The press reports that the top executives in the federal intelligence community have launched an inquiry into the events leading up to the Marathon Bombings. As the passage quoted below indicates, it will be undertaken by the Intelligence Community Inspector General. In my opinion this is precisely 180 degrees opposite the approach they should undertake. Here’s the passage from yesterday’s Boston Globe:
The review, sought by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, will be overseen by the Intelligence Community Inspector General, which investigates waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct within the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.
We need an after-action reflection in which we make it safe for personnel at every level, from the operational people on the street to the analysts to the executives to examine their experiences and honestly share their view on what worked and what could have been done better. But look at the brief of the IG: “investigates waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.”
What street agent or analyst, with a mortgage and a reputation to protect, is going to be willing to share what she learned? In cubicles, cars and offices in 17 agencies you can hear the brains going into high gear figuring out how to survive the investigation. Not because they will have done anything “wrong.” But because it’s in the IG’s organizational DNA to find and assign blame, not learning. The questions they ask and the way they ask them will elicit defensive responses. It’s been this way too long. Questions in the law enforcement setting are techniques for extraction instead of prompts for self-examination and learning. Instead of catalyzing learning the questions become threats.
It’s a badly wasted opportunity. We need these that candlepower illuminating what we learned, so we can be better the next time.
The “investigation” is a comfortable default reaction by political leaders. It’s probably the best one can expect from the White House, any White House. Congress has already begun its “investigations.”
By the time they issue reports and assign blame the agencies have moved on as they must. Time, tide and terrorism wait for no commission.