Monday, January 11, 2010

Immaculate Failures

America and Americans in recent weeks have been attacked by several murderous Mulims as a result of what the President, after numerous earlier denials and evasions, finally labeled a series of "systemic failures" by our homeland security agencies.

That's putting it mildly. With the information that the failed agencies had of the identity and intentions of the Islamic terrorists either the Keystone Kops or Inspector Clouseau would have figured out what was going on, intercepted the attackers, and prevented the attacks.

Nonetheless, it seems that the failures were some kind of disembodied occurrences, taking place in vacuums, beyond any human control -- immaculate failures for which no human being bears any responsibility.

Am I the only one who thinks that those responsible for the failures should be held accountable and fired?

In the long ago days of my youth, I was involved and in contact with some of our intelligence agencies and even then, in that simpler time, they constituted a bureaucratic nightmare -- competing agencies and even competing divisions and offices within each agency, each zealously hoarding information and guarding its own turf. Everything had to go through labrynthic channels at multiple levels. Interestingly, an Israeli counterpart at the same junior field officer level that I occupied could, at his own initiative, communicate directly and instantly with the chief of his agency if something warranted his doing so.

In the intervening years  our intelligence and security agencies have been reorganized many times . . . and virtually every reorganization has been detrimental, as governmental reorganizations invariably are. Except for the name of the box in the organizational chart nothing changes at the working level -- the same people are left in the same jobs. A new agency, a new box, is added at the top of the organizational chart and the old organizations that formerly operated independently are slid in beneath that top box, sometimes with new names. Again, except for the new agency at top of the pyramid, the same people continue in the same jobs. But lots of new jobs are created to communicate -- they call it liaison -- with the new top agency . . . and that agency of course has lots of new employees to communicate, control, and coordinate the work and output of the lower boxes. All of the new positions are filled with politicians who are, or at risk of being voted out of office.  Of course, none of these folks will have any qualifications for, experience in, or knowledge of the the agency's function and responsibilities. (Incidentally, I witnessed this again in the 1980s when the collapse of the savings and loan industry led to a reorganization of the nation's financial regulatory agencies . . . and we've now unhappily seen how well that worked out.)

The dysfunctional nature of all this was recognized, believe it our not, by George W. Bush, who as president, appointed a CIA director  committed to rationalizing intelligence work and transforming the function into a lean, coordinated, and professional system. But the time-serving old boys got rid of him in short order and Bush gave up on the effort. 

What we're left with is a pitiful helpless giant bureaucracy that continues to trip over its multiple channels and levels -- doomed to continue to fail, endangering the country and its citizens in the process. But the denizens of the system are and will continue to be safe as the failures will be systemic -- immaculate ones for which nobody bears responsibility.

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