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The Tom Clancy Theorem

2010/12/08

Laura McLay reminds us that in The Hunt for Red October Vice Admiral James Greer says:

“The likelihood of a secret’s being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people who are in on it”.

Anything that resembles Metcalfe’s Law, I dig. My first reaction was to wonder whether Tom Clancy had heard of Metcalfe’s Law. But thinking it through, I saw that it did not matter. Given that N people know something that is considered as a secret, representing them as a network, that would make them a clique (or an almost clique). In such a network there exist N(N-1) directed channels of communication, hence the N2 heuristic.

In her post, Laura McLay points to J. Michael Steele’s “Models for Managing Secrets” which was published in 1989. In this paper the author
builds on top of the clique a simple communication model and reaches to the conclusion that:

“The expected window of secrecy decays quadratically with the number of people who are in on the secret.”

The more the people, the faster it will get out in the open. The paper then examines one more (complicated) model, some counter-measures of disinformation and points to Game Theory for further study of such models.

So, if the numbers are correct, cablegate was waiting to inevitably happen.

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