Friday, September 10, 2010

CHUTZPAH and the Chain of Command

If the Department of Defense has not been having enough problems coming from WikiLeaks, a BBC News story filed this morning has brought attention to another thorn in their bureaucratic side. That thorn is Anthony Shaffer, former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, working for the Defense Intelligence Agency during his tour of duty. Believing that this assignment had been an important learning experience, Shaffer wrote a book about it, entitled Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan, published by St. Martin's Press and originally scheduled for release on August 31. Following his understanding of the chain of command, Shaffer apparently presented his manuscript to his superiors in the Army Reserve and was granted publication clearance.

Also apparently, the Department of Defense then had an "oops!" moment. The BBC cited The New York Times reporting that the Department is now "in negotiations to buy and destroy all the copies of the book." This seems to be a combination of Gabriel García Márquez' injunction against playing a game whose rules have been agreed by the competitors in the context of George Orwell's warnings about efforts to rewrite history. I suppose that those who sympathize with the Department will see this as the most expedient way to clean up the mess. However, if the mess is of the Department's making (possibly thorough the machinery of the clearance process), this effort to change the rules ex post facto is better perceived as chutzpah (at least until further evidence arises, which may never happen if that evidence is not cleared for public distribution). This would be the third time the Department of Defense has earned an "institutional" Chutzpah of the Week award, not least because it is unlikely that we shall ever know what led to a decision that, on the surface, is a carnival of absurdities.

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