by John Vomastic
Truth in a Bureaucracy
Toward the end of my Navy career,
I was a program manager in the Washington environment. As a program manager,
you present a lot of briefings on your programs. While some people want to ensure
the success of your programs and give you more help than you feel is necessary,
others look at your programs as a source of funding and would gladly kill them
and use the funds for their own purposes.
One particular briefing still sticks in my mind. The person requesting the briefing
was not available at the scheduled time and asked his deputy to take the brief.
I presented my brief, closing with a summary of the major points which I felt
his boss needed to be aware of. The deputy then replied, "But that's not what
he wants to hear." To which I replied, "Yes, but he really needs to be aware
of these things." To my surprise, his deputy said, "Well, I'm not going to tell
I packed up my viewgraphs and headed back to my office, almost in disbelief
at what had just occurred. I had always tried to base my decisions on the best
possible information available and actively sought opinions which weren't necessarily
to my liking. But here was a staff no longer concerned with ground truth, but
rather presenting only information which they perceived their boss wanted to
The deputy was an officer with a distinguished career and I respected him, but
I wondered why he had acted that way. Retired Air Force Lt Col Karen Kwiatkowski,
during her assignment to the Office of Special Plans under the direction of
Douglas Feith, provides an answer. She described a situation where an Army Colonel
questioned the validity of the intelligence the office was providing. He was
basically told to go along with what was being presented or kiss his career
There is another situation that I have observed during formal presentations.
If the briefing is to be comprehensive, then the individual who has the greatest
knowledge of the program is usually chosen to present even though there may
be several layers in the chain of command between the briefer and the person
briefed. Sometimes the briefing doesn't go as planned and the person being briefed
expresses his displeasure. The boss of the person who gave the briefing jumps
up and says "don't worry about it, we'll make it right" and other apologetic
words. Can you visualize the person as he exits the room with his back to the
door, kowtowing as he leaves?
I wish, I could say it was different in industry where engineering briefs are
governed in large part by the technology. When a General Manager says, "We are
not going to be awarded the contract based on this proposal," everyone in the
room knows exactly what that means. Areas that were risky are altered to present
a higher degree of confidence. If the bid price was considered not to be competitive,
ways are found to reduce the costs.
The major brief on the WMD in Iraq given by the CIA to Bush fits the above scenarios
precisely. The brief was given by John McLaughlin, the deputy director of the
CIA. He was an ideal person, since he could provide detailed answers regarding
sources and methods behind the intelligence and comment on its credibility.
The brief was probably closely coordinated with all the department heads at
the CIA and mostly likely represented the most factual information available.
After hearing the brief, Bush remarked, "I've been told all this intelligence
about having WMD and this is the best we've got?" Tenet jumped up from the couch,
threw his arms in the air and said "It's a slam dunk case!" When Bush pressed,
"George, how confident are you?" Tenet replied, "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk."
These words and actions by Tenet confirmed that he would never present to Bush
information he did not want to hear.
As a side note, I find the words used by Bush interesting. He said "I've been
told all this intelligence about having WMD…" He did not say to Tenet "You've
told me" implying that he had been receiving information on WMD in Iraq from
other sources than the CIA. If only Tenet had said "Mr. President, this is the
best case we've got" instead of calling it a slam dunk, perhaps it would have
started a debate within the administration regarding WMD. But, then again, Bush
didn't surround himself with men and women who questioned his judgment, so no
debate took place.
The fact that Bush did not like people who disagreed with him was clearly evident
in the first of the presidential debates. Here, on the same stage, was a senator
who was disagreeing with him. Bush fumed and fussed. His displeasure was evident
to everyone in his facial expressions and body language. As a politician, he
had learned to respond to difficult questions during interviews and press conferences,
but Kerry obviously caught him off guard. He did not make that mistake in the
second and third debates.
Bush, in his second term, has rewarded those who have been his most steadfast
supporters. Roberto Gonzales has been named Attorney General. When Bush was
Governor of Texas, Gonzales never questioned any of the executions, but rather
provided perfunctory opinions supporting every one. When Bush gave carte blanche
to the CIA for any of its actions, Gonzales dutifully provided the supporting
opinions. Condoleezza Rice, who has staunchly supported Bush's policies, even
when the basis for them was not true, has been named Secretary of State.
Any organization which is not based on reality or ground truth is destined to
have blind spots and failures. This is the case for Iraq, and many believe for
the economy as well. The organization has the structural strength of a deck
of cards. Bush's Inaugural Address illustrates how closely his policies have
drifted from reality. What some have regarded as visionary, others would call