Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Disconnected Dots

It has often observed that one reason why metaphors communicate so effectively is that they have extremely strong staying power. That certainly seems to be the case with the application of the connect-the-dots metaphor to missed opportunities to detect terrorists threats. Having resurrected that metaphor for the failed Christmas Day attack, it has now wended its way into the post hoc analysis of Major Nidal Malik Hasan's shooting of 13 people at Fort Hood. In presenting the results of this investigation, its leader, Retired Admiral Vernon Clark declared:

There is not a well-integrated means to gather, evaluate, and disseminate the wide range of indicators that could signal an insider threat.

On the surface this says nothing we have not already heard; or, to put things in a slightly more negative way, it says that we are still not analyzing these situations in search of lessons learned from which new action plans may emerge. Indeed, according to those wire services that Al Jazeera English was using, the most direct language seems to have come from one member of Clark's committee, former Army Secretary Togo West:

What we want is commanders' awareness of what's happening in their units and what's happening with their people.

As I read this, West decided to take a stand on the prevailing rhetoric over whether or not the problem was one of a human or systemic failure by making it clear that the failure was human. It all comes down to what is part of those commanders' job description, meaning that, either the job description needs to be updated to reflect the conditions or those commanders' superiors need to be more vigilant about whether or not their subordinates are doing their jobs properly.

Taken in these blunter terms, West made a really strong statement. Indeed, it may have been so strong that Clark did not want to make it part of the "official executive summary." Thus, I think it is worth considering that it may have taken a fair amount of chutzpah for West to have made the statement at all, particularly if his position is more action-oriented than that of the executive summary. In the face of this analysis being yet another potential example of a willful disregard of even relatively recent history, I have decided that we should accept the "chutzpah value" of West's statement and single him out for the Chutzpah of the Week award.

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