or having no
belief in its truth and being reckless as to whether it is true) and
intending it to be relied on by the recipient, and the recipient acts
to his or her detriment in reliance on it. Deceit may also be grounds
for legal action in contract law (known as misrepresentation, or if
deliberate, fraudulent misrepresentation), or a criminal prosecution,
on the basis of fraud.
Battleplan (documentary TV series)
Deception (criminal law)
Deception in animals
Fear, uncertainty and doubt
Outline of public relations
Smoke and mirrors
Socioemotional selectivity theory
Swampland in Florida
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Psychology Seventh Edition. Boston: McGraw
Bruce Schneier, Secrets and Lies
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Science of Evolutionary Psychology. Vintage, 1995.
Look up deception in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Deception.
Mitchell, Robert W.; Thompson, Nicholas S., eds., Deception.
Perspectives on Human and Nonhuman Deceit. New York: State University
of New York Press.
Deception in Biology: Nature's Exploitation of
Information to Win Survival Contests. Monash University, October,
Scientists Pick Out Human
Lie Detectors, MSNBC.com/Associated Press
View from nowhere
Disinformation by Ion Mihai Pacepa
Dezinformatsia: Active Measures in Soviet Strategy
The KGB and Soviet Disinformation
The Case for Latvia
Who's Who in the CIA
1995 CIA disinformation controversy
CIA Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory
Information Operations Roadmap
Jonestown conspiracy theories
Mafkarat al Islam
Media censorship and disinformation during the Gezi Park protests
Mohamed Atta's alleged Prague connection
Niger uranium forgeries
Pope Pius XII and Russia
Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
Strategy of tension
Trolls from Olgino
U.S. Army Field Manual 30-31B
Active Measures Working Group
Counter Misinformation Team
East StratCom Team
United States Information Agency
Related series: Fraud • Media manipulation •
In sister wikiprojects: Commons • Wikiquote •
Intermittent or partial
Climate of fear
Divide and rule
Good cop/bad cop
Moving the goalposts
Setting up to fail
You're either with us, or against us
Abusive power and control
Jewish mother stereotype
Social engineering (blagging)
Antisocial personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Carrot and stick
Gaming the system
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
List of conspiracy theories
Locus of control
Geoffrey Chaucer (1400)
Princes in the Tower
Princes in the Tower (1483)
Kaspar Hauser (1833)
Abraham Lincoln (1865)
Franz Ferdinand (1914)
Lord Kitchener (1916)
Michael Collins (1922)
Sergey Kirov (1934)
Władysław Sikorski (1943)
Subhas Chandra Bose (1945)
Dag Hammarskjöld (1961)
Patrice Lumumba (1961)
Marilyn Monroe (1962)
John F. Kennedy (1963)
Lee Harvey Oswald (1963)
Dorothy Kilgallen (1965)
Martin Luther King Jr. (1968)
Robert F. Kennedy (1968)
Juscelino Kubitschek (1976)
Pope John Paul I (1978)
Airey Neave (1979)
Francisco de Sá Carneiro
Francisco de Sá Carneiro and
Adelino Amaro da Costa
Adelino Amaro da Costa (1980)
Olof Palme (1986)
Vince Foster (1993)
Yitzhak Rabin (1995)
Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)
Nepalese royal family (2001)
USS Maine (1898)
RMS Lusitania (1915)
Reichstag fire (1933)
Pearl Harbor (1941)
USS Liberty (1967)
Widerøe Flight 933
Widerøe Flight 933 (1982)
KAL Flight 007 (1983)
Mozambican presidential jet (1986)
Pan Am Flight 103 (1988)
Oklahoma City bombing (1995)
9/11 attacks (2001)
Advance knowledge (2001)
WTC collapse (2001)
Madrid train bombing (2004)
London bombings (2005)
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (2014)
RMS Titanic (1912)
Phar Lap (1932)
Adolf Hitler's death (1945)
Yemenite Children (1948–54)
Cairo Fire (1952)
Dyatlov Pass incident
Dyatlov Pass incident (1959)
Lost Cosmonauts (1950s / 1960s)
Elvis Presley's death (1977)
Satanic ritual abuse
Satanic ritual abuse (blood libel)
MS Estonia (1994)
Kurt Cobain (1994)
Hello Garci scandal
Osama bin Laden (2011)
Lahad Datu, Malaysia standoff (2013)
Zamboanga City crisis (2013)
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (2014)
New World Order
Council on Foreign Relations
Denver International Airport
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
North American Union
Skull and Bones
Conspiracy theories in the Arab world
Israeli animal theories
Conspiracy theories in Turkey
Black Knight satellite
Estimate of the Situation (1948)
Men in black
Ghost rockets (1946)
Maury Island (1947)
Rendlesham Forest (1980)
Phoenix Lights (1997)
Apollo Moon landings
Barack Obama's citizenship / religion / parentage
Belgrade Chinese embassy bombing (1999)
CIA-Kennedy assassination link
Allegations of CIA assistance to Osama bin Laden
FEMA concentration camps
Jade Helm 15 (2015)
October Surprise (1980)
Project Azorian (1974)
Sandy Hook shooting (2012)
Seth Rich (2017)
Sovereign citizen / Redemption movement
Vast right-wing conspiracy
Vietnam War POW / MIA issue
TWA Flight 800 (1996)
Free energy suppression
Agenda 21 (1992)
Cancellation of the Avro Arrow (1959)
Bible conspiracy theory
Clockwork Orange (1970s)
"Death" of Paul McCartney (1969)
Lilla Saltsjöbadsavtalet (1987)
New Coke (1985)
Phantom time / New Chronology
Vela Incident (1979)
War against Islam
Denial of mass killings (lis