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Keywords:

  • secret identity;
  • self-disclosure;
  • imposture

The assumption of false identities is a frequent theme in history, fiction, and current events. Spies and criminals are among those who pretend to be other than they are, although the strategy is not restricted to them. Harun al-Rashid, medieval Caliph of Baghdad, was described in the Thousand and One Nights as disguising himself in order to detect and punish evildoers. One distinctive feature of his adventures is that at some point he threw off the disguise and revealed his true identity. This paper recounts similar self-exposures by spies and terrorists (including those of 9/11) in situations where such an act could spell disaster for them. It further explores a number of explanations for the “Harun al-Rashid motive,” suggests a way to measure it, and discusses ways in which counterterrorism agencies could build upon it for their own purposes.