wtf is plausible deniability?


I’ve heard it used a million times before but never had anyone explain it to me and I feel stupid.

In: 0

It means that you can reasonably and convincingly claim that you didn’t know about something.

Basically maintaining your ability to say you didn’t know something was happening.

So if you are a person in power or could get in trouble, you maybe only speak of things verbally, so if it came to a legal battle nobody could prove you knew about something.

Plausible deniability is the ability of people, typically senior officials in a formal or informal chain of command, to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by members of their organizational hierarchy.

From my understanding is that they do not know the dirty details of an operation, therefore they can honestly say that they did not know about it, rendering them blameless.

Plausible deniability is the ability to deny any involvement in illegal or unethical activities, because there is no clear evidence to prove involvement. The lack of evidence makes the denial credible, or plausible. The use of the tactic implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one’s future actions.

For example in movies you see this a lot: If you’re a mob boss and you have a rival and you say to one of your henchmen “it’d be unfortunate if something happened to x”. You’re not directly saying “I want you to hurt X” so there’s no concrete evidence that you’re responsible for the action of X gets hurt by your henchman

Let’s say you’re the president. You’re a very visible figure who is very accountable (alright stop laughing in the back).

You can’t just say “I want this guy assassinated because he’s got some saucy pictures of me and my pool boy”. Well, you can say it, but if that guy ends up dead, you’re going to be prosecuted for that.

What you can do is assigned some CIA task force the job of preventing you from being embarrassed in a public way that would undermine your authority. And you can give them a great deal of money and authority to figure out how to do that.

Now this task force could find out that ‘this guy’ has some incriminating pictures and suggest to the president… maybe we should assassinate him? But if they do that, you, ie. the president, will be aware of the suggestion and now there’s a paper trail tying you to a possible assassination.

Or this task force could just go ahead and assassinate ‘this guy’ and burn the pictures. They never asked you, they never told you. So when the press asks the president how come it looks like the CIA assassinated your old neighbour with the big camera collection, you can honestly say “I have no idea, I didn’t ask them to do that”.

You’re not just denying the implication, your denial is pretty plausible because nobody has seen, heard or read any such order from you.

Now this is a pretty silly example but there’s a lot of situations were laws, international treaties, conventions or other things get in the way of what needs doing. Sometimes countries, organizations. corporations break those laws or conventions. War crimes, environmental scandals, espionage, assassination and so on.

If possible, those parties will always prefer having plausible deniability over being accountable.

It’s kind of like mission impossible where Tom Cruise get’s a mission from a self-destructing message and a voice that states that if he gets caught, no one will acknowledge he even exists. Plausible deniability (with added dramatics).

Basically it is when someone that likely has done something wrong states that they haven’t because there’s no proof that they did. The lack of evidence of their wrong doing makes their denial plausible or credible.

Say that a CEO of a company is talking to someone about a rival company. The person says “That other company is going to put us out of business”, and the CEO says “Someone should do something about that” *wink wink*

Then the other company happens to burn down. The CEO never said to actually burn down the building, therefore he has plausible deniability if the courts ever ask if he was involved.


Exactly what it says it is. It’s self explanatory, even if it’s a little odd way to describe it.
” it is hypothetically possible that I was unaware of this thing, therefor I deny knowing anything about the thing”

“Hey the people who work for you did a bad thing”

“I didn’t know they did that?”

“How could you not know?”

“Well they [circumstances that could reasonably mean that you didn’t know. Like there aren’t any emails to you about the thing so you can say they never told you]”

It’s not exactly about whether or not you did it. It’s whether the other side can prove it. You know how you can just tell someone is lying even though you can’t prove it? Well you can’t decide to punish someone legally based on just knowing they’re full of shit. You have to have the proof.

As an ELI5:

Suppose you want to break a window somewhere, but you’re restricted by two issues. First of all, you’re not allowed to break the window and you’ll get into huge issues if you do. Second of all, you’re not allowed to lie and just say you didn’t break it.

You mention to your friend how great it would be if that window was broken, how much you hate it. Your friend picks up the hint, and breaks the window for you.

Someone asks if you were involved in breaking the window. You can honestly say you weren’t involved at all. Your friend was acting alone and you didn’t ask for it to be broken.

That’s plausible deniability. You can deny that you had any involvement, even though you’re ultimately the reason the window was broken.

It means you can deny knowledge of something and there’s not only no proof you’re lying but it’s reasonable that you didn’t know.

Recent example: actress Olivia Wilde was served court papers for her divorce and custody discussions with her ex Jason Sudeikis. The service was at an event Wilde was speaking at, while she was on stage.

Sudeikis denied being aware of how the papers were being delivered. His denial is plausible for a number of reasons, 3 big ones being:

1. The event in question isn’t open to the public (apparently there’s an investigation happening about how the process server even got in)

2. Process servers generally speak to attorneys not their clients

3. That conversation is reportedly something like “here’s these papers that need to be delivered to this person. Here’s a list of places that client says this person can be found at, home, work, gym etc. This is when we need the papers delivered by” and the process server makes the call on when and where to attempt delivery”